History of Bethel Township, Fayette County, IA
From: Past and Present of Fayette County, Iowa
B. F. Bowen & Company
Indianapolis, Indiana 1910


This is one of the prairie townships, which, like its neighbor, Banks, on the south, was slow in its early settlement and development. The congressional system of surveys being followed in this county, and there being no river boundaries, all the townships are complete, with thirty six sections of land, numbered consecutively from the northeast corner to the southeast, section 6 being in the northwest corner and section 7 adjoining on the south, etc. These are sub divided into quarter sections and "forties," hence the terms "quarters" and "forties are very generally understood in this locality, though it is not so in other districts where private surveys were in vogue during the settlement period. With the exception of land bordering on township and county boundaries, all quarter sections contain exactly one hundred and sixty acres, but certain of the boundary lines over run, or fall short, according to the variation of the electric needle of the surveyor's compass and the distance from base lines and correction lines. These remarks apply to all townships in the county, and though irrelevant to the matter under consideration, may not be considered inappropriate in this connection.

The settlement of Bethel township began along Crane creek, in the northern part of the township, that section being supplied with some timber, and it must not be forgotten that all the early settlers used wood for fuel and fencing purposes and nearly all houses were built of logs. Mrs. Samantha Finch is credited with being the first settler in Bethel township, though others came the same year (1852), and established homes in both Bethel and Eden townships, in some cases on adjoining farms. The township was first named "Richland," in recognition of the fertility of the soil, this name being bestowed by Mr. McCall, one of the early settlers, and whose posterity still live in the vicinity of the old pioneer home of the family. There was a "Richland" postoffice established in the west central part of the township, and continued for many years. It was finally abandoned and Bethel postoffice established, but this has given place to the rural free delivery system, and was consolidated with the postoffice at the village of Alpha. The township name was changed to Bethel January 3, 1870, about the time the. Bethel postoffice was established.

P. G. Abbott, one of the very early settlers, organized a union Sunday school in Bethel during the summer of 1856, and his marriage to Emily Palmer, the same year. was the first wedding solemnized in the township.

During the fall of 1855 a disastrous prairie fire destroyed much property and was the cause of the death of two persons, Rev. Mr. Thompson and his son. Mr. Abbott, mentioned above, is one of the few survivors of the pioneer period in Bethel township. He still lives on his farm, and seems to be hale and hearty. The Finch family is also another of the prominent pioneer families who still remain in the township and elsewhere throughout the county. In early days a controversy arose between Eden and "Richland" townships as to the possession of the northern tier of sections in the latter. This strife was evidently engendered before the completion of the government survey, else there could have been no such contest. It seems that the county judge was endowed with authority to decide such matters, and it is said that the judge acted favorably upon petitions from both sides of the controversy, thus transferring the territory several times.

Many prominent families settled in the northern part of Bethel township before the general development of the southern part of the township was commenced. Some of those whose residences were north of, or near, the center were, in addition to those previously mentioned: J. T. and C. M. Gager, brothers, who still own their early acquired property in the township; A. M. Pitts, J. Burbank, A. Ives, Henry Y. Smith, the Bursees, the Innis family, A. and R. F. Rogers, Eph. Rogers, Ben. Woodard, E. M. Aiken, Henry Saulsburry, Stephen Gardner, N. B. Searles, R. Hathaway, G. W. Chamberlain, Orson Ward. Elijah Ober, H. A. Bender and others.

Bethel township was surveyed by Guy H. Carlton in August, 1848, but the south, west and north township lines were established by John Ball a month later. The sub dividing lines were established by John Parker, in November, 1848. James Austin entered the north half of the northwest quarter of section 2, of this township, on the 27th of January, 1851, and this was the first land entry in the township appearing of record.

The southern part of Bethel township has made wonderful development in the last quarter of a century, for, instead of being a part of "Cowan's herding ground," associated with Banks township, Without distinction as to township lines, it is now fully developed as a farming community. Handsome homes and splendid barns dot the prairie, and there is no open or unimproved land in the township. This development has been gradual and the improvements have been made by actual settlers who came to make permanent homes. The bleak prairies are now beautified with artificial groves, some of which have been planted with a view to increasing the timber supply, as well as for protection from the unobstructed winds. In subduing the wild prairie grass, which was very strong and prolific, many of the early farmers resorted to growing flax on their new ground, a measure which was successful, both as a revenue producer and "civilizer." The seed, only, was marketed, the fiber being discarded. The level prairie lands were also quite wet, and in many instances "sloughy," and it was found that flax would grow and mature with reasonable certainty, while other cereals would not. But the introduction of flax into the prairie townships also introduced some noxious weeds not previously known here, and which were a source of considerable annoyance for a number of years after the cultivation of flax was abandoned. Much of the first seed used was transported from other states, and even from other countries, and some of it was sold by dealers and contractors at fabulous prices. But this industry was the beginning of success with some of the poorer class of renters and "land poor" farmers. With years of cultivation, the wet lands have been brought under subjection, and in many instances are the most fertile on the farms.


The record of early schools in this township is somewhat obscure and it is not possible at this date to state when or where the first school was taught. There were three schools in the township in the spring of 1859, and the teachers were Anna Bursee, Mary Alexander and Helen Ward. The Bethel school house came into prominence in an early day, and so continues, in lesser degree, at the present. It was the rendezvous for itinerant preachers of all denominations for many years, as well as the location of all business meetings pertaining to township affairs. Later the Gager school house (being more central) was designated as the place for holding township meetings, elections, etc., and so continues to the present.

In the establishment of the earliest schools in the township, little attention was given to district boundaries, and the school houses were located where they would accommodate the most pupils. But as the settlements extended to the southward, this was found to be an error, and nearly every school house in the township had to be moved, entailing quite an expense.

There are now nine school houses in the township, organized under the district township system. During the last year (1909) there were two male teachers employed, at an average salary of thirty five dollars and sixteen cents per month, and fourteen female teachers whose salary averaged thirty four dollars and nine cents per month. Of two hundred eight pupils of school age, two hundred one were enrolled in the schools, with an average daily attendance of one hundred thirteen. The average cost of tuition per month for each pupil was two dollars and seventy five cents. The school houses of the township are valued at four thousand five hundred and fifty dollars; value of school apparatus, three hundred eighty dollars, and number of volumes in the school libraries, four hundred forty seven. The schools were taught seven and eight tenths months during the year.

In 1857 a very successful religious revival was conducted in this township (presumably at the Bethel school house) by Rev. Mr. Brooks, of the Methodist denomination. This resulted in the conversion of more than a hundred persons, who, in accordance with their belief, as propounded by the Primitive Methodists, discarded all fine clothing, jewelry and superfluous effects, and followed the "simple life" as taught by the Savior and His disciples.

There is no church building in this township, but the Union church at Alpha, just across the north line, supplies the needs of the worshipers near by, while the several churches in Hawkeye afford reasonable facilities for those in the eastern half of the township. Religious services are still held occasionally in the school houses of the township.

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