Muscatine, seat of Muscatine County, first
came into existence in the summer of 1833 when Col. George Davenport of Rock
Island, Illinois, sent three representatives into the territory to set up
a trading post. That same year, James W. Casey and John Vanatta stopped at
the outpost. Here Casey’s “woodpile” stocked the steamboats
providing access to the frontier, opened June 1, 1833, by the Blackhawk Purchase,
and gave the settlement its first name of “Casey’s Woodpile”.
In May 1836, a surveyor was engaged to survey a town and when the first plat
was made, the name of Newburg was given to the town, which was soon discarded
and changed to Bloomington. The population then was 71.
The first public land sale was held in Burlington in November of 1838 and
Muscatine County reserved the quarter section on which the courthouse stands
paying the Federal Government $1.25 per acre. On December 24, 1839, the commissioners
met to receive bids for the construction of the first courthouse. After examination
and investigation of seven proposals, the contract was awarded to William
Brownwell and William Hassinger. The size of the building was to be 50 X
60 feet with a 10-foot wide portico across the end. The walls were to be
30 feet in height from platform to wall plate. The height of the ceiling
was to be 12 feet on the lower floor and 16 feet 9 inches on the court room
floor. The foundation of the courthouse was to be of hammered stone, outside
walls of brick, thickness of walls twenty inches. The original contract price
of the building was $11,500, which was materially increased before the building
was entirely completed. The contract called for the completion of structure
on or before September 1, 1841.
The town referred to as Bloomington was originally incorporated in 1839,
but the name led to confusion. Frequent miscarriages of letters by mail occurred
because there were towns of the same name in Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri
and Indiana. Also, postmasters for Bloomington sometimes mistook Burlington.
On June 7, 1849, the town’s name was changed from Bloomington to Muscatine.
The name of Muscatine is of Indian origin, derived from the Mascoutin Indians,
a war-like tribe, who had been driven westward across the Mississippi and
settled on a large sandy bottomland encircled by a slough just south of the
present site of the city. This area is now known as the Muscatine Island.
The name Muscatine is unique in that it is not used by any other city in
the United States, or so far as known in the world.
A fire destroyed the original courthouse on Friday, December 23, 1864.
During 1865 and 1866 the building was reconstructed with a new addition of
about 20 X 70 feet at a cost of $29,081.13. The Board of Supervisors awarded
the contract for the present courthouse on September 26, 1907. Six pillars
and a porch had to be removed from the old courthouse as there were only
two feet separating the present courthouse and the old courthouse. The remainder
of the courthouse was torn down after completion of the present courthouse
except for the foundation, which is still in the ground, pieces still appearing
whenever any digging is done outside the back door. The rear door of the
present courthouse was nearly in line with the front door of the original
courthouse. The rear wall of the original courthouse was near the sidewalk
on Fourth Street. The present courthouse is 88 X 120 feet in size and is
built of concrete and Bedford limestone in the style of the Renaissance.
The building is three stories high and includes a dome supported by stone
pillars. This new courthouse was constructed at a cost of $150,000. Court
was held for the first time in the present courthouse on June 9, 1909.
The first jail was ordered built in January 1839 on the Northwest corner
of the public square. The “old” jail that stands across Fourth
Street from the courthouse was built in 1857. It is listed on the National
Register of Historic Places, as is the courthouse. The “old” jail
was replaced in 1907 at a cost of $15,000 for the building and $6,000 for
the steel cage and fittings. On November 6, 1990 an 8.5 million dollar bond
issue was passed to fund the construction of a new jail on Walnut street
west of the Courthouse and Old Jail. The new state of the art jail was dedicated
July 5, 1996.
A Civil War Veterans Memorial, dedicated in 1875, is located on the southwest
corner of the courthouse square. The figure of a Civil War soldier in full
field equipment stands at parade rest, atop a fluted column 30 feet high.
Be sure to notice the cannon on wheels on the Southeast lawn. This is a Gunfield,
6 pounder, Bronze, smoothbore made in 1857 by Cyrus Alger & Company,
Boston Massachusetts. The mortars, mounted on cement pedestals on the Southwest
lawn are Howitzers, Siege 24 pounder, made in 1849 by Cyrus Alger & Company.
They are pointed South…and not by accident! If you visit some older
courthouses in the South, you will find their cannons pointed in the direction
of us Yankees! Prior to World War II, the cannon on wheels was wheeled down
to the vicinity of the Muscatine Power Boat Club on the river front each
Fourth of July. The cannon was stuffed with wet newspapers instead of ammunition
and fired up Sycamore Street by the cannon crew as part of the annual celebration.
An All Veteran’s Memorial to honor all Veterans was placed next to
the cannon on wheels and dedicated on Memorial Day, May 25, 1998.
Authors originating from Muscatine County as provided by the Musser Public
Library are Terry Beatty, Ellis Parker Butler, Max Allan Collins, John Duggleby,
Ethel Hanft, Wendi Lee, Irving Richman, Danny Titus and Josiah P. Walton.
Another famous author Mark Twain resided in Muscatine during 1853 and 1854
and wrote about Muscatine’s sunsets.
As for industry, Muscatine became a stopping place on the Mississippi River
and assumed importance as a lumbering center, maintaining this position for
years. In 1890, the manufacture of pearl buttons began to supplant other
industries. Fresh-water clamshells, instead of animal horns, made a stronger
button that more closely resembled the fashionable buttons made of expensive
import marine shells. Muscatine soon became the world’s largest pearl
button manufacturer, its factories employing half of the Muscatine workforce
during the turn of the century, earning it the name of “Pearl Button
Capital of the World.” Muscatine’s pearl button industry opened
the door for other vital industries which soon followed: H. J. Heinz Co.,
Stanley Consulting, Inc., Grain Processing Corp., HON Industries, Carver
Pump Company, Bandag Inc., Musco Sports Lighting, Monsanto Company, IPSCO,
North Star Steel, Communication Data Services and West Liberty Foods, just
to name a few. The Muscatine Island, found south of Muscatine, is known for
its sandy soil, which was once an actual island that became farmland when
the Mississippi River changed its course. The Muscatine Island with its 30,000
acres of rich bottom land has been known in the markets throughout the Midwest
and east for its sweet corn, cantaloupes, watermelons, potatoes and tomatoes,
with the famous Muscatine Melon being perhaps the most recognized.
Note: The above history was compiled from several sources and does not
include all history available on Muscatine County. More detailed information
may be found at the County Auditor’s Office, Musser Public Library,
and the Muscatine Chamber of Commerce.