Adair County

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1865 History of Adair County

Adair County is situated in the south-western part of Iowa being the third county east of the Missouri River, and the third north of the State of Missouri. It is bounded on the north by Guthrie, on the east by Madison, on the south by Union and Adams, and on the west by Cass. The Grand Divide, or the high land dividing the waters of the Missouri from the waters of the Mississippi, passes through the eastern portion of the county. The land is undulating, and mostly rolling prairie. The proportion of prairie to timber is about as twenty-five to one.


The timber is well distributed throughout the county, covering most of the bottom lands. There are three large bodies, one on Middle River, in the northeast part of the county, one on Grand River, in the southeast, and one on the Nodaways, in the west and southwest. It is composed principally of black walnut, oak, linn, cottonwood and elm.


The soil is chiefly black loam, containing a sprinkling of sand, from two and a half to four feet in thickness, and vesting on a bed of clay. It produces in abundance corn, wheat and all kinds of vegetables that grow in this latitude. Plums, crab apples and grapes grow spontaneously, in great abundance, and of an excellent quality. Young orchards of the different fruits are looking finely, and this promises to be a good fruit-growing county.


No coal has as yet been discovered, but in several places coal slate is found on the surface near the streams. Limestone is found in abundance on the banks of Middle River. Good brick clay in small quantities is found in different localities.


Middle River, running in a southeasterly direction, enters the county near the centre of the northern boundary, and passes out near the centre of the eastern boundary. Grand River, rising in the northern part, runs in a southeasterly direction and passes out near the southeast corner of the county. The two branches of the Middle Nodaway River rise in the northwest part and running south, unite near the southwest corner of the county. These with many smaller streams and fine durable springs make this one of the best watered counties in the State.

There is some good water power on the streams, but at present there are only one water and two steam saw mills in the county.

As the farmers have to a considerable degree turned their attention to wool raising, and as the country is well adapted to this purpose, a woolen factory is much needed at present, and would in the future also be a very profitable investment.


The county is divided into eleven townships, viz: Grand River, Greenfield, Grove, Harrison, Jackson, Jefferson, Lincoln, Richland, Summerset, Walnut, Washington.


The Mississippi and Missouri River Railroad, and the Burlington and Missouri \ River Railroad upon their approach to the Missouri River, if they do not pass through this county will approach, the former very near to the north, and the latter very near to the south line, and in a few years it will have the advantages and benefits arising from a competition between the two roads.


The county was organized in April, 1855, by the election of Samuel Holiday, Judge, John Gibson, Clerk, and William Alcorn, Sheriff. The State Legislature having previously appointed commissioners to select and name the county seat, Summerset was chosen. The name was afterwards changed to Fontanelle.


The first settler was Thomas A. Johnson, who came in 1849. During the coming season John A. Gilman, James Campbell, William Alcorns, John Gibson, William McDonald and Alfred Jones, settled in different parts of the county, and commenced improvements. As they all located in the timber, and were in a manner isolated, the early settlements progressed slowly. The first white child, Margaret Johnson, was born in 1850, and the first death was that of a child of John Gibson, in the same year. During the years 1855 and 1856, the land was nearly all entered by capitalists, and has been held by them for speculation, thus retarding the improvement of the county, but heavy taxes have induced many of them to place their lands in market, and good locations can now be obtained at from three to five dollars per acre.

The county has an agricultural society which has been in operation for years.

[Iowa State Gazetteer, 1865; submitted by cddd]

1911 History of Adair County


Adair County was evidently a favorite hunting ground for the Indians at one time. The many Indian remains that have been found in the county would be sufficient testimony to establish the fact, but that testimony is strengthened by the stories that have come down from the first white settlers about the visits that the Indians were accustomed to make to this region after they had yielded up their claims to it and had gone farther north into Iowa. Sometimes they came with the evident intention of staying, and menaced the safety of the white settlers. This led to encounters between the Indians and whites, the most noted of which was the battle of "The Cabins/' or the "Big Neck War," which occurred in July, 1829, and which Avill be related at length in the next chapter. How long the Indians had lived here when the whites came is not known, but the probabilities are they had been here a very long time.

