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The History of McGregor
by William Potter, Esq.

It is with some diffidence, and misgivings, that I undertake the task of writing the History of the Town of McGregor. I am well aware that the number of its population will differ widely from the views of many of its citizens. This is easily accounted for, from the fact that many persons came here to settle, but have temporarily left, to return again in the Spring, and if they were added, would swell the number to over Eight Hundred. I am satisfied, the business of the place exceeds the expectations of its most ardent friends, and that the increase of its population for a few past months, will astonish distant readers of this History.

The character of our population shows conclusively that it is made up of active business men, and that our business is far in advance of our population; that the amount of business done at this place at present, justifies a population of at least two thousand. Let my readers think of this production as they may, its author has the satisfaction of knowing that no effort on his part, has been wanting to present to the public the truth, as to the population, its business, and its probable future. I have also presented the position, business, and future prospects, of our Sister Town, Prairie du Chien.

The two places are so intimately connected, that it is hard to separate them. McGregor must remain the Ware House of all the goods shipped from the East and South, destined for Northern Iowa, and a large portion of Southern Minnesota. The arrangements made with the owner of the Steam Ferry Boat at this place, to ship freights to and from the Rail Road Depot at Prairie du Chien, together with the favorable ground over which the road passes, to the interior West, gives us every assurance, that McGregor will not only be, as it now is, the Depot of goods, from the East destined West, but in all future time, is destined to be the granary of a region of country West, for a distance of two hundred miles, comprising nearly [illegible portion] and a considerable portion of Minnesota. This region is unsurpassed in fertility and abounds with numerous Water Power and Stone Coal. Independant of its adaptation to agricultural pursuits, it also offers rare inducements to Manufacturers and Mechanics. The increase of the population of this region of country in the past year, is narly as great in proportion as the Town of McGregor; judging from its past history it would require a Prophet to guess its future destiny. The growth of McGregor will more than double its population during the year just commencing, and that but a few years will elapse before her population will be numbered by thousands instead of hundreds (as now), and she will be ranked among one of the great business Cities on the upper Mississippi.

I am indebted to Messrs McGregor, A.E. Wanzer, Bass, Jones, and other old citizens, for valuable information in connecting the facts upon which this production is based; also to Messrs Kingsley & Rhodes for Statistical information in regard to the Shipping business.

There is some difficulty in obtaining a correct history of M'Gregor from the earliest settlement. Prior to the time the U.S. Government had erected a Garrison Fort, at a point on the east Bank of the Mississippi, nearly opposite McGregor, prior to the year 1840, a Ware-house had been built, near the landing at McGregor, by the General Government, to store provisions and other necessaries for the soldiers. This Ware-house still remains as a monument of the early days of McGregor.

About the same time the Gen. Government made a road from this place to Fort Atkinson, and built a Fort at the latter place. The selection of this road by competent Engineers, conclusively proves the route from this place, as the most feasible to the interior country west of it. The State road from this place is laid nearly on the same route.

The country west was then inhabited almost exclusively by Indians; but few white men having prior to that time penetrated this region of country; nature was then presented in her merriest mood, and in all her grandure. The stately Oak Trees creaked to and fro in the storm fearless of becoming the victim of the woodsmans Axe; the tall grass waved luxuriantly over the Prairies, for hundreds of miles West. the Deer, Elk and Bear, roamed at large, conscious of no harm, except from the Indian Hunters; the wigwam was the only house (if such it may be called) that could be seen. But how changed is the aspect of this country; the woodsman's axe has made savage havoc among the trees of the forest. The Prairies are dotted over with comfortable Farm Houses, luxurious growths of wheat and corn now occupy a large portion of the Prairies, and tamed, have taken the place of wild animals. Nature then was as it come from the hand of natures God. Now we have nature presented in all its beauties, improved by the Art of man.

The First Settlers & Early Improvements.

Alexander McGregor, was one among the earliest settlers at the place now known as McGregor. Some time in the year 1840 or '41, a Horse Ferry Boat was procured to run from this place to a point on the East bank of the Mississippi, at Fort Crawford, which has beencontinued up t this time; prior to which time, Canoes and Skiffs had been used as the only means of crossing the river. In 1845, James McGregor, obtained a conveyance for the tract of land on which McGregor now stands. About this time Alexander McGregor, built a house near the landing at the place near where the Government Ware-House still stands; there were but few improvements worthy of note.

The Bluffs then presented a rugged range of hills, which might almost be classed under the name of mountains, and few that then beheld the site of McGregor, dreamed there could ever be even a respectable Town, and none thought of there ever being a City. but now the place presents a different view to the eye. Business and dwelling houses are now seen in the spot, which was then occupied by a portion of this range of hills, and instead of the wild scenery, we behold a busy throng of human beings, engaged in the business transactions of a commercial Town or City.

