History

 

HISTORICAL SOCIETY

The West Point Bicentennial Commission, which included members of the Twentieth Century Study Club, was established on June 14, 1975. The purpose of the Commission was to guide the community in celebrating the United States Bicentennial year, ending on June 14, 1976. Sheaffer pens and bicentennial plates were sold, flags were presented to the area schools, a July 4th, celebration was conducted in the city park, and members of the Commission, outfitted in Minute Men costume, participated in Lee County Fair events. Then on October 25, 1977, the Commission was disestablishment and the West Point Historical Society formed to continue the work of the Commission. Accomplishments of the organization included:

  • Construction of bell monument in town square, noting location of county seat in West Point on 13 January, 1843,
  • Second publishing of the 1879 volume, The History of Lee County,
  • Opening the West Point Museum in 1977,
  • Publishing Memories, a pictorial history of West Point businesses and residences pre-circa 1900.

Historical Society Meetings. The West Point Historical Society meets monthly on the 3rd Tuesday of each month at 6:00pm in the West Point Library, located at 317 5th Street. The public is invited and new members are welcomed. For additional information on the Society or the Museum, telephone (319)837-6315 and leave a message for the Society, or click on the box at the bottom.

Contact the Historical Society – cjohnston@westpoint.lib.ia.us

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WEST POINT HISTORICAL FACTS

First Europeans in Iowa. Early in the Spring of 1542, fifty years after Columbus discovered the New World, Ferdinand De Soto discovered the mouth of the Mississippi River at the mouth of the Washita. But is wasn’t until June, 1673, one hundred and eighty years after Columbus discovered the New World, that Father Marquette, an intrepid French Jesuit from Canada, along with his companion M. Joilet, landed on the western bank of the Mississippi River and became the first Europeans to trod the soil of Iowa.

West Point Settlement. History records that Marquette and Joilet landed on the western bank of the Mississippi, a little above the mouth of the river now known as Des Moines, and in present day Lee County in southeast Iowa. These men were filled with wonder and admiration of the bold bluffs and beautiful meadows along the Mississippi River, en route to their historic landing. The beautiful meadows and original forest still exist around West Point, which was settled in 1834.

First pioneers. “In the year 1834 a man by the name of Whiteaker, in looking over the beautiful prairies in and about West Point, was impressed with the place as a location for a town. His idea was that the town should be situated in the timber, or at least on the edge of the woodland. Mr. Whiteaker made the necessary steps to claim a large part, if not all the land upon which West Point is now built.” In 1835 Whiteaker sold his claim to Messrs. John Howell and John L. Cotton, who had built a log cabin and a small store near the present day north-west corner of the square. The success of Cotton’s store, the towns first, resulted in the young city being called “Cotton Town.” In 1836, these gentlemen sold their claims to Abraham Hunsicker, who was the first to lay out a square with one tier of lots on each side.

West Point receives its name. It was early in May, 1835, when Wm. Patterson, Hawkins Tayler, Alexander H. Walker and Green Casey arrived on the Black Hawk Purchase from Illinois. They were all Kentuckians by birth and education. On being pleased with the location for a young community, they eventually purchased the claim of Hunsicker, laying out additional lots. The name of West Point was given it at the suggestion of the officers of the garrison at Fort Des Moines, who agreed, if allowed to name the town, to purchase a number of lots. Fort Des Moines was located at present day Montrose, approximately 15 miles distant.

First brick building. On June 24, 1837, Messrs. Patterson, Taylor, Walker and Casey organized the first church in the community and in 1838, erected a brick structure one block west of the northwest corner of the City Square. This first brick building in West Point and the first brick church in Iowa (and oldest church of its denomination in the state), continues to serve the community today as the West Point Presbyterian Church. Additional churches established in the young city of West Point included the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1839 in the old log schoolhouse at the corner of Race & Jefferson, German M.E. Church in 1852 on the corner of Hayne Street, Mennonite Church in 1845 with services held in private homes until a log structure was built 3 miles south of West Point near Sugar Creek in 1850, and the Catholic Church organized in summer of 1842 with services in a frame building dedicated in 1843 on the site of the present brick edifice which was built in 1858, 2 years before the start of the War of Emancipation (Civil War).

 
The first West Point Presbyterian Church in West Point was erected during 1838-1839. The present brick structure, which was constructed 1860-1861 at a cost of $5,000, was built on the site of the earlier building The bell tower was not built until later. The first structure, which was also brick — was the first brick building in West Point and the first brick church in Iowa. The church was the third to be organized under the authority of the Presbytery of Schuyler (Illinois), in the territory which is now Iowa. The other two churches lasted only for a short time, making the West Point Presbyterian Church the oldest church of its denomination in the state.

Great Grandmother of Mark Twain. Of particular note in West Point history is the pioneer family of Jane Casey, wife of Revolutionary soldier Col. Wm.Casey. The grave sites of Jane and two of her five siblings, Green and Pollya, life-long residents of West Point, are located in the City Cemetery, West Point. It was Green and Pollya’s sister Margaret, who married Col. Benjamin Lampon, whose daughter in turn, married John Marshall Clemens, father of Samuel Langhorn Clemens (Mark Twain). Samuel Clemens was 9 years old when his Great Grandmother Jane Casey passed away, in 1844.

Early County Seat. The Legislative Assembly of the Wisconsin Territory, having selected the “east half of southeast quarter of Section 5, Town 68 north of Range 5 west, located the county seat at West Point on March 20, 1843 (later moved to Fort Madison, some nine-miles distant).” The original court house building was 45′ by 50′ in size constructed of brick with a stone foundation in the present day City Square.