The remains that have been found were picked up on the ground along the Chariton River or dug out of mounds in the same region. The mounds are mostly on the east side of the river, and are estimated at about three hundred in number. They were always built on high ground, either on hills or ridges, and were circular in shape. They are from ten to thirty feet in diameter, and are at present from two to five feet high in the center. It appears from those in the best state of preservation that they were originally banked up rather high at the circumference with a slight slope upwards to the center.

That some of these mounds were used for burial purposes is well established by the fact that human remains have been found in them. Very few bones have been found, however, in a good state of preservation. As soon as they were uncovered they generally crumbled into dust. The teeth were usually in a better state of preservation than the bones.

In the center and at the bottom of one these mounds situated in section 13, township 61, range 16, about two miles east of Yarrow on Sugar Creek, there was found a rock grave. Slabs of rock had been laid on the ground and on them a body had been placed; then other slabs had been set up on edge along the sides and at the head and feet; and then across these upright slabs others had been placed, so that the body was fairly well enclosed. On top of the grave the dirt had been piled up several feet. Considerable skill had been used in constructing it. This grave was opened by Mr. T. J. Dockery, of Kirksville, several years ago.

In other mounds that have been opened bodies have been found which had been laid between layers of loose rock, while in others the bodies were apparently covered over with dirt and without any such protection. In one or two mounds were found a great lot of burnt rocks, and it has been supposed that the remains of the persons buried in these mounds were first cremated and their ashes covered over.

Besides these human remains there have been found all kinds of stone implements and weapons. Axes, large and small, arrowheads, spear points, knives, and the like have been found. Pieces of pottery and pipes have also been taken out. One of the most interesting things found is a smooth black stone, oval in shape, about a quarter of an inch thick, about five inches long and" an inch and a half wide. Along the edge notches are cut. It is conjectured that this was a kind of record. Probably some Indian passed a string through the two holes that had been bored through it near the end and hung it about his neck, and as he shot down game he would keep a record of it by notching this stone. The stone was found by Mr. T. J. Dockery in the mound which contained the rock grave mentioned above.

At various times expeditions have been formed among the citizens of Kirksville to excavate some of these mounds. The earliest one of which anything is known was made in July, 1877. The party consisted of Sam'l Reed, R. M.Ringo, John Harlan, B. F. Heiny, H. W. Snyder, Robert Clark, Henry Eckert, A. Wolf, Dan Draper, Wm. Her-ron, W. C. B. Gillespie, W. T. Baird, and W. P. Nason. This party excavated two mounds on the farm of A. K. Collett, six miles west of Kirksville, and found remains of two Indians far below the surface between the layers of loose stone. The bones that were found were brought to Kirksville and placed on exhibition at Hope's Drug Store. That these bones are not those of white persons is supported by the fact that the first white settlement in the county was made in the immediate vicinity of these mounds, and no tradition has come down of any whites being buried at these places.

Other expeditions have been made since then, especially in the early eighties. Prof. W. J. Smith of the Kirksville Business College, and T. J. Dockery made frequent trips, and Prof. C. E. Ross, formerly of the State Normal School at Kirksville, organized several expeditions.

Many relics have been found lying on the ground and some have been turned up in plowing.

Several collections of relics picked, up in the county were made by different persons. The most noted collections were those of B. W. Sands, T. J. Dockery. W. J. Smith, C. E. Ross, and Geo. W. Cain. The Sands collection is probably the largest that was ever made of relics found in this county. In June, 1886, Prof. Smith arranged an Indian Exhibition in his Business College, and brought together all the Indian relics he could get, and to add greater interest he had brought up from the Indian Territory a number of Cherokee Indians who appeared in their native costumes and gave certain exhibitions. The event proved to be one of extraordinary interest

PUBLISHED BY: The Denslow History Company 1911
transcribed and submitted by Pam Rathbone

Adair County
By George Westby

In writing a brief history of Adair County the author was confronted with the huge task reviewing the record of events as they have happened from 1849 to 1940. Events which have been of great interest to people and communities at one time must necessarily be briefly described in order to give time for a quick glance at the whole panorama of historical incidents as they unfold before us.

