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. . . about Sabula, Iowa

Sabula Main Street Circa late 19th Century.
The Children in the photo could be Henry Foster's children.
Photo created from a photographic glass plate and contributed by Dwight Furleigh.

Sabula, was not an island city when it was first settled, flooding around the town was the result of building Lock and Dam Number 13 on the Mississippi River south of town. Currently Sabula's size is about 1 mile long and 1/4 mile wide.

Data Included:

1878 Jackson County, Iowa Gazetteer
1879 Jackson County, Iowa History
1908 From the Annals of Jackson County
News Items

From 1878 Jackson County, Iowa Gazetteer


Sabula, situated on the Mississippi river, at the south-east extremity of Jackson County, is the eastern terminus of the Sabula, Ackley & Dakota Railroad, or as it is now, the Iowa Branch of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad. A steam ferry runs from this point to Savanna, which brings it into intimate relations with Illinois. This town has the facilities of two roads to carry the immense aggregate of produce which comes in from the surrounding country.

The Chicago, Clinton & Dubuque Railroad have a station here, as well as the S., A. & D. R. R., mentioned before, who maintain one of their largest depots here. Besides these outlets and inlets for prosperous life, the citizens have improved their roads within the corporate limits by means of a wise outlay in macadamized roads, which give excellent approaches from the railroad stations and from the agricultural districts.

The name of the town Sabula, signifies sand, in the Indian tongue, and this word best describes the shifting nature of the deposit upon which the place has been built, hence the necessity for good road making.


In 1843, Sabula, then called Charlestown, contained twenty dwellings, mostly frame buildings, there being only one of brick, and that one not quite finished. There was one tavern; one store, (which was occasionally closed while the proprietor made a trip to Galena to replenish his stock,) one blacksmith, one wagon maker, two shoemakers, three or four carpenters, and a cooper or two. There was neither church nor school house in the town. There was no building west of Broad street and only three in that. The half of a small beef could not be sold in a long, summer's day, and half of what was sold was never paid for. Wood was delivered and corded on the river bank in town at two dollars and a half a cord. Beef sold at two or three cents a pound, and pork a dollar and a half per hundred. Wild hay, delivered on the ground in cock, brought one dollar per ton. Chopping was paid for at from fifty to seventy-five cents per cord. Rails, one dollar per hundred. Whiskey "by the small," at fifty cents per gallon could be had almost anywhere. But few horse teams were to be seen, oxen being chiefly used. Galena was the market, and the only place to obtain cash for produce, but that town being the end of the market, the seller had to take whatever price was there offered him.

At Sabula, and in the vicinity, a young cow and calf would bring nine dollars in work or trade; while a dozen of chickens would stall the market at any time. Sunday was chiefly devoted to hunting or fishing, playing cards for money in some secure place, or openly pitching horse shoes in front of the "Iowa Exchange." There was no sidewalk, nor any thought of such an expensive luxury. There was a time, though somewhat later, when the nearest magistrate lived five miles off, and the only available constable lived near him. Men could come to town, and get uproariously drunk, without any fear of the law, or being interfered with, and of course many availed themselves of the glorious opportunity.

In 1844, the water was over the bottom nearly the entire season; and one settler who lived about three miles from town, made a practice of wading once or twice a week to sell a few pounds of butter, at from five to ten cents a pound; he died that fall. Families living from ten to fifteen miles distant were looked upon as neighbors, and depended upon Sabula to trade in, and there obtain their necessary supplies. The country was but thinly settled. There were no improvements from the farm of the late Israel Day, west to the valley of Cooper Creek; nor from George F. Green's south to where Bodie now lives; nor west to Deep Creek.


The public schools of Sabula are well conducted. There is a Central School Building and two ward school houses, and the combined institution is graded in three departments. There are other persons engaged in the work of tuition here, outside of the public schools and the spirit of emulation operates wholesomely to the benefit of the community.


