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


This is one of the most historical townships in Fayette county. Some of its history has been presented in the article on County Organization, and many of the earliest settlers in Pleasant Valley have figured prominently in other localities. The settlement of this township was also commenced as early as any, and some of its first improvements were the first of the kind in the county.

In another chapter the story has been told of Edson and Grant, the two trespassers on the Indian reservation, who sought to build a mill at the mouth of Otter creek. This event is recorded as occurring in 1836, but there is no record available to determine whether the date should be 1836 or in the following year. At least eleven years elapsed after their departure before the coming of Samuel Connor and his party, in 1848. That was the year the Indians were removed from Fort Atkinson to Minnesota, and the white man was presumed to be thereafter in lawful possession of the Winnebago lands, the last in the county to be vacated by the aborigines. Accompanying Mr. Connor were Simeon B. Forbes, Thomas Smith and Jacob Ashby. But even these were not the first settlers, for when they arrived in the valley where the town of Elgin is now located, they found a man named A. E. Wanzer holding a claim at the mouth of Otter creek, including section 14. Wanzer proposed to sell this claim to Connor, who, being delighted with it. the purchase was promptly made. Mr. Connor immediately returned to Wisconsin to bring his effects to the new home; Forbes located on section 15, adjoining Connor on the west; Smith located in West Union township, and Ashby found a location in Clayton county. This disposition of the company left Connor and Forbes the sole residents of Pleasant Valley township "that was to be," and on the sixth of July, 1848, Mr. Connor returned from Wisconsin and immediately commenced the construction of a house, the first in the township. The same summer he and Forbes united their teams and broke land on section 22, and during the winter following, Mr. Connor cut and hauled timbers for the construction of a saw mill at the mouth of Otter creek. This, though changed and improved, has been one of the few continuing landmarks of Elgin and vicinity.

In May, 1849, Benjamin Dimond arrived with his family, and a partnership was formed between the two men which was hardly severed during the life of both the parties. Their first venture, however, was in the completion of the saw mill, which was ready for use in August, 1849.

This was one of the first mills of any kind erected in Fayette county. The first log sawed was for a German from Clayton county who was unable to speak English, but got the sawyer to understand that he wanted the lumber for a "cow hov'l." Timbers and lumber was prepared here for the mill at Clermont, which was among the earliest to utilize the waters of the Turkey. There was great demand for the services of the Dimond & Connor mill, and lumber was hauled from it to the Yellow river country, in Allamakee county.


In early days nearly every locality had its euphonious name, and often these were more expressive than elegant. For many generations (probably) the Sac and Fox Indians had been in the habit of burying their dead in "Sack Bottom," as the vicinity of Elgin was known to the early traders. They were indifferent as to the depth of the grave, hence the erosion of many years had exposed the skeletons of some of their dead. When the Winnebagoes succeeded them, the custom was continued by the new owners with the same indifference, and when the first white settlers invaded the "sacred precincts," human bones were in evidence in great profusion. This undoubtedly led to the rather "shivery" title above mentioned. It seems that the mail carriers in early days recognized these peculiar names quite readily, for an interchange of letters between David Forbes and his brother in law, William Wells, at West Union, was readily made, the one being addressed to "Knob Prairie" and the other to "Shin Bone Valley."

For years after the whites first occupied the country, the Indians returned annually to "Sac Bottom" to visit the "graves of their fathers," and to hold some kind of memorial services there. On the west side of the river, opposite this aboriginal cemetery, the savages had a dancing ground, where they were wont to gather for their "pow-wows." In 1850-1, the Indians returned in large numbers and held their uncouth dances.