The first settlers in Adair County came from Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Illinois, and North Carolina. One of the early pioneers was born in England, one in Switzerland, and another in Germany, but the greatest part of them come from the above mentioned states.

Adair County is about 50 miles southwest of Des Moines, in the third tier of counties from the Missouri line and the same east from the Nebraska line. It contains about 366,720 acres or 573 square miles and is nearly square with a length and breadth of about 24 miles. It ranks 30 in point of size in the state. Adair is essentially a prairie county.

The highest elevations in the county, as well as among the highest in the state, are near Adair, which stands at 1,442 feet. The elevation at Greenfield is 1,368 feet, that of Fontanelle, 1,244 feet. Orient lies at 1,344 feet, and Bridgewater has on elevation of 1,188 feet.

No marshes, ponds, or natural lakes worthy of mention exist. An artificial lake of about 25 acres was constructed near Greenfield in 1935 for the purpose of supplying the city with water. This was also stocked with fish and In July 1940 was opened as a fishing resort.

Adair County was established as it now stands by an act of the Iowa Legislature of January 15, 1851, and named for General John Adair, a distinguished officer in the war of 1812 and sixth governor of Kentucky.

Thomas N. Johnson, originally from Indiana. Probably was the first white settler of the county. He came from Page County in the spring of 1849 and settled in Washington township in the southwest corner of the county. In 1850 he built a small grist mill on the Middle Nodaway River, and in 1854 added a saw mill. A mail route had been established between Afton and Lewis and in 1853 the house of Thomas Johnson was named the first postoffice in Adair County and he the first postmaster.

In the fall of 1849 William McDonald, originally from Ohio, come up from Missouri following the Indian trails along the Middle River to make his home in Harrison Township, about 22 miles northwest of Thomas Johnson's home. After the organization of the county in 1851 he served as the first recorder.

Another early settler was James R. Campbell who also made his home in Washington township about five miles east of the home of Johnson. Campbell did his trading still at Savannah, Missouri, 120 miles away, or at St. Joseph still farther away. He had his grinding done at Cox's mills on river One Hundred and Two, so called because it was the one hundred and second stream crossed in traveling from the Mississippi west.

William Alcom resided in Jefferson township from 1850 to 1854 when he moved to Dallas. With him come John Gilson who remained to make a settlement on what was later known as the McGinnis farm.

Other first serttlers in the county were George M. Holaday of Indiana who settled in Jefferson township in 1853. He with D. M. Valentine, the county surveyor and Abram Rutt, laid out the site of the town of Fontanelle. Azariah Root, a native of Massachusetts, come to Jackson County in 1853. Charles Wilson made the first settlement in Union township in 1853, where he resided many years. He came from England when he was eighteen years of age, and lived in New York State and Indiana before coming to Iowa.

Christion Gerkin, a native of Germany, made the next Settlement in Union township. He came here directly from Germany going by boat up the Mississippi to Burlington. The name Gerkin is still well known in Greenfield where some of the later generations live.

John Cears, a native of Switzerland, settled in Jackson township in 1854. Other early settlers were John Febus, Jefferson township, 1853; John Gilman, Richland township, 1853; Jacob Bruce of Pennsylvania, Jefferson township, 1853; Titus, Elijah, and J. B. Sullivan of Indiana in Washington township in 1853; Alfred Jones, Sr., in Jackson township in 1852.

After this date the settlement of the county began quite rapidly. There were 150 inhabitants in Adair Couty in 1854. This grew to 984 in 1860.

The county seat war is one of the interesting chapters in Adair County history. In 1855 three state commssioners located the county seat at Fontanelle, or as it was called then Summerset. The next year the town of Greenfield was Iaid, located near the center of the county. The people in Greenfield soon presented petitions asking that the county seat be moved there. Shortly after, the Civil War began and the question about the location of the county seat was shelved. In the fall of 1865 it was submitted to on election which resulted in favor of Fontanelle 139 to 130. The matter was quiet until 1869 when the board of supervisors allowed another election on the issue in which Fontanelle was again the Victor, 375 to 310. But this was just a taste of the real fight yet to come.