The Sabula Gazette is a weekly quarto paper, with Dr. J. F. Fairbank as editor and proprietor. It was started by a joint stock company in 1865, and has seen many changes, but now is thoroughly identified with the business interests of Sabula, independent in politics, and has a liberal patronage.
[Owen's Gazetteer and Directory of Jackson County, Iowa, Owen Publishing Company, Davenport, Iowa, 1878. Submitted by Mary Kay Krogman.]

From 1879 History of Jackson County Iowa



The spot on which Sabula now stands had been occupied as an Indian village. There were several families of Indians living here at the time the whites came and afterward. The spot was known to the French as Prairie La Pierre. This was the only point on the west bank of the river, between Lyons and Bellevue, which would afford a good site for a town. It was the only point where a steamer could find a good landing unless it be where the bluffs come close up to the shore or are bordered by bottom lands subject to yearly overflow. The site of Sabula, apart from the landing-place, is not an especially desirable one as it is cut off from the surrounding country by slough or swamp, and can only be reached from the country back of it during high water by the building of turnpikes or dikes across the lowlands. Sabula is located not many feet above high-water mark, and yet is perfectly safe from overflow. It might be feared that the slough and swamp back of town would breed pestilence and disease, yet we are assured that Sabula is a healthy town, and that the citizens do not experience the evil results from adjoining swamp-land which might be anticipated. The open situation of the town, and free circulation of air add to the sanitary condition of the place.

The spot occupied by Sabula was first a claim of two whites--Hinkley and Dorman. Dorman is said to have crossed the Mississippi on a log in 1835 or 1836. Dr. E. A. Wood bought out Hinkley's share in the claim upon the former's arrival in April, 1836. Subsequently, Charles Swan and W. H. Brown purchased Dorman's interest and a portion of Wood's. The claim was then owned by Woods, Swan and Brown. These men employed Albert Henry, in 1837, to survey the claim and lay it out in town lots. The plat of the town was recorded in Dubuque, this being at that time a part of Dubuque County.


The new town was first called Carrollport, a name which proved unfortunate for several reasons. A party by that name (Carroll) lived in the vicinity, who was quite unpopular, and some ill feeling was stirred up by the insinuations that the town had been named for a man of no enviable reputation. Then a box of goods from Saint Louis was directed, by mistake or way of joke, to "Carrion Point," affording a banter to those who were disposed to cavil at the pretensions of the new village.

Soon the name was changed to Charleston, a name which seemed to the settlers quite appropriate because it had a Savannah so close at hand the town on the opposite side of the river being known by that appellation. Some imagine there to be a similarity not altogether accidental between the name Charleston and Charles Swan, one of the proprietors of the place. But new troubles were ahead; a town in Lee County, Iowa, also bore the name Charleston, and much annoyance resulted from the misdirection of letters, packages, etc. It was finally determined in 1846, to have a name that could not be duplicated or caricatured, which should be called for nobody and yet be simple. The story goes that on account of the sandy condition of the soil William Hubbel bethought to name the place after the quality of its surface deposit. He examined his dictionary for the word sand and found the Latin word for sand was "Sabulum." It was the proposition to change Charleston to Sabulum, but a lady at a tea party, who heard of the proposed name, suggested that Sabula would not only be more elegant but more easily pronounced. Her suggestion was adopted. Thus the legend goes about the name Sabula.

The first log cabin in the place was built by Dr. Wood in 1836.
The first brick house was built in 1842, by William Cameron, on the corner of Pearl and Division streets.
The first Postmaster was William H. Brown, who was appointed in the latter of 1836, or early part of 1837.

The first ferry across the river was a scow ferry, running as early as 1837, and conducted by Dorman, one of the first claimants of the site of Sabula. A horse ferry was established in 1850 by Wade B. Eldredge. In 1859-60, a steam ferry was started by Jacob Oswald and Matt Hodgson. The boat was named "76" and was sold to the railroad company as a ferry-boat after the establishment of a transfer here. The company rebuilt the boat and named it the "Iowa."