H.D. Evans moved to this place in 1848, and opened a store in the basement of Mr. McGregor's dwelling house, and is justly entitled to the honor of being styled the Pioneer Merchant of McGregor; the next we [illegible] Mr. Savage, and Mr. Jones of the firm of Bass & Jones.

From that time up to the year 1855, the population increased but little. In the latter named year the town began to attract public attention, and there were quite a number of families added to the population. In the spring of 1856, the population of the place was 280. Since that time the influx of strangers has swelled it to what it now is. The prospect of the speedy completion of the Milwaukee & Mississippi Rail Road to Prairie du Chien, immediately opposite this place, has given life and energies amongst our citizens, and has resulted in the rapid improvements of the past six months, and these have been to some extent limited by the lack of building materials, our Lumber dealers and Brick Masons being unable to supply all who desired to build. We have two good Lumber Yards, and a Saw Mill, but the drain from this place to supply the Western Counties, has been so great as to make the demand more than equal to the supply. The erection of another Saw Mill, and an increased supply by our Lumber dealers, will give a full supply for next season.


The population of McGregor has now fully reached 662. Had the census been taken two months since, the population would have reached Eight hundred and upwards, for the reasons stated elsewhere in this communication.

Being aware that a large portion of our community was made up of enterprising young men seeking fortune in the west I took the pains to ascertain their number, which my readers will find very large in proportion to the residue of our population.

I trust that my lady readers (to those already here the advice is unnecessary) at a distance will not suppose from the fact that we have so many gentlemen in a "state of single blessedness" that they are indifferent to female charms, nor yet that want of comely persons or gallantry, keep them without the pale of Matrimony. Their constant endeavors to please the fairer portion of God's creation, and their gallantry exhibited in their intercourse with them, and their blooming youthful cheeks and handsome vistages for bid such a conclusion. Their free and graceful manner of deportment, their manifest love of female society is a sure guaranty to all Ladies who may visit this place, that they will recieve a cordial welcome, and before they leave may cure many a love-sick swain by consenting to become his partner for life. That many abroad could find suitable and worthy companions, I have no doubt, and add to life's enjoyments there-after.

The following is the population at this time:
Married persons - Males, 143; Females, 143
Number of children under 10 years, 153
Number of children over 10 years and under 21, 71
The number of unmarried Male persons is 151
The number of Females unmarried fall below this number, being as near as ascertained 24; and their charms are such as to give them a promise of a short life of single blessedness.

The residents here, who have attained the age of 21 years, are mostly from other States, and I give the places of birth as near as the same could be ascertained, together with the name of the State in which they last resided before their removal here:

Birth Place:
New York, 46
Illinois, 3
Massachusetts, 1
Rhode Island, 5
Vermont, 9
Connecticut, 2
Virginia, 4
Ohio, 20
Pennsylvania, 29
Kentucky, 8
Georgia, 1
Missouri, 3
New Hampshire, 10
New Jersey, 1
Indiana, 1
Arkansas, 2
Wisconsin, 2
Michigan, 2
Maryland, 4
Tennessee, 1
Main, 3
Iowa, 3
Germany, 22
Ireland, 35
Switzerland, 3
Norway, 4
Scotland, 7
England, 3
  Last Residence of males over 21 years:
New York, 69
Illinois, 26
R. Island, 45
Wisconsin, 37
Ohio, 31
Missouri, 8
Pennsylvania, 10
Kentucky, 3
Vermont, 3
Indiana, 12
Mississippi, 2
N. Hampshire, 8
Arkansas, 1
Massachussetts, 7
Ireland, 12
Norway, 2
Canada, 4
Germany, 1
Scotland, 1
England, 1
Minnesota, 3
Main, 2
Michigan, 10
Iowa, 2
Vermont, 1
Maryland, 2
Missouri, 7

Some persons residence not known. The entire population is will be seen, amounts to 662. Of this number 224 are under 21 years of age. The number of the voters in the town is 295. On the first of May last, the entire population was 280, which shows an increase of 382 in a period of about eight months. Who can doubt from these facts and figures but McGregor in one year hence will boast of a population little short of 2000 inhabitants.


The improvements for the past year, far exceeded the expectation of any of the inhabitants. Without attempting to give a correct history of all the buildings htat have been erected during that period, I content myself with writing the most important.

Of the larger class of business Houses, I note the Three Story Store rooms of our enterprising townsmen H.D. Evans & H.H. Wilkerson as being the most prominent. Messrs. Drummond & St. Clair, two of our most enterprising Mechanics, have erected a large frame Hotel, in course of completion, and now known as the California House, kept by E. Layton, which was much needed to accommodate the traveling public.

Messrs. McMorrine & Co., Allen, Baker, Flanders, Harrison, E. Stow, Weston and Williams & Harvey, have erected business Houses, all of which are occupied.

In addition to these improvements our worthy Townsmen Jones & Bass have added two stories to their Brick building, making a fine four story house and completing the block partly built by Mr. Evans, this is now the most extensive brick block in the place, but judging from preparations for building I opine ere long it will be numbered in the second class.

