History Hilton Township Iowa County, IA
From: History of Iowa County, Iowa And its People
By: James C. Dinwiddie
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co. Chiago 1915


The early settlement and general description of Hilton Township is so excellently covered by the data given by Andrew Jacobs, of Conroy, that it is needless to repeat here. The article follows the few official facts mentioned below.


The first land in Hilton Township bought from the United States Government was the east half of the southeast quarter, section 5, township 80, range to, by Samuel Thornton on January 7, 1852., The second land entered was in section 3, northwest fractional quarter of the northeast quarter, by Jefferson Miles on November 16, 1853. More land was entered in 1854 than during any other year. By the end of 1855 all had been taken.


Hilton Township was organized October 12, 1858, the order for the same having been given on September 22, of the same year. The township had been a part of Marengo for ten years. The first officers were: trustees, Christ Engelbert, T. Nelson and Samuel Thornton; justices, A. Ward and Warren Lincoln; constable, Amos A. Ward; assessor, Warren Lincoln; clerk, John Brown. The first election was held at the house of A. Ward.


The following historical sketch of Hilton Township is written from facts gathered during an interview with Andrew Jacobs, one of the best posted men on the township now living.

The soil of Hilton Township is variable. The north part, along the bluffs, is mostly clay soil, with alternate sand hills between. The greater part of the land has been grubbed and cleared of timber by the early settlers. The south two thirds of the township is of black loam, with yellow clay sub soil, with alternate sloughs which at present have been tiled and drained. This makes the localities formerly wet and marshy now the best in the township, in either wet or dry season. The natural products of this township were the grasses, prairie grass as we called them, such as blue stem on the upper land and coarse slough grass where there was a basin. There were also red root, shoe string, gum weed and some sage in spots. Plums, blackberries and strawberries were also plentiful. The prevailing climate here has been as follows: cold in winter, followed by variable springs, warm summers and long, dry falls; there has always been plenty of moisture.

The cultured products are wheat, oats, corn, potatoes and all kinds of garden truck such as beets, onions, rutabagos, etc. Timothy clover and several spccies of alfalfa are also raised.

The location of the original timber is in the north part upon a strip a mile wide, running east and west and the prairie region is south of the timber belt. There are the different kinds of oaks, such as red oak, white, black and burr oak, hickory, willow, birch, bass wood, ash, elm, crab, walnut, wild grape, hawthorne, and other varieties common to the township. There is a timber grove called Hog Grove in the center of the township. Here some of the early settlers located, mainly the Wards, Browns and Burches.

There were plenty of prairie thickens in the early days of the township. It was common in those days to go out after harvest with a gun and get a mess of these chickens. In the winter time the men trapped them in the timber belts. As many as fifteen have been caught in a single trap. They were then taken to Marengo and sold for $2 to $2.50 per dozen. There were many quail which were trapped in the same manner. Pheasants, wild turkey, ducks and geese were other game birds of the early days. There were a great many cranes and swans marching around on the prairies in the early days. Wild pigeons would camel in big flocks in the spring of the year and settle in the trees. The rest of the feathered tribe in the early years were about the same as now, such as the plover, meadow lark, blue bird, wren, house martin, the different varieties of black bird, the crow, hawk and hoot owl.

In the animal line there were deer, wolves, coons, foxes, ground and fox squirrel, pocket gophers, skunks, badgers and hedge hogs. The old pioneers used to fight mosquitoes all the time; there was nothing to afford protection such as the screens of today. The people would build smudge fires with chips, preferably before the cabin doors, in the evenings to keep the bugs out of the house. It is said that the mosquitoes were so large and tenacious that the settlers jokingly referred to them as carrying vacuum pumps and even grind stones. The house fly was an annual visitor and some other unwelcome guests such as toads, frogs, lizards, rattlesnakes, blue snakes, prairie snakes, joint snakes, copper snakes, garter and bull snakes.


The early settlers in Hilton Township came from Ohio. Jim Brown, Ashael Ward, John Thornton and Warren Lincoln in the years from 1852 to 1856; then came the first Norwegians, Christ Engelbert and the Nelsons among them, and the Faltinsons. James Conroy, of Irish descent, came and also some of the Scotch settled about the same time, among the latter being John Cownie, Sr., David Fleming, Alexander Welsh, William McLeod and David Walker.

The Norwegians organized a Lutheran congregation in 1866 or 1867 and the Scotch organized a Presbyterian congregation about the same time. Reverend Anderson was the first Presbyterian preacher. Both churches held their first services in schoolhouses, the Scotch in the Scotch schoolhouse and the Norwegians in the Hog Grove schoolhouse. Reverend Ukom was the first pastor of the latter congregation.

