I am posting each of these stories here in order to demonstrate what can be done, and, to make the information available to interested others. PLEASE NOTE: these have not been edited and updated for new information, so if you read this, take the information WITH THAT IN MIND! Thanks! Enjoy reading this slice of our lives.
Cedar Bluffs: The river, the ferry, the Gower connection
"From the date of the first settlement of the county, in May, 1836, until January, 1877, that part of the Cedar River which flows through Cedar County, remained unobstructed by bridges. And even now there is but one bridge over that stream, and that is at Cedar Bluff. When the first settlers came, Indian canoes were used to convey them from one side of the river to the other. This kind of ferriage continued in use until the settlements so increased as to demand larger and stronger means of crossing, and in 1838, Abner Arrowsmith constructed a rough ferry boat which was operated by a rope, and was of the kind known as a rope or chain ferry."
Thus begins a section of The History of Cedar County (written in 1877, I believe) about the Cedar River bridge and later about Cedar Bluff. The following is based mostly on this source with some from other research. Our Michael Bolger settled a little over a mile west and a little less that a mile south of the west side of the river where the ferry boat operated (and the bridge was eventually build, after his death). The John Dolan family (the father of Harriet) settled just a mile west of Michael.
William Frazeur states that he helped build the first ferry boat used there for Abner Arrowsmith, in 1838. It was then called Washington Ferry. In 1839, James H. Gower and Willard Hammond bought the claims of many "squatters" in Cass Township, and Mr. Gower settled on Section 33, on the east side of the river. Mr. Gower built additions to the house formerly owned by Mr. Arrowsmith, on the site of Cedar Bluff, and opened a store. He also bought the ferry and had a post office at his store. Mr. James H . Gower was a Representative to the State Legislature at an early day. Mr. Gower received his goods chiefly from St. Louis via Muscatine.
Steamers occasionally came up Cedar River. The "Maid of Iowa," belonging to the Mormons of Nauvoo, Illinois, came up, and a large quantity of corn was purchased from Mr. Gower. Mr Gower soon after began pork packing. He paid $1.00 per 100 pounds, in store goods, for dressed pork. After a few years, Mr. Gower discontinued his store and moved to his farm, on the west side of the river.
In the spring of 1841, Robert Gower, from Ohio, settled on Section 33, on the west side of the river, with his family, including his sons - James, Alexander, Sewell and Albert. Mr. Robert Gower purchased the ferry from his brother, Mr. James H. Gower.
Mr. Robert Gower was a surveyor, and laid out the village (of Cedar Bluff) in July, 1851, for Charles W. Gower. The land on which it was located was entered by J.H. Gower, in the name of C.W. Gower, Allen and Willard Hammond. It was transferred to J.H. Gower, then to Robert Gower. A note written at the time of the survey says: Red Cedar River is navigable for steam and other boats at all seasons of the year when free from ice. It possesses at this point superior facilities for damning and bridging, and the settlement in this vicinity requires both.The village is located on the corner of Sections 27, 28, 33 and 34, Tnsp 81, Range 4 west.
Michael Bolger married Harriet Dolan at the home of Robert Gower on the 24th day of February 1851. On November 28, 1856, Robert Gower sold Michael Bolger a parcel of land of approximately 40 acres in Section 5 of Gower Township.
"Mr. Robert Gower, after whom Gower Township received its name, was a public spirited, highly esteemed man, prominent in many county and local actions, and a member of the Second Constitutional Convention. He died in April, 1874." Michael Bolger died in 1875.
Daniel Riegle built the first hotel in Cedar Bluff, although Robert Gower had kept travelers on the west side of the river. The hotel burned down in 1875, but was rebuilt. In 1866 there were ten houses in the village. The first physician was Dr. Davis about 1846. As noted above, the first post office was established June 24, 1841, with James H. Gower, Postmaster. The office was called Cedar River, being the third office in the county. July 3, 1849, the name of the office was changed to "Gower's Ferry." The office was kept successively by Robert Gower and Sewall Gower, on the west side of the river. It was changed to the east side in 1859, with David Baldwin as Postmaster, and the name changed to "Cedar Bluff." After the post office was moved to the east side of the river, another office was secured on the west side called Gower's Ferry, with Robert Gower as Postmaster. This office was again consolidated with the Cedar Bluff office when the bridge was built (1877) at that point.
The nearest school to which the settlers might send their children, in 1842, was located on the Philip Metz farm. "After two or three years, J.H. and Robert Gower hired Mr. Lambert to teach in a log cabin on the west side of the Cedar River, on the Kester place. School continued there every Winter until the school house was built, near the site of the present school house, on the Gunsolus place (recall, the cemetary was called Gunsolus, also). The 1870 census for Cass Township, Cedar County, includes in the home of Robert Gower, age 67 (and his wife, Rosamond*, age 66), an Emma Hammond, age 20, listed as "Teaching school." The new school house was built in 1876, and is a good frame building." There is (written in 1877) no school house in Cedar Bluff, although a good district school has been established one mile east, since about 1856. (* Note that Michael and Harriet Bolger named a daughter Rosamond in December, 1853.)
"In 1877, a large iron bridge was erected over the Cedar River at this point, and being the only one in this county, it has increased the business at Cedar Bluff, and conduced greatly to its prosperity. There are now about one hundred inhabitants in the village. It has an excellent location, and is in the center of an unsurpassed farming district."
The following is a brief account of a lengthy discussion regarding building a bridge:
About the year 1851-2-3, Robert Gower, the first settler at Gower's Ferry, (Cedar Bluff), and others, conceived the idea of erecting a toll bridge at that point, and petitioned the County Judge for license to carry out their proposed enterprise. Proposed tolls, for ten years were to be:
4 horses or oxen and wagon or other vehicle........ 40 cents
2 " mules, oxen and wagon or other vehicle... 25 cents
1 horse or mule and wagon.... 25 cents
1 " and man.... 15 cents
1 footman..... 5 cents
Each head of sheep or swine................................ 2 1/2 cents
The bridge proposed was never built.
At the June 1856 meeting of the (county) Board of Supervisors, Robert Gower, then, as for many years previous, a member of the board, introduced a proposal for a toll bridge across the river, half to be owned by the county, half interest to be solicited by sale of stock to the public. A study reported to the board in September recommended two locations: Gray's Ford and Gower's Ferry. A vote took place in October: for the Ferry, 595; for the Ford, 862; total vote, 1,457. Local support for the Ford location seemed to be lacking. A year later, another vote on a bridge at Gower's Ferry was: for a bridge, 786; against a bridge, 1,808; total vote, 2,594. The following year, another vote was taken: for the bridge, 561, against the bridge, 1,935; total vote, 2,496.
"From October, 1867 to 1870, Mr. Gower permitted the matter to remain in abeyance." In 1876, they voted a $15,000 appropriation to build a bridge. It opened in January, 1877.
Cedar Bluffs now, in 1995, exists on the east side of the river, south of the bridge road, as a couple dozen homes. Many appear to be "vacation type homes" although it seems that most are lived in as you drive by. There is one large building that looks like it might have been a hotel/store and is under a slow renovation. This is up on the ridge above the river. On the peak of the ridge sits an old church building on a corner, with bell tower, but abandoned. Trees and vines are all grown up around it. Seems that they want to preserve it, but no one wants to spend the time or money to do it.
Families are forever! ;-)