PELLA AND ITS ENVIRONS
The City of Pella is beautifully situated on the ridge between the Skunk and Des Moines rivers, on sections
3 and 10, township 76, range 18, near the center of Lake Prairie Township. It was laid out by Walter Clement, deputy
county surveyor, early in May, 1848, for Hendrick P. Scholte, add the plat was filled with the county recorder
on June 6, 1848. On the original plat the north and south thoroughfares are called avenues. Beginning at the east
side they are: Hazel, Entrance, Inquiring, Perseverance, Reformation, Gratitude, Experience, Patience, Confidence,
Expectation, Accomplishment and West End. Running east and west are the following streets: North, Columbus, Washington,
Franklin; Liberty, Union, Independence, Peace and South. Since the first survey of the town was made the names
of several of the streets and avenues have been changed.
The first plat shows 678 lots; East Market Square, bounded by Entrance, Liberty, Union and Inquiring streets and
avenues; West' Market Square, bounded by Patience, Franklin, Liberty and Confidence; and Garden Square, bounded
by Reformation, Gratitude, Washington and Franklin. North of Garden Square a plat of ground was left for a public
park. A number of additions have since been made to the city, the most important of which are: Overkamp's Southeast,
October 12, 1854; De Haan's, December 4, 1854; North Pella, September 9, 1854; South Pella, November 3o, 1854;
Bousquet's, November 7, 1854; De Haan's Second, May 16, 1862; Overkamp's Railroad, October 6, 1864; Ringling's,
December 22, 1880, and Braam's February 13, 1912. Part of the original plat was vacated in June, 1877, upon petition
of P. H. Bousquet.
The first house in the immediate vicinity of the site of Pella was built in May, 1848, in the edge of the timber
just north of the town, by Thomas Tuttle and his wife, who was his only assistant, the nearest white settlers at
that time being nearly twenty miles distant. A little later this pioneer couple built a claim pen on what afterward
became Garden Square. This pen stood for many years and was occupied a part of the time after the city had grown
up around it. Another early settler was Rev. M. J. Post, who carried the first mail over the route from Fairfield
to Fort Des Moines, and whose widow kept the first house of entertainment in Pella after his death on April 2,
1848: Jacob C. Brown settled near the town site in 1844 and James Deweese came the following year.
The first mercantile establishment in the town was the general store of Walters & Smith, which was located
near the present western limits of the city. For some time this firm had a monopoly of the trade and charged prices
that customers complained were too high. Then E. F. Grafe opened a store and the truth of the old saying, "Competition
is the life of trade," was soon made manifest. In 1853 Wellington Nossaman bought the hotel known as the Franklin
House, and soon afterward opened a store in part of the building.
A postoffice had been established on Lake Prairie previously to the laying out of the town. In 1848 it was removed
to Pella and H. P. Scholte was appointed postmaster.
The name of the town (Pella) is derived from a Hebrew word which signifies a city of refuge. It was the name of
a small town in Palestine and was chosen by the proprietor because it offered an asylum to the people of his native
THE HOLLAND COLONY
Hendrick P. Scholte, the founder of the town, was born at Amsterdam, Holland, September 25, 1805. In his boyhood
he had a desire to take the course in the naval academy with a view to becoming an officer in the navy, but abandoned
the idea because of his mother's opposition. In 1824 he completed the literary course in the University of Leyden,
then studied theology in that institution and in 1832 was licensed to preach. The next year he was regularly ordained
as a minister in the National Reform Church. In 1835 a division occurred in the church, Mr. Scholte, with a number
of other ministers, withdrawing from the National Church and forming a new organization. They were soon subjected
to persecutions by the Synod of Holland and the government of the Netherlands. Instead of crushing the new movement
this persecution added to the number of its adherents. After a time the government, finding its efforts to break
up the rebellion of no avail, began to relax, and upon the accession of William II to the throne the persecution
It has been stated by some historians that the religious intolerance shown by the National Church toward the Reformed
Church during this period was the principal cause that led to such a large emigration from the Netherlands. No
doubt this might have had an influence upon emigration, but there were other reasons for so many people leaving
the country. In his labors as a minister Mr. Scholte came in touch with the middle and poorer classes of the people.