Luther H. Steen, son of Ulysses and Lucinda Steen, was the first child born of white parents at this point.
The first blacksmith work was done on a forge erected by James Wood, the father of E. A. Wood, in 1836. The first real blacksmith-shop was built by John S. Dominy in the lower end of town, near where Dr. Wood's residence now stands.
Dr. Wood erected the first Sabula saw-mill in 1853 on "the slough,"
The first flouring-mill was built in 1855 by Dr. Wood.
The first regular physician in the town was Dr. J. G. Sugg.
The first school was taught by a maiden lady named Stearns about 1838.

[The History of Jackson County Iowa, Published November 1879. Transcribed by Mary Kay Krogman]

From a 1908 Publication

Sabula and its Environs as They were in 1843.
(From Sabula Gazette.)

The following article first appeared in the columns of the Gazette of July 31, 1880, and was written by the late Dr. J. G. Sugg, one of the pioneers of this locality, founder of our Pioneers' and Old Settlers' Association, and one of the most reliable local historians, being possessed of a remarkable memory and a fine education. At the time of publication Dr. Sugg wrote of the days "Thirty-seven Years Ago," and the only change is to make it conform with the changes that have been made since the article was originally written, and to omit unimportant matter.

In 1843 Sabula; then called Charleston, had few inhabitants and fewer dwellings. On the river street, from Long's sawmill to the railroad bridge, there were only eleven buildings, namely: A large, rudely built frame warehouse, first owned by a man named Carey, standing on the bank of the river, about opposite the present residence of Henry Cohrt. Next was the old frame dwelling house, then owned and occupied by James Leonard (father of the late Jas. E. Leonard), and standing on the ground now occupied by Thompson's store. A short distance below this, and in the street, stood an abandoned log house. A frame building, occupied then and until his death in 1845, by R. H. Hudson as a dry goods store, was located on the lot south or the present city hall. Then came the "Iowa Exchange" a large two-story frame building, the only hotel in the village. This building was torn down years ago and the handsome brick residence of the late A. H. Berner occupies its site. On the ground now occupied by the old stone store building, north of J. L. Kimbell's residence, stood a rough log house built tor the purpose of supplying the much needed "hash" tor the few boarders of those early days. Next came the ancient frame building occupied by the late Dr. E. A. Wood as a general store, on the corner where Geo. Laing's elegant home is now located. This was emphatically THE store, it being, with the exception of the Hudson store before noted, the stock in which was very small and limited, the only store in the place, and had no competitor nearer than Bellevue on the north and Lyons on the south. And even this solitary store was closed at times while its owner was away at Galena or elsewhere, procuring new goods.

A short distance south or the last building named stood a respectable frame dwelling, since destroyed by fire, but then owned and occupied by Ulysses Steen as a dwelling and hotel; on the river bank opposite were two frame buildings, one being the old store house at the public landing, across the street southeast of Geo. Laing's residence built by Wm. Hubbel, and a short distance south was a two story frame residence. And lastly, on the southeast corner of Quarry street, stood a large rambling frame building, frequently called "Wood's Castle", then owned and occupied by James Wood and family, ancestors of the late E. A. and Jerry Wood. Not one of the above named remains today (1906) to mark the passing of pioneer days.