Some of the graves of the departed redskins were surrounded with rude palings. One in particular, said Mr. Connor, had a sort of a pole lodge erected over it, from the top of which floated a white flag, and which was frequently visited by the Indians, who kept the rude structure in repair for several years. It had become noised about among the settlers that this was the grave of the Chief "Whirling Thunder," and it was supposed that many valuable articles were buried with him. Some irreverent person or persons attempted to do a little "grave snatching" on their own account, and began to dig for plunder, but were frightened off by a passer by. When the settlers discovered what had been done, they repaired the injury as well as they could. Soon afterward, two Indians visited the spot and discovered the trespass, and went to the mill for an explanation. They were told of the rumor that prevailed, that "Whirling Thunder" was buried there, and that an attempt had been made by somebody to rob his grave; also that the settlers had endeavored to repair the injury. The Indians gravely replied that "Whirling Thunder" was reposing on the bank of the Volga, and the grave so ruthlessly disturbed was that of a very aged medicine woman, who had been held in great veneration by the tribe, and when she died, the squaws had built the enclosure as a mark of respect. "But," said the Indian, who appeared to be remarkably intelligent for his class, "I am ashamed that white men, Christians, should try to rob Indian graves."


Mr. Connor stated that in 1848, when he came to Sac Bottom, the bank of the Turkey, where Elgin now stands, was for a long distance lined with Indian wigwams as thick as they could stand, and near them large heaps of fish bones. The river teemed with fish, which the Indians caught in large numbers, and boiled in large kettles obtained from the traders. When done, the contents of the kettles would be poured into willow baskets to drain. When sufficiently cool, the numerous families feasted on these boiled fish, and, too lazy to remove the bones, heaped them up in the rear of their tepees.


But aside from these evidences of occupation by Indians prior to the advent of the pioneers of 1848-9, there are proofs that this beautiful spot was inhabited before the arrival of the Sacs and Foxes, lowas, Sioux and other North American Indian tribes. Evidences of the occupation of the valley by pre historic man appeared around Elgin in great profusion, as witnessed and reported by the early settlers. Numerous mounds were located in the vicinity of Elgin, some large and others small, but all recognized by the pioneers as the work of the mound builders. The plow of the farmer has been leveling these mounds for more than half a century, and yet they are distinctly visible, rising several feet above the surrounding surface.

In 1849, the new settlement was increased by the arrival of Matthew Conner, John Conner, James B. Stephenson, George Rowley, Rev. Joseph Forbes and others. Mr. Dimond had a horse, and S. B. Forbes a cow, which were then the only animals of the kind in the township. Matthew Conner built a log cabin on the site of the future town of Elgin, and in it opened the first store. Log houses were also erected by John Conner, B. Dimond, Stephenson and Rowley.

The first crop of corn was raised this year, by John Conner.

During that year, Rev. Joseph Forbes held religious services in the house of John Conner, and organized a Sabbath school, which was probably the first Sabbath school in the county. Mr. Forbes was one of the orators at the 4th of July celebration at West Union that year.

In the spring of 1850, townships 94 and 95, range 7, were created a civil township by the commissioners of Clayton county, and an election was held immediately after the order, at the house of George Rowley. Charles Sawyer, Matthew Conner and George Rowley were judges of the election, and George Rowley was elected justice of the peace for the Pleasant Valley district, and Charles Sawyer for the Clermont district.

In October, 1850, Fayette county having been organized, Pleasant Valley township was created by the Fayette commissioners, composed of township 94, range 7, and the northeast quarter of township 93, range 7. Election was ordered on the third Monday of November, at the house of Joseph Forbes; and Joseph Forbes, John Conner and Simeon B. Forbes were appointed judges of election. Prior to this, at the election in July, when the county was organized, Pleasant Valley township was a part of West Union precinct. At the November election, John Conner was elected justice of the peace, and Simeon B. Forbes, Matthew Conner and J. B. Stephenson, trustees.

The first white child was Melvina Dimond, born July 22, 1850.

The first wedding was that of John Johnson and Miss Rowley in 1850; the hymeneal knot was securely tied by John Conner, justice of the peace. Second marriage was Samuel Conner and Marrilla Howard, February 4, 1852, by Rev. Mr. Briggs, a Methodist preacher.

The first settler to cross the mysterious river was Matthew Conner, who died in April, 1852. The first death was an infant daughter of James Kinyon, in July, 1851.

The first Methodist circuit preacher to visit the little settlement at the mouth of Otter creek was Rev. Mr. Cameron, who preached in the house of Samuel Conner in 1851.

George Gay opened a store in the new settlement in 1851.