He saw the disparity in social conditions, the difficulties the poor had to contend with in their efforts to support
themselves and families, and, in connection with another minister, began the study of conditions in other countries,
with a view of planting a colony somewhere, in which the inhabitants might have better opportunities. They wrote
a letter to the minister of colonies asking for permission to establish their colony upon the Island of Java, and
for free transportation for the colonists and their belongings. But the government refused their request and they
then turned their attention to America. After gathering all the information possible concerning Texas and Missouri,
the former was rejected because the climate was too warm and the, latter because it was a state in which slavery
existed. Iowa was the next choice and was finally selected.
In July, 1846, a meeting was held at Leersdam, Holland, for the purpose of organizing a colony that should be self
sustaining in its operations. Nothing definite was accomplished at that meeting, but in December an organization
was perfected at Utrecht by the election of H. P. Scholte, president; A. J. Betten, vice president, and Isaac Overkamp,
secretary. A committee, or board, was also appointed to make arrangements for transportation and to receive members
on certain conditions. This committee was composed of John Rietveld, A. Wigny, G. F. Le Cocq and G. H. Overkamp.
Any person of good moral character and industrious habits was eligible for membership in the colony. It was not
essential that he should be a member of the church, but atheists, infidels and Roman Catholics were to be excluded.
By the spring of 1847 the association numbered about thirteen hundred persons, of whom over seven hundred were
prepared to go to a new home in a strange land. Four sailing vessels were chartered to carry them to Baltimore.
Early in April, 847, three of these ships sailed from Rotterdam and the other from Amsterdam. After a voyage of
about fifty days they arrived at their destination, nine deaths and three births having occurred during the voyage.
At Baltimore the colonists were met by Mr. Scholte, who had come over in advance. From that city they proceeded
by rail and canal boat to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where they embarked on steamboats for St. Louis. E. F. Grafe,
a German resident of St. Louis, had been apprised of their coming and made preparations for their reception. A
temporary camp was established just outside the city limits and here the colonists remained until August, while
three of their number went forward to select a location for their permanent settlement. The three men selected
for this duty were H. P. Scholte, John Rietveld and Isaac Overkamp, who departed at once for Iowa.
Upon reaching Fairfield the committee met Rev. M. J. Post, who was then engaged in carrying the mail from that
point to Fort Des Moines, and from him learned of the beautiful prairie lying between the Skunk and Des Moines
rivers, in townships 76 and 77, range 18. Being impressed with Mr. Post and his description of the region, the
committee accompanied him to the place and found that it was all that he had described. Mr. Scholte, as agent and
treasurer of the colony, purchased the claims of those who had already settled upon the prairie, with such live
stock and farming utensils as they could be induced to sell.
Like the spies that Moses sent forward to inspect the Promised Land, the commissioners returned to the camp at
St. Louis and made their report. Mechanics were then despatched to Marion County to erect temporary shelter for
the colonists, who arrived a little later. One large shed was built in what is now the western part of the city,
in which a number of families took up their residence until better habitations could be constructed. Some found
shelter in the cabins upon the claims purchased of the first settlers, and others erected sod houses, which were
roofed with the tall grass that grew along the sloughs. Usually an excavation of two or three feet in depth was
made, around which would be built the wall of sod, often not more than two or three feet high. These nondescript
structures were built in and around the present City of Pella, without regard to regularity, and presented a peculiar
spectacle. Donnel tells the following amusing story concerning one of these sod houses:
"One night some cattle happened to be grazing in the neighborhood of one of these sod houses, and it also
happened that, as grazing was not abundant, one of the oxen went prospecting about for something better. Seeing
the house he evidently mistook it for a small haystack and 'went for it.' Finding the coarse, dry grass not so
very good, he got upon it with his fore feet in search of better food, when the weak structure gave way beneath
his weight and let him plunge headlong into the regions below. The family were asleep until the crash came and
awakened them to bewildered consciousness of some awful calamity befalling them, and their exclamations of fright
added terror to the already terrified beast, and he made his exit by the door with all practicable speed, probably
resolving, ox fashion, for ever more to keep clear of such haystacks. Fortunately no one was hurt, and no serious
damage was done, except to the house."
