History of Townships in Winnebago County, IA
From: History of Winnebago County and Hancock County, Iowa
A Record of Settlement, Organization,
Progress and Achievement.
The Pioneer Publishing Company
Chicago 1917


Townships in the United States are of two kinds - congressional and civil. The former, as established by the official survey of the public domain, is six miles square, except in rare instances, and contains an area of thirty six square miles. It is designated by a number and is bounded on the east and west by range lines. The civil township varies in size, the boundaries often being formed by natural features, such as creeks, rivers or mountain ranges. It is distinguished by a name instead of a number and further differs from the congressional township in that it has a local government as a minor political subdivision of the county.

The civil township doubtless had its origin in the old Teutonic "mark," though it was transplanted to this country from England. Says Fiske: "About 871 A. D. King Alfred instituted a small territorial subdivision nearest in character to and probably containing the germ of the American township."

The "small territorial subdivision" instituted by King Alfred was known as the "tunscipe." It was the political unit of popular expression, which took the form of mass convention or assembly and was called the "tun moot." The chief executive of the tunscipe was the "tun reeve," who, with the parish priest and four lay delegates, represented the tunscipe in the county assembly or shire meeting.

In the settlement of New England, the colonies were at first governed by a general court, which also possessed legislative powers. The court was composed of the governor of the colony and a small council, usually made up of the most influential citizens. In March, 1635, the General Court of Massachusetts passed the following ordinance relating to the local government of certain districts:

"Whereas, particular towns have many things that concern only themselves, and the ordering of their own affairs and disposing of business in their own town, therefore, the freemen of every town, or a majority of them, shall have power to dispose of their own lands and woods, and all appurtenances of said towns; to grant lots, and to make such orders as may concern the well ordering of their own towns, not repugnant to the laws and orders established by the General Court.

"Said freemen, or a majority of them, shall also have power to choose their own particular officers, such as constables, petty magistrates, surveyors for the highways, and may impose fines for violation of rules established by the freemen of the town - provided that such fines shall in no single case exceed twenty shillings."

That was the beginning of the township system in the United States, and the "tun moot" of King Alfred's time became the "town meeting" in New England. Connecticut followed Massachusetts with similar provisions regarding local self government, and the system was gradually carried to the states of the Middle West. In the southern colonies the county was made the principal political unit for the government of local affairs. Eight counties were organized in Virginia in 1634 and this method spread to other colonies, except in South Carolina, where the units corresponding to counties are called "districts," and in Louisiana, where they are known as "parishes." All the country conquered by Gen. George Rogers Clark in 1778 was erected into "Illinois County" by the Legislature of Virginia.

The first provision for the establishment of civil townships northwest of the Ohio River was made by Governor St. Clair and the judges of the Northwest Territory in 1790. Even yet in New England the township is of more importance in the settlement of local questions of a political nature than is the county. The town meetings are still held regularly and through them most of the business of local government is transacted. Every proposition to expend any considerable sum of money for public purposes is first submitted to the people at the town meeting. In the South the township is little more than a name, all the local business being transacted by the county authorities. From the time the first townships were established in the Northwest Territory the two systems of township and county government have been well balanced throughout the Middle West, the schools and roads usually being under the control of the township officials, while business that affects more than one civil township is managed by the county officers. In nearly every state in the Mississippi Valley it is the custom to submit to the voters at a general or special election the question of issuing bonds for county or township purposes - a custom that originated in the old town meetings of New England.


Township government was first established in Iowa while the state was attached to Michigan Territory. The Legislature of that territory in September, 1834, created the Township of Julie; which included the entire county of Dubuque - that is, all that part of Iowa lying north of a line drawn due west from the foot of Rock Island. Winnebago County was therefore a part of Julien Township, Dubuque County. South of the line was Flint Hill Township, which embraced all of Des Moines County. When Iowa was made a part of Wisconsin by the act of April 20, 1836, the first Legislature of that territory set about amending the laws, and the act of December 6, 1836, provided that "Each county within this territory now organized, or that may be hereafter organized, shall constitute one township for the purpose of carrying into effect the provisions of the amended laws."