Returning to the north end of the then village, there were on Pearl street, first, the brick dwelling house built by William Cameron (who was afterward drowned in the river by the sinking of a flat boat loaded with wood) standing on the corner now occupied by Henry Cohrts' dwelling. South of this was all open ground until we came to Dominy's blacksmith shop, a rough board shanty standing on the ground now covered by Busch's meat market, Goos's barber shop and Dallagher's cigar factory. At the rear of his shop this worthy son of Vulcan made his charcoal for the forge fire, burning cords of wood at a time for that purpose, the escaping gases floating through town and filling the houses and the nostrils of their inmates with odors very different from those of 'Araby the blest'. Adjoining this shop, was a wagon shop presided over by our pioneer townsman, Fred Schramling, and who took in payment for his work what he could get, "just to accommodate", sometimes cash, sometimes produce, and at least once, stocking yarn. He used for his work native timber, seasoned as well as circumstances would permit. A little further south in the same block was a goodly appearing dwelling, not altogether finished, the enterprising individual who started it leaving for parts unknown and forgetting to pay his debts. One of his victims levied upon the house and sold it to our pioneer preacher Rev. Oliver Emerson, the purchase money being raised by subscription. The building was moved south onto the lot now occupied by M. Gohlmann's handsome home, and fitted up for a residence on the first floor, the second story, used for church services, being reached by an outside stairway. On the lot next to where the building first stood, was a small one story house, owned and occupied by one Miller. South of this and on the east side of the street stood a one-story frame building owned and occupied by J. S. Dominy, who some )ears later moved it to the rear and erected a stone residence in front of it, being the building now occupied by Miss Eliza Moss, a daughter of Mrs. Dominy by a former husband. Across the street stood a small one and a half-story frame residence, which later was greatly enlarged and became the "Western Hotel" and is now the residence of the late Geo. Bryant and Mr. Freede. The next south was a frame residence owned by James Hudson on the 16t [?] now occupied by Mrs. Thos. Scarborough's home. Then came the frame residence on lot 3 in the same block, which has just recently been overhauled and rebuilt by E. S. Day for a tenement house. The residence on the corner of Pearl and Washington street, now occupied by Walter Willett came next, while in the middle of the same block was another small frame residence. Just north of Busch's meat market was a large frame residence, then owned and occupied by E. A. Wood, while on the opposite corner south was the same building that occupies the site at the present time, then owned by Wm. Hubbel, but for many years past the property of Mrs. M. E. Tucker, of Milwaukee. This house, although not very pretentious at the present time, was in 1843 the ultima thule, the ne plus ultra of Pearl street. From that point south all was vacant. West on Broad street, on the lot south of S. E. Day's residence, was a frame building occupied by old Mr. Hudson. The next residence was three blocks north; Thos. Marshall had just erected a large frame residence, which was, many years later, transformed into a modern home by A. J . Copp, and is now occupied by O. A. Manning. One house three blocks further north completed and ended Broad street. There was also a small shanty looking building just northwest of the present location of the Milwaukee depot, but all the rest of the town site was a "waste howling wilderness", with not a vestige or street, highway or improvement being visible. There was no church nor school house, nor even a graveyard. There was no butcher shop, no barber shop nor bakery nor grocery store, but whiskey was abundant. The only available grist mill was Hubbel's, later owned by the Dickinsons, and that of Luther Bowen, two miles east of Savanna.

[In the list of "living actors in the busy scenes of those days" in Charleston, as written by Dr. Sugg, L. H. Steen is the only one living today and he was a small boy at that time.]

At the period of which this paper speaks, a growth of tall, luxuriant grasses covered every spot of un-timbered low lying lands adjacent to the village. Immediately west of town the grass grew so tall that a man on horseback passing from Sabula westward on the traveled road, couldn't see men making hay, though only a few rods distant, the grass being from five to eight feet high and Indeed It has been known, by actual measurement, to reach 10 feet high in some places.

A tri-weekly mail between Dubuque and Davenport was our best mail service in those days, and it took a full week to correspond with Andrew, the then place of county business. The post office was kept at the private house of William Hubbel, and the arrangements of the office consisted of 20 small pigeon holes.

When death visited the little community and had chosen its victim, the cost of funerals (including a black walnut coffin with a raised lid) seldom exceeded six dollars - five dollars being the price of the coffin - a wagon was used for a hearse and, with all the attending vehicles, was furnished gratis by the owner.