Some of the Hollanders lived in their sod house for two winters before they were able to provide themselves with
better habitations. These houses would keep out the cold, but in wet seasons the occupants experienced much discomfort
through the leaking of the grass roofs and the water seeping up through the earthen floor. Sometimes the water
would rise to such a height that it was necessary to bail out or move. Notwithstanding all the drawbacks, these
people persisted in their efforts until they developed the resources of the country and built up a city that is
a credit to themselves and an honor to the state.
Mr. Scholte occupied the claim pen built by Thomas Tuttle until he could erect a better place of residence. The
house built by him in 1848, about the time the city was laid out, is still standing and is occupied as a dwelling.
It faces the public square and is remarkably well preserved, although it is one of the oldest houses in the county.
The iron chest, or strong box, in which the money of the colonists was brought over from the Netherlands, is still
preserved in the Pella National Bank. It was made by hand by Dutch blacksmiths in the old country and is an ingenious
piece of work. In the front of the box is a keyhole, into which the great iron key fits perfectly, but upon turning
the key the box fails to unlock. That keyhole is a "blind," the real one being in the center of the lid,
concealed by what appears to be the head of one of the large rivets. A smart tap on the side of this rivet head
caused it to turn on a pivot, revealing the true keyhole. One turn of the key moves eight bolts, three on each
side and one at each end, that fit in sockets in the wall of the chest. This old box is one of the highly prized
historic relics of Marion County.
In the spring of 1855 the people of Pella took the necessary steps to have the town incorporated. An election
was held and 135 votes were cast in favor of incorporation to 22 votes against the proposition. The official records
pertaining to the matter show that "The county judge fixed upon the 9th day of July, 1855, as the time, and
the said town of Pella as the place, of holding an election to choose three persons to prepare a charter, or articles
of incorporation for the said City or Town of Pella."
P. Pravendright, H. C. Huntsman and Isaac Overkamp were elected to prepare the charter, which was ordered by the
County Court to be submitted to the voters at an election to be held on August 20, 1855. At that election E. F.
Grafe, A. van Stigt and W. J. Ellis served as judges, and H. Hospers and Isaac Overkamp, as clerks. The charter
was adopted by a substantial majority and the first election for municipal officers was ordered to be held on Monday,
September 10, 1855, when W. J. Ellis was elected mayor; G. Boekenoongen, recorder; Isaac Overkamp, treasurer; A.
Stoutenburg, marshal; T. Rosborough, M. A. Clark, J. E. Strong, H. Hospers, J. Berkhout and O. McDowell, aldermen.
Following is a list of the mayors of Pella from the time the city was incorporated, with the year in which each
entered upon the duties of the office: W. J. Ellis, 1855; R. G. Hamilton, 1857; Isaac Overkamp, 1858; John Nollen,
1860; William Fisher, 1864; H. Hospers, 1867; H. M. McCully, 1871; H. Neyenesch, 1874; E. F. Grafe, 1875; H. Neyenesch,
1876; H. M. McCully, 1878; N. J. Gesman, Sr., 1882; H. Kuyper, 1883; G. Van Vliet, 1887; H. Kuyper, 1889; G. Van
Vliet, 1891; T. J. Edmand, 1895; G. Van Vliet, 1897; J. H. Stubenrauch, appointed in 1900 and elected in 1901;
D. S. Huber, 1903; W. L. Allen, 1905; S. G. Vander Zyl, appointed in 1906 to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation
of Mayor Allen, and elected for a full term in 1907; N. J. Gesman, Jr., 1909; H. J. Van den Berg, appointed by
the council in 1911 to fill the unexpired term of Mayor Gesman, who resigned; H. J. Johnson, 1913.
