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History and Genealogy
Shelby County, Iowa

Shelby County Cities and Towns


This thriving city, one of the best located and most prosperous on the western slope of Iowa, is situated in Harlan Township, Shelby County, and is the county seat. It is somewhat south of the geographical center of the county, but nevertheless, as a county seat, it is well placed. The exact location is just below the confluence of the middle and west branches of the Nishnabotany River, on the west side of the latter branch. The railway facilities of the place are furnished by the Harlan & Northern Branch of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad. This branch is thirteen miles in length, and runs from Avoca, on the main line, to Harlan. This line runs two mixed trains each way per day, and a large amount of produce is carried over the line. In addition to the railroad already existing, nearly the entire right of way for the building of an extension by the Chicago & Northwestern Railway Company from Kirkman to Harlan, seven miles, has been secured. The building of the line, however, seems to be surrounded by minor difficulties. The Iowa & Southwestern Railway, one of the Northwestern branch lines, now runs into Kirkman, and it is from this branch the proposed extension will, if present plans are carried out, be built. In addition to this, several other railway companies, among them the C., M. & St. P., give indications of probable future building in the same direction. In any event, the day appears not far distant when Harlan will have connection with eastern markets by one or two other routes than the branch line previously mentioned.

Harlan is a handsome place and handsomely situated on rising ground on the west side of the river. There are several slopes from the business portion of town, and the country is delightfully rolling for miles; therefore the drainage and water are excellent, and malarial complaints are almost unknown in the vicinity.

The city is laid out in a different manner from most northern cities, and but for its life and enterprise, which are apparent at first glance, would give one the impression of a Spanish or Mexican town. Though the city has numerous streets and considerable traffic in all directions, yet the main business portion of the place faces the center of the square of about one block in size, in the extreme center of which is enclosed the court-house. The arrangement throws the heavier portion of the trade of the place around a common center, and makes easy of access any business house. The buildings centering around the square are remarkably good for a new city, and many of them are large brick structures that would be a credit to a place three times the size of Harlan. The merchants all seem to be thriving, and heavy and well-selected stocks of goods are the rule. That the business men are well patronized is evidenced by the hundreds of teams that may be seen in the public square on any fine day during the busy season.

The business houses of Harlan may be summed up as follows: Eight general merchandise stores, four drug stores, three banks, representing an aggregate capital of $150,000 or more, boot and shoe store, book and news store, three grocery and crockery stores, two merchant tailor shops, two clothing and hat and cap stores, three hardware stores, two furniture and undertaking establishments, three milliners, three dress makers, four agricultural implement dealers, three lumber yards, four coal dealers, two jewelers, five land and loan agents, two brokers, five grain dealers, four stock dealers, three newspapers, two photographers, three barbers, three hotels, six restaurants, billiard hall and saloon, billiard hall, four saloons, two livery stables, four blacksmith shops, two blacksmith and wagon shops, five paint shops, ten contractors and builders of various descriptions, three harness makers, four boot and shoe makers, two bakers, two brickyards, each employing quite a number of men, two grist mills, one run by steam and the other by water, creamery, fence factory, three meat markets, nursery, two butter and egg dealers, house-mover, thirteen insurance agents. One of the blacksmith shops mentioned does considerable machine work. The professions are represented by eighteen attorneys, eleven physicians, two surveyors, dentist and three music teachers.

Harlan has also become metropolitan enough to maintain a telephone exchange. This has thirty-three subscribers, and good use is made of it. This institution was established about a year ago, with twenty or more subscribers, and the list, through good management, has been gradually increasing.

The population of Harlan, by the census of 1880, was 1,303, but the growth of the city has been very rapid since, and the number of residents now variously estimated at from 1,600 to 2,000. The latter figure has been estimated on the vote of last fall, and is probably not far from the correct one.