In the act of Congress organizing the Territory of Iowa, approved by President Van Buren on June 12, 1838, was a provision that all township officers should be elected by the people. In his message of November 12, 1838, to the first Legislature that was ever convened in Iowa, Gov. Robert Lucas said: "The subject of providing by law for the organization of townships and the election of township officers, and defining their powers and duties, I consider to be of the first importance and almost indispensable in the local organization of the Government. Without proper township regulations it will be extremely difficult, if not impracticable, to establish a regular school system. In most of the states, where a common school system has been established by law, the trustees of townships are important agents in executing the provisions of its laws."

The Legislature to which this message was submitted did nothing toward the establishment of civil townships, but on January 10, 1840, Governor Lucas approved an act providing for township organization. Under this act the question of forming a new township was to be submitted to the voters residing within the territory it was proposed to include in said township, and if a majority expressed themselves in favor of the proposition the township should be organized. This system, with some supplementary legislation, continued in force until after the admission of the state in 1846. In the case of the counties created by the act of January 15, 1851, one of which was Winnebago, each was declared to be a single township until such time as the local authorities deemed it advisable to create others.

When the office of county judge was abolished by the act of March 2, 1860, the township system assumed greater importance in Iowa than ever before. The act became effective on July 4, 1860, and required the voters of each township in the county to elect one member of the county board of supervisors at the next general election, the supervisors so elected to take office on January 1, 1861, and to discharge all the duties formerly performed by the county judge. There were then but two civil townships in Winnebago County - Forest and Pleasant - the former embracing the southern and the latter the northern half of the county. The first board of supervisors consisted of one member from each of these townships and a supervisor at large. In 1862 the supervisors were given power to create new townships and to regulate the number of members of the board of supervisors in the county.


Soon after the county was organized in the fall of 1857, it was divided into the two civil townships of Forest and Pleasant, as above noted. On June 6, 1864, the board of supervisors, then composed of Charles D. Smith, William Lackore and B. F. Wellman, divided the county into four townships as follows:

"Center Township to consist of and comprise from section 18 to 36 isclusive of township 99, range 26, and all of township 98, ranges 25 range 23, and sections, 1, 2, 3, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27 and 36 and that part of the east half of section 35 north of L Street and east of Fourth Street in Forest City in township 98, range 24.

"Forest Township to consist of and comprise from section 18 to 36 inclusive of township 99, range 26, and all of township 98, Ranges 25 and 26, and sections 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, and the west half of 35 south of L Street and west of Fourth Street in Forest City in township 98, range 34.

"Norway Township to contain or comprise from section 7 to section 30 inclusive of township 100, ranges 23, 24, 25 and 26.

"Pleasant Township to contain or comprise from section 31 to 36 inclusive of township 100, ranges 23, 24, 25 and 26; also sections 1 to 18 inclusive of township 99, ranges 23, 24, 25 and 26."

On June 3, 1868, the board of supervisors created Iowa Township, which included "sections 19 to 36 inclusive of township 99, range 23,. sections 1 to 18 inclusive of township 98, range 23, and sections 19 to 30 inclusive of township 99, range 24."

No further change relating to townships was made until June 7, 1875, when the board adopted the following: "Resolved, that the township boundaries of the civil townships of Winnebago County be, and the same are hereby, so changed that there shall be but three civil townships instead of five as heretofore; and that Forest Township shall hereafter include all the congressional townships numbered 98, of ranges 23, 24, 25 and 26; Center Township shall include all the congressional townships numbered 99, of ranges 23, 24, 25, and 26; and Norway Township shall include all the congressional townships numbered 100, of ranges 23, 24, 25 and 26."


Since the adoption of the above resolution on June 7, 1875, various changes have been made in the matter of civil townships, until now each civil township corresponds to a congressional township and is therefore six miles square, except those forming the northern tier, in each of which sections 1 to 6 inclusive lie north of the state line and are in Minnesota. The twelve townships are: Buffalo, Center, Eden, Forest, Grant, King, Lincoln, Linden, Logan, Mount Valley, Newton and Norway. Following is a brief history of each township, and for the convenience of the reader they are presented in alphabetical order, without regard to the order in which they were established.

Buffalo Township

Center Township

Eden Township

Other Townships.

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