The early settlers of Irish descent were: Dennis Mulhern, Thomas Madden, M. Frawley, Michael Dolphin and Peter White, also William Riley. Those of German descent were Jacob Haas, J. H. Zhart and Henry Kurth.

The northern part of the township was settled first for it had the protection in winter and the material at hand with which to construct log cabins, also abundant fuel. Pioneer life was a happy life despite the crude dwellings in which the people lived. They were sociable in those days, and inclined to hospitality and helpfulness. When one of their number was in need of aid the others would often sacrifice their own interests. When a cabin was to be built, they would gather together with their ox teams ands lynch pin wagons and axes, go to the timber, cut and hew logs, and construct the cabin in one day. Everybody was a carpenter; all the tools they had were the axe, wedge and maul, and sometimes a saw. Very few nails were used. Most of the furniture was home made, with the exception of that brought from the East by the newcomers.

One of the worst harships of the time was the difficulty in going to market. Davenport was the point where they exchanged their wheat for flour and sell anything they had for sale, in order to get money for the necessities of life. The time for making this round trip was about two weeks. There were no bridges, so they had to ford the streams as they came to them. The occasion of the homecoming from one of these long trips was the signal for a general celebration by the rest of the colony. Very probably a dance would be the main thing on the program, participated in by young and old. The fiddler would play all night for a dollar and at some of the husking bees he would not charge a cent. The coming of the schoolhouse brought spelling schools and singing schools; quilting bees, in conjunction with the ever present dance, were also a regular feature.

The graineries were made of rails and slough grass at first, or until lumber could be had from Davenport and later Iowa City. The stables were made in the same fashion. Later the shelters were mostly built in the groves and timber for winter protection, for the climate was so severe and the snows so deep that the cattle would have perished otherwise.

Farm tools were very scarce. The farmers would have a breaking plow or get one that had belonged to someone else to break up about five or ten acres, then in the following spring they would sow wheat by hand. They would attach a long, heavy chain to the plow and hitch same to a yoke of oxen, then drive over the field and cover the seed. A cradle would be used to cut the wheat, until the reaper was invented. The first reaper in the township was owned by James Conroy, then the Scotch settlers got one and then Nelson. As said before the first wheat was taken to Davenport, then, with the advent of the Rock Island Railroad, to Iowa City, also some to Amana and Marengo. Wheat sold at. about 6o cents, very little corn was disposed of, oats were 25 cents, butter averaged about 9 cents, and hogs 2 or 3 cents a pound dressed. The latter were of the razor back variety. After the Civil war the price of pork went up to to and 12 cents a pound. A cow, dressed, would bring as high as $15. Such commodities as calico sold at 15 cents a yard on the average, but during the Rebellion the price soared to 60 cents a yard. Sheeting cost so cents, a pair of boots would cost $2 or $3.

Much malaria and dysentery prevailed among the settlers in the early days. The last was caused by the poor drinking water. The well would be dug in the slough or in some other low place. Toads and rabbits, etc., were dipped out of the well and during the time of heavy rains the wells would become filled with muddy water. About 1865 people began to dig their wells deeper, and on higher places, also to brick them up the side. A windlass and rope was then used to draw the water, a bucket hanging on the end of the rope.

The first settlers in the township and the place of their nativity were: Ashael Ward, Ohio; Mr. Cults, France; John Thornton, Ohio; James Conroy, Ireland; and Warren Lincoln, Illinois; John H Zahrt, Germany; James and John Brown, Ohio; Jacob Haas, Germany; John Cownie, Scotland; David Fleming and Alexander Welsh, Scotland; Nels Nelson and Christ Engelbert, Norway.

The first settler to locate in the township was John Thornton, who came with his family and constructed a house somewhere near Hilton Creek, probably on section 17. Later he moved northwest of Engelbert's, near the present Fass place.

The first marriage in the township was on September 6, 1858 between Samuel Brown and Jane Ward. Reverend Gale performed the ceremony. The first white child was born to Christ Engelbert and wife. It died and was buried on the old premises in the early days. The death of John Brown was the first in the township. He was buried in what is commonly called the old Marengo Cemetery. He died of diphtheria.

The first cemetery in Hilton Township was located on section 3, just south of the timber line, and it was founded by Richard Nelson, Nels Nelson, Levi Nelson, Christ Engelbert and others, about the year 1860.