The town is still growing at a good rate, and numerous improvements are being made. Among the most worthy of note of these is the brick opera house being erected by J. M. Long, one of Shelby County's old citizens and Harlan's enterprising men. The building will be a two-story brick structure, 44x120 feet in dimensions. The lower story will be divided into stores, and the upper story will be the opera house proper. The cost will be something over $25,000. The work of excavation for the foundation has been nearly completed, and the opening of spring will see building commence. The appointments of the structure will be first-class.

Harlan was named after Iowa's ex-senator of that name.

The survey of the original plat of Harlan was begun April 14th, 1858, by N. M. Kinney, surveyor. The plat comprised eighty acres, and was surveyed for Dr. A. F. Ault. This original plat is now known as "Old Harlan." Previous to this, Dr. Ault and others had platted a town on the opposite side of the Nishnabotany, which town rejoiced in the euphonious name of "Simoda." Dissensions occurred in the ranks of the proprietors of the site, and it was this which led to the laying out of Harlan by Dr. Ault. On July 15th, 1859, James M. Long platted an addition to Harlan of 160 acres. This addition now comprises the central portion of the city. Mr. Long platted a second addition of eighty acres on September 16th, 1879. On January 15th, 1880, D. M. Wyland platted the portion of the town known as McDonald's addition. This addition was bought by Wyland after McDonald had platted the land and made arrangements for its recording; hence the retention of the name. On September 7th, 1880, Samuel L. Ganser and D. Z. Ganser platted a small addition of fifteen lots. August 10th, 1881, another small addition known as Davis' addition, was platted by J. W. Davis. Wyland's addition of about sixty acres was recorded by C. J. and D. M. Wyland on September 8th, 1881. These numerous additions now give a space to the town plat of about a section.

The first settler on the town site of Harlan was Isaac Plum, who came about the time the town was laid out. Of the old settlers living here at present, the second in length of residence is H. C. Holcomb, Clerk of Courts. David Randall is another old settler, as is also Peter Barnett. There were other settlers who came prior to the advent of these gentlemen, but they have moved away. Those named all came in the spring of 1858, as did Dr. Ault who platted the town.

Harlan made no particular growth after the first two years until the railroad was built- In fact, it is stated on good authority that there were more people in the place in 1860 than there were in 1868. The breaking out of the civil war took away a large number who never returned and various other causes also induced a heavy emigration. Since the advent of the railroad, however, the growth of the city has been rapid and uniform, especially during the last two years.

The buildings of Harlan are mainly of recent construction; but there are one or two that date back almost to the time the original town plat was made. Among these is E. Bergstresser's dwell ing house, which was the second dwelling erected in Harlan. This building was originally erected as a store in the spring of 1858. It has since been enlarged and remodeled. The next oldest building standing is William Errett's dwelling, erected by Isaac Plum in 1859. The Court House, though it had two predecessors, one of which was burned and the other turned into a tenement house, is also an old building. The last named structure. It must be stated, is a frame building of very indifferent character, and does not do an enterprising city like Harlan any great amount of credit. There is, however, a probability that a better building will be erected. This is greatly needed and will be hailed with gratitude by the majority of the people in Shelby County.

Harlan was incorporated in May, 1879, as a city of the second class. The first officers of the city were: Wm. Wyland, Mayor; Cyrus Beard, Recorder. The Trustees were, J. M. Long, Thomas Ledwich, D. M. Wyland, Peter Brazie, John Coenen, J. B. Stutsman. G. S. Rainbow was the first Marshal, and G. S. Gibbs the first City Treasurer. The present officers are: Thomas Ledwich, Mayor; Cyrus Beard, Recorder; D. M. Wyland, G. S. Gibbs, T. J. Robinson, John Coenen, J. B. Stutsman, E. J. Trowbridge, Trustees. L. D. Frost is City Treasurer; G. W. Watkins, Marshal; H. M. McGinnis, Street, Commissioner.

