History Of Lewis, Iowa



Buffalo and Indian Trails were the first to leave their mark on the land.Then came explorers, fur trappers, surveyors, the pioneers in covered wagons looking for gold, silver and land, and the stagecoach. Some of the early trails in and around Lewis were the Dragoon Trail, Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail of 1846 & 1847, the Mormon Handcart Trail of 1856 & 1857, Underground Railroad, and stagecoach. Later the White Pole Road and then Highway #6 were the "modern Trails".

In 1836, the Prairie Band of the Pottawatamie Indians (about 500) were living on Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. By treaty with the US Government, they were moved to a five million acre reservation in western Iowa. They decided to settle on Indian Creek, near the confluence of the East Nishnabotna River about one and a half mile west of Lewis. They called their village Mi-au-mise.

By 1846, a new treaty was negotiated that gave them two years to move to the reservation in Mayetta, Kansas. There were no white people living in Cass County at that time. This same year the Mormon's started their trek to Utah and passed by Mi-au-mise. By late summer, 8,000 Mormon's had passed through Pattawatamie lands.

In 1852, the General Assembly laid out the counties of Western Iowa. Commissioners were appointed to select the location of the county seat. The site for Cass County was chosen and named Lewis. People from Iranistan began to relocate to Lewis and many moved their buildings with them. Lots were not sold until October 1855. The town was build around the present day Pioneer Park in the east part of town and was the first town build on the State Road between Des Moines and Kanesville (Council Bluffs). Within ten years Lewis was a flourishing town.

Rev. George Hitchcock, Congregational minister, built his red sandstone house in 1856 on a hill about 1 mile west of Lewis. Now designated a national Landmark, Hitchcock House had a secret room in the basement used by the Underground Railroad. It has become a widely known tourist destination.

Across the East Nishnabotna River to the east, the Nishnabotna Ferry House was also built about the same time. The ferry was used by all travelers of the time, including the Underground Railroad. The site is on the National Register of Historic Places. The house is being preserved and the site will be used to interpret the many trails that went by this rare Ferry Keeper's home.

Both Hitchcock House and The Nishnabotna Ferry House are on the Underground Railroad's Network To Freedom.

Many homesteaders came for the rich soil and the land was taken up quickly. Many of the farmers were raising premium livestock. They had to drive their animals to Iowa City to send them by rail to Chicago. By 1880, the Rock Island Railroad had built a branch line to Lewis to move grain and livestock to market and return with machinery and other merchandise. The coming of the railroad prompted the removal of the businesses in the east part of town to the area around Market Square in present downtown Lewis, to be closer to the depot.

Crystal Springs Lake, a mile south of the town, became known as the Okoboji of southwest Iowa. People from all over the country, as well as local people, came to camp for a week or two or more at the lake. The newspaper published their names, kind of vehicle they came in, etc. The lake was enlarged and is now Cold Springs State Park with a beach, fishing and camping.

In the late 1920's, the East Nishnabotna River was straightened. The "Rock Cut" was a result of this and has become a "secret place" of unusual beauty. It is accessible from Cold Springs Park and can be viewed from The Hitchcock Nature Trail.

Many of the original residents are buried at Oakwood Cemetery near Lewis and descendants of these pioneer families can still be found in the vicinity.


Tuesday the 16th.