In the fall and winter of 1851-52, a town was laid out on section 14 by Samuel Conner and others. M. V. Burdick was the surveyor. Mr. Burdick solicited the honor of christening the new town, which was granted, and he gave it the name of Elgin, in honor, it is said, of Elgin, Illinois, his native town. "Shin Bone Valley" was buried and nearly forgotten, only to be resurrected by the historian and recorded in its proper place among innumerable other "things of the past."

The town plat was not recorded until March, 1855. Samuel Conner, Marilla Conner, Benjamin Dimond, Mary J. Dimond, Thomas Armstrong and Oliva Armstrong appear of record as proprietors. M. V. Burdick, acting surveyor when, they were laid out, certifies to blocks I, 2, 3 and 4, and Winslow Stearns. county surveyor, certifies to blocks 5 and 6, July 4, 1854. This plat was filed for record February 20, 18J5. The first or original plat, however, as made by Mr. Burdick, was filed for record March 9, 1854, by order of Thomas Woodle, judge. Samuel Conner was sole proprietor.

In April, 1852, Messrs. Dimond & Conner commenced building a gristmill, in which the first corn was ground in December, 1853. The mill was completed in 1854. Soon afterward, the proprietors added to it a building for carding wool, which was put in operation by Eden E. Rhodes, who carded the first wool in Fayette county in 1854. This enterprise was abandoned, but in 1869, Hon. William Larrabee and Dr. B. H. Hinkley financed and operated a similar industry. It was located on the hill side south of Elgin, and manufactured certain kinds of cloth, in addition to doing a large business in carding wool to be spun and woven in the homes of that day. The industry was discontinued many years ago. The flouring mill was owned by P. Dowse & Company and operated by them for many years.

In 1852, Samuel Conner built the first large frame building, the first hotel, on southeast quarter of northeast quarter of section 14, lot 15, block 1, of the original survey of Elgin.

The postoffice was established in 1852. Benjamin Dimond was the first postmaster.

The first church was commenced in 1855; completed and dedicated in the fall of 1857.

Isaac Kline built a saw mill on Otter creek, about two miles above Elgin, in 1854. It was afterward converted into a flouring mill, and was owned by Mr. Pfahr and others. Thomas Alvey built a saw mill in 1856. on Otter creek, in section 29. This was also converted into a flouring mill, and was owned by W. M. Alvey, Higgins and others. None of these mills are now operated except for feed grinding, and most of them have passed out with time and floods.


When the Burlington, Cedar Rapids & Minnesota railroad was laid out, the engineers found it impracticable to reach Elgin, and established the line about half a mile west of the town. Here Mr. Conner donated depot grounds, and also the right of way for a mile, and a small town was surveyed in August. 1871, by F. S. Palmer, and by him named Lutra. The proprietors were Samuel Conner, Manilla Conner, B. Dimond, Mary J. Dimond, Joseph Baldwin and Betsey Baldwin; and the plat was filed for record November to, 1871. Work on the railroad commenced in the fall of 1871, and was completed to Lutra from the north in September, 1872, but the depot was not built until 1875. Mr. Conner made an addition to Lutra in 1873. The first store on the town plat of Lutra was a small wooden building erected in 1871. The handsome brick block of stores was built by Borne & Conner, James Cook, Daniel Gates and others, in 1873-74. The railroad name of the two places is Elgin, and, practically, Elgin and Lutra are but one town.

A steam saw mill and stave factory was built near the north end of the railroad bridge in 1873, by Peter Nicklaus, a very ingenious and energetic man. This plant was merged into a canning factory, and is controlled by a stock company, since the death of Mr. Nicklaus and his son Charles. R. O. Woodward, of West Union, is manager of the plant, which does a very large amount of business in season. The principal product is canned corn, but other products. especially tomatoes, are worked up. these raw materials being quite a source of revenue to near by farmers and gardeners. The plant furnishes remunerative employment to several hundred employes, during active operations. Its products are in universal demand where best known.

In 1870, Messrs. Dimond, Conner & Company erected a new flouring mill on Otter creek, about three fourths of a mile above the old saw mill.