The first postoffice established in the vicinity of Harlan was at the original town site, Simoda, in the summer of 1858, Samuel Dewell, at present postmaster at River Sioux, Harrison County, was the first appointed to the office. After some squabbling, the county seat was removed to Harlan in 1859, and the postoffice followed a few days after. The first postmaster, after the removal of the office to Harlan, was A. L. Harvey. Mr. Harvey was succeeded by D. H. Randall, still a resident of Harlan. At that time official red tape was not interwoven in the post-office so closely as at present, and the mail, which was extremely small, was kept in a nail-keg or candle-box and stowed away in a corner. As occasion required, the box or keg was emptied out on the floor and the "boys" told to pitch in and sort the letters for themselves. The business of the office is now very large, and the candle-box system cannot well be continued. The present postmaster is B. I. Kinsey, who has held the office about fourteen years. The office was made a money order office July 1st, 1877.

The first mercantile business in Harlan was carried on by Dr. Ault, the founder of the town, who, about the time the town was platted, put in a small stock of general merchandise. The greater portion of the goods was carried in his arms by the Doctor from some neighboring town. This, though the first store in Harlan, did not pay well, and it was soon closed out.

The newspapers of Harlan are three in number and all are paying property. The date of the establishment of the first newspaper in Harlan or Shelby County is somewhat obscured by the dust of antiquity, but the "oldest inhabitant" sets down a paper known as the Courier, published at Shelby, as the first paper issued in the county. The publisher's name is not given. Several papers were started in Harlan before either of the present ones, but none of them "came to stay." In regard to those now in Harlan, we quote the following from a local writer:

The Harlan Herald was established in December, 1874, by Geo. Musgrave as a Republican journal, and has continued steadily on in that line to date. In 1875 George D. Ross purchased the office, and in 1876 he also bought the Shelby County Record, merged it into the Herald, continuing its publication until July 16th, 1877, when he sold the office and real estate to R. W. Robins. January 17th. 1880, C. R. Pratt, of Essex, Connecticut, bought a half-interest, sold out in December, 1880, to E. R. Parmelee, and March 1st, 1881, bought R. W. Robins' half interest. E. R. Parmelee came to Harlan in October, 1880. An interest in the office was recently purchased by a brother of Mr. Pratt, the firm now being Pratt Brothers.

Up to 1880 the paper was a seven-column quarto, when it was enlarged to nine columns, and served to a complete new dress, and an excellent cylinder power press ad led to the office. It is the largest paper ever published in the county, and has a large circulation. It is issued weekly, on Thursdays.

The Harlan Tribune, the first Democratic newspaper in Harlan, was established in June 1880, by U. S. Brown and A. D. Tinsley.

U. S. Brown commenced the newspaper business about thirteen years ago as editor of the Moberly Daily, at Moberly, Mo. From there he went to Lawrence, Kansas, as city editor of the Kansas Daily Tribune. About eight years ago he came to Iowa—first to Burlington as city editor of the Gazette; from there to Indianola, Warren county, as local editor of the Indianola Tribune. In January, 1879, he came to Harlan and engaged with George D. Ross as editor of the Herald, continuing about four months. In the latter part of May he commenced canvassing for the establishment of the Tribune, and succeeded in working up for it a liberal patronage. In March, 1881, he was elected city assessor.

The Tribune is now published by A. D. Tinsley.

The Harlan Hub was established in December, 1880, by Webb M. Oungst, who commenced the newspaper business about twelve years ago, at the case, in Grand Junction. He was afterwards employed by Mills & Co., of Des Moines, and with State Printer G. W. Edwards, and still later as foreman and local editor of the Creston Gazette, owning a half-interest therein. He came to Harlan, June 6th, 1879, and was foreman about two months in the Tribune office, and thereafter foreman in the Herald office, until he established the Hub. The Hub, like its contemporaries, is flourishing.

The stage facilities of Harlan are very adequate. Daily trips are made between Harlan and Kirkman, semi-weekly between Harlan and Denison, and tri-weekly between Harlan and Dunlap and intermediate points, weekly between Harlan and Logan. There is no trouble in obtaining transportation to almost any neighboring point on either of the railroads in this section of Iowa.

[History of Western Iowa, 1882, submitted by CD]

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