History of Penn Township, Madison County, IA
From: History of Madison County, Iowa
And it's people.
By: Herman A. Mueller
S. J. Clarke Publishing Co. Chicago 1915


Penn Township was created by the County Court on the 1st clay of March, 1858, and the first election was held in the old log house in which Daniel Francis took up his residence in 1855. It is bounded on the north by Dallas County, on the south by Jackson and east by Madison townships, and on the west by Adair County. In other words, it is the northwest corner township of Madison. Penn is an unusually level tract of land, very fertile and wholly prairie. In the early days no timber was to be found except at Pilot Grove, locally made famous as the place for holding the Penn Center annual picnics. This grove extends from a small stream back upon the prairie and in early days could be seen at a distance of many miles, serving as a pilot for the travelers. The township is wholly agricultural, there being no town within its borders, so to speak, as only the edge of Earlham infringes on its northeastern boundary line.

Dexter, about the size of Earlham, is just across the line in Dallas County and these two trading points compete for the business favors of Penn and share them about equally.

The history of Penn Township covers a period of about sixty five years, dating back to 1849, or 1850. The wooded country to the north of Penn was settled some years before, as it is well known the pioneers kept close to the timber. Penn being a level stretch of country, was on that account avoided by the early pioneers of this part of the state. The first settlers, it is said, were the brothers, William and Joseph Jeffries, who came here from Missouri about 1850 and selected a rich, level tract of land at the center of the township and built the first house, a log cabin, within its borders. Being of pro slavery proclivities and the people who followed them into this garden spot coming from Ohio and Indiana and of ardent abolition tendencies, discouraged them in remaining in an atmosphere not congenial, so they left the field to others. First among these was John Wilson and family, among whom were two sons, Christopher and Abihu Wilson, who came in 1853 from Marion County, Indiana. Christopher was born in 1827. He located on section 1 and became one of the landed proprietors of the township. When he put up his first buildings, he hauled the timbers from Des Moines. In 1864 he married Rachel Smith, of Penn Township, who died in 1867. For his second wife he married Martha Newby. Abihu was born in 1830. He settled on section 12 and was the first person to enter land in the township. It is also said that he raised the first crop and ran the first harvester and threshing machine in the community. William, a son, was the first child born in Penn Township.

John E. Darby left his Ohio home for the newer Iowa country in 1855, corning to Winterset in that year. He taught school the two following years and in 1857 settled on a farm in this township, where he died a few years ago. He helped organize the republican party at Winterset in 1856.

Daniel Francis was born in Drakes County, Ohio, in 1826, and in 185o married Emily Edington, a native of the same county. He arrived in this township May 22, 1855. He for many years served as justice of the peace, served as county supervisor five years, assessed the township fifteen times and represented his county in the State Legislature. When he and his young wife arrived here they had but little of this world's goods. The winters were extremely cold and wood being scarce it had to be hauled a long way. Their neighbors accumulated very slowly until the locating of the railroad in 1867, when the country settled rapidly. He afterward moved to Des Moines, where he passed away. He gave his property for a home for aged Methodist preachers.

David Stanton and family came from Ohio in June 1856, and settled at Penn Grove, where he improved a farm. His father was a first cousin of Edwin M. Stanton, Lincoln's famous secretary of war. Mr. Stanton built the first house at Pilot Grove and was the envy of his neighbors, as he had a team of horses, while they had risen no higher in the way of a team than a yoke of oxen. David Stanton was a leader in his day, lived many years in Penn, then moved to Quaker Ridge and finally passed to his reward.

William M. Fleming left the Buckeye State in 1857 and traveling by rail as far as Iowa City, he then reached Des Moines by stage coach. From the future capital city he walked the rest of the way through a late November blizzard and found an abiding place in this township, where he took up a claim and that same fall broke up forty acres of sod. The next year he went back to Ohio and returned with his bride to his prairie home.

Washington Francis, a brother of Daniel Francis, was one of the pioneers and put in his leisure time in the '60s freighting between Iowa and Pike's Peak. He sold the old homestead in this township in 1904.

About the year 1860 the Schlarbs, with Nicholas at the head, and the Holderbaums, led by Michael, and afterwards the Lenockers, all from Holmes County, Ohio, settled on the west side of the township and within a short time that locality was mainly made up of people from Ohio.

There were other old settlers, some coming before and others after those named. Among them were Josiah Scott, Hamlin Murphy, Addison Armstrong and I. D. Neff, who saw the prairie before the buffalo trails had been wholly obliterated by the plow. There was also Charles Crane, another school teacher, With the rapid immigration came the railroad and the pioneer days of Penn were practically at an end. The rich prairie farms which could be had almost for the asking became more fertile, now that the railroad was in sight, and suddenly mounted up in value. Sixty years ago farms in this locality were almost given away; now they sell for $100 to $150 and even as high as $200 an acre.