Our enterprising landlord Mr. Hardin of the American, has made extensive additions to his large Hotel and now has as commodious a public house as can be found in Northern Iowa, and is excelled by few in the west. Among other improvements he has added a spacious Hall for the accommodation of social parties. Dr. King and others are erecting a new Saw Mill which will soon be completed.

Among other improvements I name as of importance the Steam Plaining mill, and Door and Sash FActory, just put in operation by Mr. Watts. Other improvements have been made, but space will not permit me to speak of them.

Business and Business Men.

The statistical information necessary to a correct statement of the amount of business transacted, could not be collected in time for this publication. It is to be hoped that at the end of the present year, our merchants may furnish the facts necessary to give them in detail. I will content myself with giving the number of Steam Boat arrivals and departures, from the opening of navigation to its close, and the amount of Tonnage; which will necessarily be less than the true amount, as passengers take charge of their own goods in many instances. The number of Steam Boat arrivals bound up and discharging freight at McGregor are as follows:

April, 47
May, 116
June, 105
July, 89
August, 65
September, 63
October, 78
November, 83
December, 5

The amount of Tonnage from the 1st Oct to Dec 5, was reported in the North Iowa Times weekly, was three million, two thousand four hundred and fifty one pounds, making an average for the season of '56, of 1,5000,000 pounds per month. The first Steam Boat up last Spring, was the Alhambra, which arrived on the 7th of April last. The last Boat up was the Envoy, and the last down the Resolute.

The following statement shows the division of trade here, as near as can be ascertained:
There are 6 Wholesale and Retail Dry Goods & Grocery Stores, 3 Wholesale & Retail Stove and Tinware Stores, 6 Eating and Oyster Saloons, one Meat Market, one Drug Store, one Bakery, one Wholesale & Retail Hardware Store, 7 Taverns, one Saddle & Harness Shop, 2 Saw Mills, one Window Blinds & Door Factory, 3 Blacksmith Shops, one Cabinet Shop, one dealer in Sash, Doors & Blinds, one Wholesale dealer in Furniture, one Printing Office, 5 Contracting Plasterers, 2 Shoe Shops, one Jeweler and Watch Maker, 5 Carpenter Shops, one Livery Stable, one Bank, one Rail Road Office, 4 Physicians & Surgeons.

In this statement we may have omitted some of our business men. In the course of the past season, the owner of the Ferry has purchased a splendid Steam Ferry Boat, called the Alexander McGregor. This Boat will vie in neatness and appearance with any Ferry Boat on the river besides being constructed so as to make her a pleasant craft to travel on. She arrived here late in the season, her arrival was greeted with demonstrations of joy by the citizens of McGregor and Prairie du Chien.

The establishment of a Printing Press at this place, has added much to the character of the town. The North Iowa Times, conducted by Hon. A.P. Richardson, late of the Senate of Indiana, first appeared on the 10th of October last. The Times ranks among the most influential Papers in the west. Business men in all sections of the country will find it one of the best mediums for advertising their business, in the Great West.

The future of McGregor is more difficult to write, but the attraction it already has, with the facility which its citizens will shortly possess for communication with the East by Rail Road, must cause thousands to visit, and add to its population. Our Rail Road communication to Millwaukee and other Eastern Cities, will give the people the command of a trade East in addition to a heavy Western and Northern trade by river. The projected road from McGregor in a Westerly direction, the construction of which is almost certain, will give us a Rail Road connection North and South as it will cross the track of several roads running in these directions.

Who then, that looks over the past history of McGregor, who is acquainted with the rich and fertile country with which it is surrounded, who knows the almost innumberable Towns that have sprung up west of it, and with all this knows too, that it is the point from which they get their supplies, and vend their produce at, who that knows all this, doubts her becoming a great business mart? The town site by some is thought so broken as to necessarily limit its extent. Such is not the case; numerous ravines called 'coulees' afford beautiful building ground sufficient in extent for a population of 100,000. Streets can be made so that easy access can be had, to the top of the highest hill.

He who lives to see this place 10 years hence, will find that those hills so forbidding to the sight of many, have been selected as the residence of the most opulent citizens; he will see them dotted over with splendid mansions, from which he can scan the River for miles up and down, from which the lower town of McGregor, Prairie du Chien, the Railroad Depot, will be spread before his gaze, more perfectly and beautifully than any panoramic view. then the resources of this part of Iowa will be developed. Then will Prairie du Chien and McGregor have taken their stand among Cities, the first, the recipient of all the goods shipped from the East; the latter, the Granary and Ware House fo rthe district of country West of the Mississippi. this is no fancy prophecy, based on reason and facts, it will be found to come true.

~source: North Iowa Times, January 9, 1857
~transcribed by Sharyl Ferrall for Clayton co. IAGenWeb

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