In 1870 the city surrendered its old charter and was reorganized under the general law of the state relating to
incorporated cities. Prior to 1887 mayors were elected annually. In the above list, where the difference in dates
represents a period of more than one year during this time it indicates that the mayor served one or more terms,
as in the case of John Nollen, who served four successive terms. In 1887 a change was made by which mayors and
other city officers are elected biennially.
On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, the first three days of September, 1897, the City of Pella celebrated the
fiftieth anniversary of its settlement by the Hollanders. Former residents of the city came from all parts of the
state and some from St. Louis, Chicago, and even New York. Henry Hospers, founder of the Holland colony in Sioux
County, Iowa, and a former mayor of Pella, came down from Orange City with about three hundred others on a single
excursion train. Many came by wagon, 150 conveyances, all loaded to their full capacity, coming from Mahaska County.
By 9 o'clock Wednesday morning it was estimated that two thousand wagons and carriages had been driven into the
Wednesday's feature was a grand procession, which formed at the east square and paraded through the principal streets
led by Henry Cox's band of forty four pieces. Following the band came seventy girls in their "teens,"
each dressed in white, with red and blue sashes, and carrying a red, white and blue umbrella. Next came the "first
settlers," who were young men and boys when the city was first settled in 1847. Two of the floats in the procession
are thus described by the Knoxville Express:
"On the first were four young ladies, the Misses Marie Bouquet, Sara Nollen, Bessie Scholte and May Keables,
grandchildren of Rev. H. P. Scholte, founder of Pella. They were dressed in picturesque Dutch costumes, the helmets
of solid gold, covered with lace caps, that is as near as ordinary English can come to describing this head gear.
Their faces were pictures framed in gold and lace. The rest of the costumes also was Dutch, girdles, skirts, shoes
and sturdy stockings. They represented a Dutch tea party, the tea served in dainty Delft ware, brought from Holland
fifty years ago.
"On the second float were the Misses Agnes Bousquet, Julia Bousquet, Annie Wormhoudt, Alice de Pree, Helen
Brinkhoff, Bessie van der Linden and Artie van der Linden. They were dressed in costumes very similar to the ones
in the first float, except that their head plates were of silver, the silver covered with lace. They represented,
in a sense, the industrial women of Holland. They had the old fashioned spinning wheels and other contrivances
of the past. Some of them knitted, but none of them was idle, for idleness is a vice among them. These two floats
were greatly admired and attracted any amount of attention."
One unusual feature of the celebration was that no Dutch flags were displayed. On St. Patrick's day the green flag
of Erin is always very much in evidence in the cities of the United States, but the committee on decorations decided
to put out no flags except the Stars and Stripes of the American Republic. Individuals were left to exercise their
own judgment in the matter of decoration, but the flag of Holland was conspicuous by its absence. This attitude
of the residents was partially explained by Rev. J. Ossewaarde on Thursday, in his address on The Duty of the Young
Toward Americanization. Said he, in referring to the founders of the colony:
"They came not for wealth, which they might in later years enjoy in the parent country. They came rather seeking
a home of refuge, where civil and religious liberty, denied them in the Netherlands, might be enjoyed, and where
those noble principles and virtues, dear to them as life, might be established, and expanded and developed. And
when they came here they came to become Americans. In choosing this country as their home and the home of their
posterity, they chose also the American institutions. The moment their feet pressed the American soil they became
Another parade was given on Thursday, preceding the speechmaking and at 3 o'clock P. M. on Friday the semi centennial
celebration gave way to the reunion of the Seventeenth Iowa Infantry, in which Marion County was well represented.
The officers of the association in charge of the celebration were: C. Rhynsburger, president; J. H. Stubenrauch,
secretary; G. Van Vliet, treasurer; P. H. Bousquet, marshal of the day; D. S. Huber and P. H. Bousquet, committee
on invitations. These gentlemen were congratulated upon the thoroughness of their preparations. The semi centennial
will long be remembered in Pella and Marion County.
GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT
After the incorporation of Pella as a city in 1855 the increase in population was steady, but it was not until
1866 that the city experienced its first real prosperity. In that year the Des Moines Valley (now the Chicago,
Rock Island & Pacific) Railroad was completed to Des Moines. As this line passes through Pella, that town immediately
came into prominence as a shipping point and trading center for a large part of Marion and the adjoining counties
of Jasper and Mahaska. During the next decade large quantities of farm products and live stock were annually shipped
from Pella, while manufactured goods of all kinds were shipped in for the use of the people over a large territory,
of which Pella was the recognized commercial center. In the year 1873 the receipts of the railroad company from
the office at Pella, freights and passenger fares, amounted to $110,361. In that year 643 carloads of live stock
alone were shipped from Pella. The completion of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad through the southern
part of the county in 1875 diverted a large part of the trade and shipping south of the Des Moines River to Knoxville,
though Pella still retains much of its commercial activity and is yet an important shipping point.
A volunteer fire company was organized some years after the town was incorporated, and in 1882 a building was erected
on Main Street, about two blocks south of the public square, for use of the fire department. Here are quartered
a hand chemical engine and a hook and ladder truck. After the completion of the waterworks a supply of hose was
provided for use on the street hydrants in case of fire.
At an election held in June, 1909, the people of Pella voted in favor of a proposition to authorize the city officials
to issue bonds to the amount of $90,000 to establish an electric light plant and a system of waterworks. The bonds
were issued and a tax levied to provide a sinking fund for their payment when they became due. An electric plant
was erected near the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad station, which furnishes current for the street
lights and also for commercial purposes, and power for operating the pumps at the waterworks station. Electricity
is furnished to private consumers at from 5 to 10 cents per kilowatt for lighting purposes and from 3 to 5 cents
per kilowatt for power. Even at these moderate rates the income from the plant was sufficient in 1914 to provide
for the interest and sinking fund pertaining to that part of the bonds, so that no tax was levied in that year
for the payment of electric light bonds. On the business streets all wires are placed under ground.
With regard to the waterworks, test pits were sunk in the gravel beds near the Des Moines River, about three and
a half miles south of the city, where it was ascertained that an abundant supply of water could be obtained. A
pumping station was then built, a large reservoir and filtering galleries constructed, and an electric motor installed
for driving the pumps, power being communicated to the motor from the municipal electric plant. Mains were laid
upon all the principal streets, fifty six street hydrants placed in position, and early in 1910 Pella boasted one
of the best waterworks of any city of its size in the state. Chemical analysis shows the water to be far above
the average in purity, while the supply is practically inexhaustible.
Following the introduction of water by the new method, the city began the construction of a sewer system, which
was not yet completed in the fall of 1914. When it is finished Pella will be one of the most sanitary cities of
its size in the State of Iowa.
As an educational center Pella is well known through the Central College, founded there by the Baptist Church in
1853, while the public schools have always been kept up to a high standard of efficiency. The Webster school building,
which cost $22,000, was erected in 1876, and the Lincoln school was built in 1895, at a cost of $20,000. In the
fall of 1914 the people voted in favor of a bond issue of $48,000 for a new high school building. Nineteen teachers
were employed in the public schools during the school year of 1913-14, and 611 scholars were enrolled.
Pella has about three miles of well paved streets, good cement sidewalks all over the town, a telephone exchange,
four weekly newspapers, one bi monthly and one monthly publication, a public library, churches of various denominations,
two hotels, an opera house, etc., but its greatest charm is the large number of cozy homes, which betoken a thrifty,
intelligent and progressive population.
Over three hundred people are employed in the factories of the city, and in busy seasons many more find employment
in the manufacturing establishments. Among the wares turned out by these factories may be mentioned wagons, ditching
machinery, furniture, cigars, drain tile, band cutters and feeders, stock tanks, the well known "Wooden Shoe
Brand" of canned goods, overalls, etc. The commercial interests are well represented by four banks and a number
of well stocked stores handling all lines of goods.
In 1910 the population, according to the United States census, was 3,021, an increase of 398 during the preceding
decade. The taxable property of the city was assessed in 1913 at $1,539,356, an average wealth per capita of more
than five hundred and forty dollars.
History of Marion County, Iowa
And its People
John W. Wright, Supervising Editor
W. A. Young, Associate
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co.
Marion County, IA
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