The towns of Elgin and Lutra are beautifully located in the valley of the Turkey river, near the mouth of Otter creek - a lovely spot, nestling among the timber crowned bluffs, a perfect gem of beauty.

The geologist will find a rich field in this valley. In the bed of Otter creek, below the old saw mill, the rock formations have been exposed, and are wonderfully rich in fossils, not only of shells, but of other forms of life that once flourished only to be preserved in stone.


The first school in the township was taught by Mary A. Howard, in the house built by Matthew Conner, in 1851. In 1852, a school house was built on section 22, by John and Madison Phillips, in which, in the same year, Adelaide Simers taught the first school.

In 1855, a frame school house was built on the town plat of Elgin, by George Pratt, in which John Arbuckle was the first teacher. In 1860, this building was sold and removed, to give place to a brick school house, which was erected in that year by Lewis Thoma, and school was first taught in it by David Whitley. In 1875, for the purpose of providing educational privileges for the children of Elgin and Lutra under one roof, a large and commodious brick school house was erected on what was called the "half way ground" between the two towns. The building was built by Mr. Thoma, and cost about eight thousand dollars. This "half way" ground is all built up with residences, and there is now no "dividing line" between Elgin and Lutra.

The independent district of Elgin was stimulated by the building of the railroad, and when Lutra was added to the original dimensions, the district was correspondingly enlarged. With additions and improvements to the school property, the school house is now valued at eleven thousand dollars. Four teachers were employed during the school year of 1909, one male and three females, who taught nine months. The salary of the superintendent was eighty dollars per month and his assistants received an average of forty three dollars and thirty three cents, or, to be exact, each one received the same amount of salary. The number of persons in the district between the ages of five and twenty one years - the school age - is one hundred and ninety nine. Of these, one hundred and sixty nine were enrolled in the school, with an average daily attendance of one hundred and thirty eight. Ten non resident students were enrolled, from whom the district realized in tuition fees, one hundred and twenty five dollars and fifty cents. This is one of the classified schools of the county, and its graduates are credited with high school attainments. The school apparatus is valued at one hundred and forty dollars, and the library contains one hundred and fourteen volumes.

There are ten sub-districts in Pleasant Valley township, each having a school house of one room. The schools were in session during the last year an average of seven and five tenths months, and were taught by female teachers, at an average salary of thirty dollars and sixty seven cents per month. The value of the ten school houses is five thousand three hundred and fifty dollars; of the apparatus used, four hundred dollars, and there are seven hundred and seventy five volumes in the school libraries of the district township. The average cost of tuiteon per pupil for the year 1909 was two dollars and seventy nine cents.


Numerous religious organizations have had an existence in Elgin, some of which have not been continuing institutions. The Wesleyan Methodists, Methodist Episcopal, United Brethren, Baptists and Lutherans are the organizations which have struggled for supremacy in the religious field. The three first mentioned built churches and still sustain them, but some have irregular services.


There is a Masonic lodge in Elgin. also a chapter of Royal Arch Masons; both moved from Clermont within recent years, as appears more fully in the article on Freemasonry in Fayette county, by Hon. D. W. Clements.

Elgin Lodge No. 290, Independent Order of Odd Fellows, was organized September 18. 1874, by Dr. W. A. Chase, district deputy grand master. The names of some old time business men are recalled by the following list of names of charter members: D. W. Redfield, J. A. Gruver, S. R. Graham, O. P. Miller, E. R. Carpenter, M. C. Meade, Dr. J. P. Marsh, G. S. Klock, J. C. Cooley. The lodge was prosperous from the first and has initiated many members into the mysteries of Oddfellowship.

The Ancient Order of United Workmen is another of the early fraternal and beneficial institutions of Elgin. The original members of this lodge, which came into existence August 17, 1876, include most of the foregoing names, as well as some other prominent names of that day. They are as follows: Oscar P. Miller, G. S. Klock. Erastes Enos, H. C. Hammond, Dr. L. B. Mattoon, W. W. Gardner, W. R. Given, E. R. Carpenter, J. A. Hoagland, J. C. Cooley, A. A. Kumpf, J. G. Schaeffer, Phil. Dowse, Henry Klock, F. D. Lepper. C. T. Schmid, P. Nicklaus, G. A. Stoehr, Lewis Thoma, Ben Schori, J. W. Callender, D. Wattenpaugh. Several of these men of early days have died and others removed.