In 1843-4 and 5, a quarter of beef would glut the market, and a single hog of moderate size could not find a purchaser. Two cents a pound for fore quarter of beef and three cents for hind ones, was the ruling price, and pork, when it could be sold or traded at all, brought two or three cents a pound. Town lots were freely traded (there was no disposition to pay cash) at from $5 to $10 each, and merchantable produce had to find a. cash purchaser at Galena, there being no other market. In 1844 the writer (Dr. J. G. Sugg) sold in Galena a five-year old steer, a five-year-old Durham cow and a good four-year-old scrub cow for $30 for the lot, .and spent four days in going and returning. At this time a fairly good cow with a young calf sold at from $9 to $10. Money was at that time and for some years later, loaned at from 20 to 25 percent, and yet the law was quite as severe against usury then as it is now.

Leaving town and going northward; there were but nine farms between this place and Clark's Ferry, namely: Carroll's, McCabe's, Cavanaugh's, Thos. Scarborough's, Plunket's, McMahon's, Newberry's, Campbell Caldwell's, Parks, on the Maquoketa bottom. Returning to the road going west there was the farm for many years owned by J. G. Sugg, now owned by the estate of the late Geo. W. Bryant. On this farm Dr. Sugg had a story and a half hewn log house, a log barn covered with hay, and about six acres under cultivation. To the west on what is now the N. C. White farm, was a rough log cabin and a few acres or cultivated land that was held as a claim by Arthur Mullen. Next on the road was Andrew Smiths, now occupied by Peter Schroeder. The next, the claim of W. B. Beebe, now owned by John Kunau. The next was James Westbrook's farm, now owned and occupied by Martin Harmsen. Adjoining this on the west was a place then claimed by one Shay, now the Jerry Bruce farm. The next one was the farm now owned by Theo. Rodden of which but a few acres was under cultivation. From this farm to the little patch claimed by Bart Gorwin on the waters of Copper Creek-a distance of more than three miles, was as far as they could reach, an unbroken wilderness, no trace of improvement visible on either side, and wolves fearlessly traveled on the road at noonday. When Thomas Pope halted near the township line, since called Mt. Algor, and began to prepare for a residence, people wondered at his temerity in settling at such a place and essaying to make a farm so far from timber, springs or running stream. From Corwin's to Deep Creek there were six small farms, one of them a mere "bachelor's nest." What is now known as Van Buren, then called 'Backeye' contained but nine farms from the Maquoketa road north to the valley of the river of that name, while the country lying to the south of the road and east of Copper Creek was destitute of settlement, and what is now Miles and the adjacent country was known as "the prairie near the big spring west of Green's."

Returning to the west road and taking the one leading south through Canada Hollow, the first improvement encountered was a little shanty with a few acres broken, owned by B. Hudson on Sec. 24, 84-6. The next was a small frame house where Joseph Doty, then a single man, lived and farmed the adjoining land. This place is now owned by J. J. Summerville. Next was a hewn log house belonging to Jas. Canfield. A little further south and east lived Peter Schramling and family, and a short distance to the west, on the same creek, known as the Schramling Creek, lived or stayed that jovial and hearty pioneer, Joseph McElroy. Here in his chosen locality at the foot of a bold bluff, lived our friend in single blessedness and where, like Alexander Selkirk, he was monarch of all he surveyed. His abode was well known to the settlers south of him, and although a temperate man himself he has "many times and oft" saved from almost certain death by freezing, his inebriated acquaintances of Clinton county, who, unconscious of their condition and consequent danger, perhaps gave him a call or a shout as they wended their way home. [Joseph McElroy passed away at the home of his daughter, Mrs. J. F. Schramling in this city, on February 19, 1906, and was the last of those sturdy pioneers are mentioned in this article, and he still owned the farm referred to above at the time or his death.] From this pioneer dwelling to Haun Town (except a few acres lower down the creek, on what was called the Hudson claim, and an unfinished building on land now owned by Louis Hundevard) the all-conquering axe or civilized plow had left no trace. Haun Town was unborn. The place had two small houses and there was an unfinished structure intended by a man named Barber for a hemp mill.

