To Deuce of Clubs

The Site of
Named Cities

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The Site of Unimaginative City Names:
Iowa City, Iowa

Who is to blame

From: Marne G.
Date: Tue, 27 Apr 2004

Here’s some info I’ve found on who’s to blame for unimaginatively named Iowa City, Iowa. This comes from the Encyclopedia of Iowa, pp. 226-27.

"Iowa City was founded as the capital of the Territory of Iowa. The founding act, approved by the first Legislative Assembly in Burlington (January 21, 1839), provided that three appointed commissioners select the most suitable 640 acres in Johnson County, employ surveyors and laborers to lay out the town, and supervise the plans and erection of the capitol, stipulating that the commissioners meet no later than May 1. [...]

Settlers flocked to Napoleon, Johnson County seat, on May 1, 1839 to wait for the three commissioners, one from each judicial district, who were to meet there and select the capital site. Excitement ran high when noon came and only Chauncey Swan had arrived, as two commissioners had to be present to make the action legal. [...] Commisioner Swan sent a volunteer, Philip Clark, to bring John Ronalds of Louisa County, the nearest absent commissioner, to Napoleon before midnight. Ronalds lived only 35 miles away, but the distance was great in those days of prairie trails and bridgeless streams, and few believed he could arrive in time, but at 5 minutes to 12, by Swan’s watch, he was there.

The justice of the peace swore the two men into office immediately so that the papers could be dated May 1. Observant persons noted, however, that the hours from midnight until sunrise were remarkably short. Swan and Ronalds selected a wild valley sloping up to one of the hilltops overlooking the Iowa River as the site and named it Iowa City."

So as this story seems to suggest, Chauncey Swan and John Ronalds were so unimaginative because they were pressed for time and sleep-deprived. The fact that they were working under cover of darkness might also explain why they chose such an amazingly hilly site, a fact I curse each day while walking to work.

Marne G.
Imaginative Resident of Unimaginative Iowa City