Among other early settlers of Elgin, none were more prominent and active than Fred. Wohlheter, John, Neuenswander, the Lehman family, Philip Dowse, Sr., F. M. Garrison, L. M. Blakeslee, Joseph Lyons, "Uncle Jimmie" Stephenson, Elder Martindale the Waterworths.

The population of Elgin and vicinity is largely of German extraction, the Swiss being the predominating class. They are a frugal, honest and unassuming people whose energy and industry have made Pleasant Valley township noted for its thrift and prosperity. Elgin is the home of a considerable number of retired farmers whose earlier years were spent on the farms in Pleasant Valley, Illyria and adjacent territory in Clayton county. They are not of one nationality, nor the same political or religious views. They came together at Elgin as old friends and neighbors who have made Elgin their trading point for a generation or two, hence, in their estimation, no other town is quite as good a place to end their days as Elgin. And the natural beauty of the spot would seem to justify this conclusion. It would not be amiss to speak of two families of this class who were very early settlers over the line in Clayton county, who lived neighbors for forty years or more, and then retired and moved to Elgin. These are the F. K. Robbins and David Moats families. Both Mr. Robbins and his wife died in Elgin within the last two years; but Mr. and Mrs. Moats are living in advanced old age. Two other families who retired from adjoining farms in Clayton county are the Chapmans and MacKellars.

Pleasant Valley is one of the rough and broken townships of the county. The Turkey river and Otter creek, fringed with heavy timber and rugged bluffs, pass through the township and unite their waters at the county line just east of Elgin.


Brainard, near the west line of the township. is a little hamlet, up the Otter, hemmed in by rugged hills on all sides. It was the place chosen for a home by some of the earliest pioneers, and probably had more inhabitants in the fifties than it has ever had since. In very early days this place was called "Tinkertown," because nearly every man was some kind of a mechanic. They promptly built their log shops and prepared for business, but the patrons were few, as the place was well nigh inaccessible by reason of the hills and timber. When the Burlington, Cedar Rapids & Minnesota railroad was built up the valley, a station was established at "Tinkertown," to catch the timber trade, and a man named Brainard was placed in charge of the station. This was probably the origin of the new name. Mr. Brainard was succeeded in the seventies by R. W. Helm, who became at once stock buyer, station agent, postmaster and merchant. He purchased large tracts of timber land, cut off the timber and improved the land, combining this work with his other various enterprises, and became wealthy. He owns several good farms in territory adjacent to Brainard, mostly made from land which was cleared and improved under his personal supervision. More timber of various kinds, including cordwood. is shipped from Brainard than from any other shipping point in the county. It is also a good shipping point for stock, being tributary to the fine stock farms in northern Illyria, as well as considerable portions of Pleasant Valley and Union townships. For years Mr. Helm furnished employment for many men and teams, and thus became recognized as a kind of benefactor among the poor people with whom the Otter creek valley abounds. His general store (the only one in the place), with its postoffice attachment, is a rendezvous for the inhabitants for miles around. But Mr. Helm was not the only man who profited by the establishment of a railroad station at Brainard. Joseph Patterson, the Crafts. John Bracken and other well to do farmers in the community, took advantage of the opportunities, and shipped immense quantities of wood and other forest products from the station, and thus the hill sides and rocky glens have become denuded of their original covering of excellent timber, and. where the land was available, improved farms have resulted.

Pleasant Valley township (including Elgin incorporation) has eight and three tenths miles of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific railroad within its borders, assessed for taxation purposes at four thousand two hundred dollars per mile. There are seven and a half miles of the United States Express Company, assessed at thirty five dollars per mile, and the same mileage of the Western Union Telegraph Company, valued at eighty dollars per mile. The town and township are traversed by thirty five miles of telephone, which reach fully half of the farms occupied by the owners. The average assessed value of the four companies doing business in the township is fifty dollars per mile.

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