The Irish Settlement

Irish farmers settled first south and west of Des Moines in Polk County. Then, in 1853, Reverend Timothy N. Mullen brought a number of Irish families fifteen miles southwest of Des Moines to form "The Irish Settlement" and "Churchville." The first group came from Wisconsin in covered wagons drawn by ox-teams. Good land was the attraction.

Among the early arrivals was Felix McManus who operated a general variety store in Bevington. He came from County Down. Patrick Dowd was a native of County Roscommon; James Gillaspie and William Kennedy were from County Derry and Patrick Smith from County Cavan. All arrived in 1856.

By 1860 the Irish Settlement had become well and favorably known. It spread over four townships-Lee and Crawford in Madison County and Linn and Jefferson in Warren County.

In Madison County there were forty Irish families in two townships in 1860, with a total of 225 persons. Of these, 126 or 65 per cent, were second generation Irish-Americans. Eighteen adults were unable to read or write. Even in a short time they had been able to accumulate considerable wealth, reporting to the census taker $9,420 personal property and $37,070 real estate.

Ten years later the number of Irish families had risen to sixty-three with 371 children and adults. The number of second generation Irish had decreased by about five per cent. On the other hand, there were at least sixty-three who could not read or write. In acquiring property, the Irish had been especially successful. In personal property it amounted to $91,789 and in real estate, $152,881. John Cunningham was by far the most prosperous. In 1860 he had only $11,000 of property, but in 1870 it had catapulted to a fabulous total of $57,220.

Calkin, Dr. Homer L.  The Palimpsest, "The Irish in Iowa" Published monthly by the State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, February, 1964




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2001 Cathy Joynt Labath