W. A. Ross was for many years prominent among the citizens of Penn Township. He left several years ago for Lee County. J. M. Hochstetler and the Koehlers came somewhat later. C. F. Koehler was county treasurer two terms. He now resides in California.

G. F. Lenocker developed a magnificent farm and served a term as member of the board of supervisors. He moved to Dexter in 1899 and died a few years ago.

James Breckenridge, for some time a member of the board of supervisors, resided for some years on the farm owned and operated for many years by his father, but now lives in Jackson Township. Then there were the Marstons and the Murphys, also H. L. Kale, who removed from the farm to Eariham and became mayor of that bustling little city.

Quite a number of the sturdy, frugal and industrious people of Germany settled in Penn Township in the latter '60s and early '70s. Among them may be mentioned, together with the Koehlers, Hochstetlers, Schlarbs, Holderbaunis and Lenoclcers, Fred Imboden and Hezekiah Leeper and family.

Penn Township has the distinction of being at one time the home of Edwin H. Conger, whose name became quite prominent among the leading men of this country. He settled on a farm on section 5, about 1868, after having served his country in the Civil war and risen to the rank of major. He served this county on the board of supervisors and was one of the first three members chosen for that body when it was cut down to its present size. At the age of thirty seven he was state treasurer and when forty one became a United States congressman. He represented his Government at Brazil when forty seven and at the age of fifty seven was sent to China by President McKinley as United States minister, where he performed the duties of his office in a highly satisfactory manner and especially during the great Boxer uprising. Of his residence in Madison County, he speaks interestingly in a letter written to Herman Mueller, from Pasadena, California, April 18, 1906, in the following words:

"Yours 9th received. I am not much at write ups for myself, and really don't know what you want. But I cannot refrain from expressing to you something of my gratitude for a true friendship, which was first given me by the good people of Madison County nearly forty years ago, and has continued true, generous and steadfast ever since. I have never for a moment forgotten it, nor ever for a moment ceased to be grateful for it.

"I came to Madison County in i868, a young man of twenty five, with no idea of politics in my head, and no desire for official place or distinction. I simply went to work. But in the autumn of 1869, while I was in the field plowing, J. J. Hutchings and Bill Newlon drove into my field and told me it was my duty to be a candidate for county supervisor from Penn Township. I said I hadn't time, didn't want the place, etc.; besides, I did not know a half dozen men in the township. But I finally consented and was elected, beating one of the very best men who ever lived in the county - Daniel Francis. I don't know how or why. The board then consisted of seventeen men, one from each township. I remember them all as splendid, substantial men. And it was thus that my acquaintance extended all over the county. A few years thereafter, two I think, the board was reduced to three members. Its first membership was Captain Anderson from the southeast township - Ohio; Judge Lewis from Winterset, and myself from the northwest township - Penn. I think we drew lots for the length of our terms. I drew one year, Captain Anderson two and Judge Lewis three. I was therefore made the first chairman. My associates were excellent men and my service with them was most agreeable.

"This was my first start in politics. I soon moved just across the line into Dallas County and in a few years entered politics again. My career since has been an open book. But in every contest, I have had the active, loyal and earnest support of all my old and many new Madison County friends. If I haven't done well, I'm going to lay the blame on them for first enlisting me. If I have done measurably well, I am glad to give them the credit, for the same reason. I shall love Madison County and her good people as long as I live, and hope I may never prove unworthy of their confidence and affection. Please say so to any and all of them you meet and believe me, Yours Sincerely,


The Penn Center picnic, which has been an annual event for over forty years, got its inception from A. C. Holderbaumm, who taught the Penn Center school in 1873. Holderbaumm was a young man, who received his education at the Illinois State Normal. He conceived the idea of having the school picnic more than a small district affair, and to this end invited all the other schools in the township to take part. All responded and the result was the first general picnic of the Penn Township schools. When the appointed day arrived for the initial picnic in 1873, every school, headed by its teacher, took place in line and marched down to Pilot Grove. The program that day was the model and forerunner of the many that have followed. The forenoon was occupied by the school children in their various exercises and the afternoon by the older people, in speech making, singing, story telling and the like. In the meantime, the children enjoyed themselves in numerous forms of amusement. The teacher, A. C. Holderbaum, who afterwards was founder of the Dexter Normal School, was the real manager, but David Stanton was president of the day. N. Angle had charge of the music. Editor Davis, of the old Dexter Herald, "made a part of a speech to be concluded in the next week's Herald." As a matter of course, others displayed their oratorical abilities on the glad occasion. Since that time, in each succeeding year, without a break, the Penn Center picnic has been held at Pilot Grove, not only for the schools of Penn Township, but for men, women and children living many miles around. It is a notable event in the locality and is looked forward to each year by those living in various parts of the county. The Penn Center picnic has long been celebrated in this section of the state, and is widely noticed by the press.

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