The board of supervisors allowed another election on the 1874 Greenfield won 852 to 500. But appeals and injunctions held up the removal of the records from Fontanelle to Greenfield. Two district judges, Cole and Mitchell, granted injunctions to that effect. An appeal was made by the Greenfield people to the State Supreme Court. The Supreme Court reported on March 18, 1875, that there was no cause for "equitable relief" (for Fontanelle) and indicated the records of the court house could be moved as soon as an injunction of certiorari was settled in the courts at Council Bluffs, but not before. But the Greenfield people did not wait. They sent a messenger to Council Bluffs for the decision and proceeded on their way to Fontanelle to obtain the records, The sheriff asked them to wait but they placed the records and furniture in wagons and soon were established in the new location.

When Judge Mitchell proceeded to hold court the next day he asked that the records be brought back. The sherjff went to Greenfield but when trying to convince them of this action he lost the judge's order. He was instructed to go again the next day but had no more success. The state adjutant general, N. B. Baker, then came upon the scene to restore law and order and informed people of Greenfield that the court records should be restored to Fontanelle until the Supreme Court was certain the writ of certiorari was settled. The records were moved back to Fontanelle until June 24, 1875, when the Supreme Court announced the election had been sufficient and that Greenfield was the legal county seat.

In tracing the location of the first cabins in the county it is noted that they were near the banks of Middle Nodaway in the southwestern part of the county and the Middle River in the eastern part of the county. The first settlers had neither the time nor the tools to drill for water. As a result of impure drinking water they were frequently afflicted with what they called "fever and ague" or more commonly, "shakes."

The early crops were corn and wheat. The ground was plowed with a "bar-share" plow consisting of on iron point about two feet long welded to a broad share fastened to a six or seven foot beam with a coulter and handles on it.

Then, as now, the chief topic of conversation was the weather. There is no doubt thot they had some of rare kind and quality. The summers of 1855 and 1856 were considered to be very dry according to information left by S. W. Pryor who come to Harrison township in 1856 from Missouri. He brought with him thirty-six head of cattle and during one of the hardest winters Adair County has ever seen, that of 1856-57 t all but two of them perished, mostly for want of shelter.

The present generations in Adar County have also had a taste of winters of this kind especially during the first week of February, 1936, when the temperature ranged from 18 to 22 degrees below zero for several days. This was accompanied by a very severe blizzard so that deliveries of coal from Iowa and Illinois mines were seriously handicapped. On February 6, 1936, the average temperature for the state was 25 degrees below zero.

In the early days of the county, between 1850 and 1861, John Brown had a line of "underground railroad" from Missouri to Canada, passing through this county. One of his stations was kept by Azariah Root in a grove two miles west of Fontanelle.

July 21, 1873 was an exciting day in Adair County. At a point two miles west of the town of Adair, the members of the famous Frank and Jesse James gong held up the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad. They loosened the spikes in the ties and pulled out one of the roils when the train come by. The engine buried its nose in the bonk and the engineer, John Rafferty, was killed outright. The robbers escaped with $3,000.00 to Mjssouri.

The Mormons passed through the county from 1846 to 1852 when they fled from Nauvoo, Illinois, and began their trek to the west.

Other History

Hardly established when the War between the States began Adair nevertheless supported the northern cause with more then its share of soldiers. 934 people lived in Adair County when the war broke out. 88 Union soldiers enlisted from the county and several joined the ranks from outside. Twenty of these lost their lives in their service for the Union.

In the Spanish-American War of 1898, 49 Adair County boys enlisted in the forces of Uncle Sam. Two boys, Fred Carver of Fontanelle, and Hays Hendry of Bridgewater, lost their lives in the war.

The European War of 1914-18 is a sad but a proud recollection to the men and women of Adair County. The first registration preceding the first draft was on June 5, 1917. Altogethcr a total of 706 soldiers left Adair County for the War and of these 30 gave their lives fo their county.