The first schoolhouse was built in the Scotch Settlement in 1860 or 1861 and was constructed on the southwest quarter of section 12. It was a frame building. The first teacher was Ellen Cassel. The first children to attend this school were: Abraham Gullet, Rachel Gullet, Agnes Welsh, Margery Welsh, Edward Walkers, James Walker. The next school was built in 1862 and was called the Hog Grove School. Mr. Gale was the first teacher and his pupils were: Margaret Faltenson, Ole Engelbert, John Engelbert, Lewis Haas, Jule Zahrt, J. C. Zahrt, Ed Conroy, Katie Conroy, John Frawley, Ownie Madden, Cecelia Riley, William Riley, Katie Frawley, Andrew Jacobs, John Jacobs, Henry Jones, Susie Brown, Philena Brown, Emma Brown, James Ward, John Ward, Doc Ward, Robert Brown, Faltin Faltinson, Betsey Olsen, Caroline Nelson, Christ Hoyt; Ashael Ward, James Conroy and Christ Engelbert were the directors of this school.

The first postoffice in the township was Conroy, located in a small grain office there. John Engelbert was the first postmaster. The first blacksmith shop was on the main Marengo Road in the neighborhood of Hog Grove and was conducted by Doc Ward and a man named Cheesman. The first church was built in 1878 by the Norwegian Lutheran congregation. It is located on the southwest quarter of section io and is a frame building. George Swezey, of Marengo, put the building up. The charter members at the time of building were the following: Guner Olsen, Faltin Nelson, Lars Olsen, Faltin A. Faltinson, Frank Faltinson, Henry Halverson, Martha Johnson, Jacob Jacobson, Halver Olsen, John Jacobs, Peter Anderson, Mons Olsen, Oley Engelbert, Anna Mulhem, Andrew Jacobs, William Olsen, Nels Nelson, Albert Amondson, Hans Halverson, George Olsen, Martin Hansen, Nels Faltinson, Jens Halverson, Sarah Olsen, Alex Hanson, Inger Nelson, Andrew Nelson, Syver Halverson. The name of the pastor at the time of the building of the church was Jacob Frost. Service was held once every four weeks. The present membership is about sixty charter members and the membership of the Presbyterian Church at Conroy is about forty charter members. The first revivals in the township were held in private houses around Hog Grove in about 1858. Reverend Gale was the leader and speaker and sometimes others.

In the early days speculators would come here from the eastern states and buy up tracts of land or get it from the Government at $1.25 per acre. Early settlers would squat on the land and farm a few acres of it.and if there happened to be any timber it was chopped down and part of it sold for fuel. The balance they would split for posts and rails. Land in Hilton Township sold for about three up to five dollars in 1858 and 1859. Mr. Holbrook, of Marengo, was acting as land agent in the year 1863 or 1864 and there were land agents galore in the early times. Those that bought from the Government were: McCormick, of Illinois; Frick, of Pennsylvania; Beadeiton, of New York; Doctor Shimer, of Illinois, and others. By 1872 the township was becoming thickly settled. The Norwegians, Scotch, Irish and Welsh had come, the Welsh settling in the south part of the township in 1868. John Conaway settled in the southeast corner on section 36 in 186o. Many of the pioneers moved on westward, selling their holdings here to the permanent settlers. The following homes are still held by the descendants of the early settlers: James Conroy, David Walker, J. A. Ward, Jacob Jacobson, Faltin Faltinson, J. D. Frick, Peter White, John Hansen, Christ Engelbert, Martha Frawley, John Cownie, Alexander Welsh, Wm. McLeod. The price of land has now increased to about two hundred and fifty dollars per acre in the best parts.

The years from 1865 to 1872 brought the greatest change in the township. New houses were built by new settlers and most of the virgin soil was broken up and sown in wheat. In 186o the only man living out on the prairie was Warren Lincoln; he lived on section 29. Then came the Raynors, Lonergans, Henry Kurtz, McGiveran, McMurray, Mahan McGiveran, George Hamil, Henry Halverson, Alex Hanson, T. Reed, James Nicholas, J. D. Evans, Maas Peters in the south and west part of the township and in the southeast part came the Prices, J. W. Carmichael, Conaways, D. H. Evans, H. W. Evans, J. W. Evans, N. Lewis, Stephen Glenn, William Foster, Pickard, Merritt and others. The township lands were about settled up in the year 1872 and in the year 1884 the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad Company constructed their road diagonally across the township and a depot was placed in the township on section 22. Henry Shimer, the owner of the land where Conroy now is, donated ten acres for the right of way and depot grounds. The name Conroy was given to the railroad station in honor of James Conroy, for his energetic services to the company in obtaining the right of way through the township. The town has been growing rapidly ever since. The Hilton Lumber and Grain Company is doing a good business in their line and the town has one grocery store, one hardware store, garage and repair shop, blacksmith shop, hotel, one bank, one schoolhouse, two churches, one drug store and a postoffice. There is also a cooperative creamery here.

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