Again returning to the west, or Maquoketa road, and leaving it at the crossing of Elk Creek and following that stream southward, the first building encountered was a frame on what Is now the farm of Nelson Kimball, but where at that time lived George F. Green and family, including the Kimballs, then men, but unmarried. The next along the creek was H. G. Crary's farm, and still further south but adjoining, was that of George Hollis, both farms in later years being owned by Bodie.

With the exception of a small field on the land now owned by Hans Jess and a small one in Clinton county then claimed by a man named Wilson, later owned by Robt. Walker and now the property or John Thompson, all land right and left, was open and unclaimed.

In closing his article Dr. Sugg says: "Although the foregoing description of the condition of Sabula and the surrounding country in 1843, may not be minutely and in every particular strictly accurate, yet it is believed to be substantially true, and that pioneers who survive and peruse it, will recognize the faithfulness of the picture, and fully endorse the statements therein made."

[Source: Annals of Jackson County Iowa, Reprinted from the Maquoketa Record, published by the Jackson County Historical Society 1907, submitted by M.K.Krogman]



By Wade Guenther

Sabula, Iowa's easternmost town, has a population of close to 900 and is entirely surrounded by water. Lying on the west bank, of the Mississippi river, it is bounded on the west by Sabula Lake, 640 acres of water well stocked with fish; to the north and south are sloughs and lakes and the town is steadily gaining popularity as a recreation center. Hundreds of people visit Sabula each weekend to enjoy fishing and boating.

Sixty years ago Sabula was Jackson county's leading industrial center, having a packing house employing about 200 men from November 1st to May 1st each year; a flour mill, an oatmeal mill, sawmill, planing mill, sash and door factory and a factory producing barrels, hogsheds and firkins for the packing house.

Prior to 1880 the Sabula, Ackley & Dakota railroad operated a machine shop in Sabula, but when the S. A..& D. was absorbed by the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul railway, the shop was moved to Savanna, Ill. At the present time the town's only industry is, a poultry processing plant operated by George Vallet.

Commercial Fishing

Commercial fishing is engaged in to a considerable extent with about 120,000 pounds of rough fish - carp, buffalo and perch - and about 25,000 pounds of dressed catfish being shipped annually. Most of the commercial fishermen engage in trapping during the winter months.

The Sabula Consolidated school district has a total, enrollment of 285, with 75 in high school. Myron Thomas is superintendent of schools. Chas. B. Cotton is president and James L. Petersen secretary of the school board. Other members of the board are Harry Johnson, Fred Norskow, Carl Papke and Victor Robinson.

George Ulmer is mayor of the town and has been for a quarter of a century. S, F. Haynes is town clerk, James L. Petersen, treasurer, and the council is made up of Wm. Huebner, Frank Doyle, Victor Robinson, W. E. Allen and Carl Papke.

Early History

There are three churches - Methodist, Calvary Lutheran and St. Peter's Catholic church. Lodges represented include Masonic, Eastern Star, Odd Fellows, Daughters of Rebekah, Knights of Pythias, Pythian Sisters, American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars. Sabula's history dates back to 1835 when two men, Dorman and Hinkley crossed the Mississippi river from Illinois on a log and took up residence here. In 1836 Dr. E. A. and Jeremiah Woods arrived on the site, bought out Hinkley's interest and the following year had a survey made and laid out a townsite. The plat of the new town, named Carrolport, was recorded at the federal land office in Dubuque and settlers began arriving. The name of the town was soon changed to Charlestown, but it developed that there was a town by the same name in Lee county, so in 1846 the Sabula was adopted and it has remained as such.

[Jackson Sentinel, Maquoketa, Iowa, May 18, 1954. Transcribed by Mary Kay Krogman]

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