The work of the women of Adair County during the World War is worthy of mention. Five volunteered for service as Red Cross nurses: Ellen Brackett Barnett, Ft. Des Moines; Mildred Brown, France: Camile Harper, Mildred Williamson, and Jennie Walker.

In looking over Adair County as a whole we find much interest in progressive projects and activities which make farming more pleasent and profitable. The road systems have been kept up to date. Within the last 12 years highway 25 has been graded and graveled. Highwoy 92 running east and west was paved in 1930.

In 1916 over 5,000 people and 728 autos attended the county fair on one day. The Adair County Fair Association was first started in 1892 and now owns 42 acres of land. A new floral hall was added in 1924. A $6,000.00 amphitheater was built in 1925. In 1940 the entrance road from highway 25 was graveled.

The Adoir County Mutual Insurance Association has served this county since 1887. In 1939 it had $9,954,788.00 worth of property insured. A total of $1,546,635.00 was written in 1938.

The population of the county in 1940 is 13,179; 13,891 in 1930; and 16,192 in 1900.

Some of the rural churches in the county are: the new Hill of Zion Christian Church, built in 1919, the Quaker Church at Canby built in 1922, the Grove Center Church, the Penn Avenue Church, the Hebron Church, and the Clara Chapel.

The drought of 1934 brought the hottest weather recorded in Adair County. The highest temperature recorded was 113 degrees. Cattle could find no pasture worth grazing and the farmers sold much of their stock or shipped it to other regions for feeding.

The office of the county agent was established here about the year 1918 when C. A. Burge was the first county agent. There were 235 members who had paid their dues in 1939.

The work of the Home Demonstration worker began in Adair County In 1920 as Home Project Work, supervised by township leaders under a county chairman. In 1923, .3 4-H Clothing Clubs were started. The first Home Demonstration agent was E. Neimoller who came in 1929.

There are seven graded schools in the county. Adair with 246 pupils; Bridgewater, 88 pupils; Fontonelle, 255 pupils; Greenfield, 484 pupils; Orient, 246 pupils; Richland. 142 pupils; and Zion, 165 pupils.

The schools at Richland and Zion are consolidated, as is the one at Orient. Richland voted to consolidate in 1916 and erected a $20,000.00 building. In 1938 they added a gymnasium.

The Zion consolidated district was formed in 1919. The buiIding cost $75,000.00. It has a fine school and this together wih the Hill of Zion Church forms a community center for Union Township.

In the rural schools of Adair County there are 1,223 pupils. 104 rural schools were in use in 1939-40.

A brief review of the resources of the county in 1938 shows the following to be a 10-year average for 1929-38: No. of farms, 2,148; average farm size, 168 acres; corn, 112,530 acres with 32 bus. the average yield; oats, 48.635, 28 bus average yieId; winter wheat, 4,032, 15 bus. average yield; barley, 2,436, bus. average yield; rye, 1,058, 13 bus. average yield; soybeans, 1932, 14 bus. average yield. The average yield per acre for this 10 year period is: clover and timothy, 1.0 tons; alfalfa, 2.0 tons; wild hay, 1.1 tons; tame hay, 1.2 tons.

The number of horses in the county has decreased from 17,700 in 1900 to 8,700 in 1939. Hogs had decreased from 98,153 in 1925 to 79,601 in 1939. The average value of land and buildings per acre was $19.01 in 1880; $92.21 in 1910; $210.76 in 1920; and $57.78 in 1935.

The number of farm owners has decreased from 870 in 1928 to 780 in 1938. Tenants in the county have increased from 1,007 in 1928 to 1,179 in 1938. Only 404 owners had lived on their farms over 15 years. 446 tenants had stayed on the same farm over 5 years. 231 moved every year. Corporations owned 18.56 per cent of the land in 1937. Union, Grand River, Harrison, and Grove townships have the most, and Washington, Summerset, and Jackson, the least corporate owned. In 1939 corporations owned 20.43 per cent of the farm land.

The Iowa Press Association's Who's Who in Iowa - 1940 - submitted by cddd

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