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Mississippi River—East

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The region spreading westward some one hundred miles from the west bank of the Mississippi River was the first area settled in Iowa by Europeans and Anglo-Americans. The topography of this area is that of rolling hill country penetrated by a pattern of rivers and streams that generally flow southward along a northwest-southeast line. A few of the rivers—the Des Moines, Iowa, Wapsipinicon, Maquoketa, and Turkey—were sufficiently deep, and their summer flow great enough, to encourage water transportation.

This region was well forested to the east, and as one traveled west, one found that areas of open prairie began to break in between the river and stream valleys. From the time of the first settlement, the rich lands situated in the river valleys were cleared for agriculture (just as they had been much earlier by the Native American cultures). By the 1870s most of the hilly parcels of land had also been cleared, both to open them up for pasturage and for their timber. During the territorial years and on into the period of early statehood, river transportation was supplemented first by an extensive pattern of state-sponsored roads (including plank roads), and later—from the middle to late 1850s—by an increased number of railroads. 1Although much of eastern Iowa conveys the atmosphere of a rural, untrammeled countryside, what one encounters today is in fact an almost completely transformed environment.

A glance at the statistics listed in Alfred Theodore Andreas's 1875 Illustrated Historical Atlas of the State of Iowareveals that almost all of the larger and smaller villages that one can visit today in this region were established in the 1840s and 1850s. The earliest were quite naturally located adjacent to or close by rivers (both for reasons of transport as well as for power); only later, with the advent of the railroad, were larger, nonriver towns platted and developed.


William H. Thompson, Transportation in Iowa: A Historical Survey, 2–8, 18–27.

Writing Credits

David Gebhard and Gerald Mansheim

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