Saturday, September 22, 2007

At Aspen Grove

I went to Aspen Grove, Burlington’s large and beautifully kept city cemetery, earlier this month to visit Charles Elliott Perkins’ imposing obelisk (below). Perkins, president of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy (C.B.&Q.) Railroad from 1881 to 1901, is a fairly important guy in Lucas County’s history.

The C.B.&Q. main line across southern Iowa and through Chariton (built as the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad, now the Burlington Northern & Santa Fe), had stalled at Ottumwa in 1859, and that was as far as the tracks went until after the Civil War. As the war wound down, rail investors became skeptical about the future of the southern Iowa route, feeling the region was too sparsely populated to make it a paying proposition.

Perkins’ faith in the route and his effective lobbying for it ensured that the line was built, reaching Chariton during July of 1867 and then continuing west to the Missouri River and beyond.

A wonderfully effective manager, Perkins went on to build the C.B.&Q. into one of the nation’s major rail carriers and, something of a rarity, he earned the respect of nearly everyone during that process --- from railroad workers to railroad investors and common folks along the route.

His home was in Burlington, an estate called The Apple Trees that now is a city park (most of his mansion, perhaps Iowa’s largest home at that time, was demolished at his family’s behest after they gave the property to the city), but he died during 1907 in Boston, where the family maintained a second home, and was buried there.

His family erected this grand obelisk in Aspen Grove to memorialize him, however, situated to be visible from the nearby C.B.&.Q. main line at the foot of West Burlington Hill. And for many years, passing trains saluted Perkins with blasts of their whistles as the monument came into view.

It’s interesting, too, that visitors to the the Garden of the Gods at Colorado Springs also have Charles Elliott Perkins to thank. He purchased 240 acres in the Garden of the Gods for a summer home in 1879 and later increased his holdings there to 480 acres. He never built on it, however, preferring to leave it in its natural state for the public to enjoy. Prior to his death, he made arrangements for it to become a public park and in 1909, his children conveyed the 480 acres to the city of Colorado Springs, to be known forever as the Garden of the Gods, "where it shall remain free to the public, where no intoxicating liquors shall be manufactured, sold, or dispensed, where no building or structure shall be erected except those necessary to properly care for, protect, and maintain the area as a public park."

Railroading in southern Iowa began at Burlington, so it’s filled with memories of the C.B.&Q. and that line’s successors and many of those who rest at Aspen Grove were connected in one way or another with railroading. The cemetery’s east entrance gates (top) were erected in 1907 by a lesser C.B.&.Q. official, Thomas Potter, division superintendent, in memory of his daughter, Mary E. Potter. The current main gates to Aspen Grove, far more pedestrian than these, offer entrance through the newer part of the cemetery far to the north. But if you wander around this part of Burlington long enough, you’ll find this imposing arch and be able to make a far grander entrance.

Cyrus S. Jacobs: Showdown at the Burlington Corral

Although it seems improbable now, Iowa once was the far west and there was more than a little wild to it. Cyrus S. Jacobs is an example of that.

The inscription on his tombstone, located just southeast of Aspen Grove's Potter entrance gates, reads: "Here lieth interred the mortal remains of Cyrus S. Jacobs, a native of Lancaster county, Pennylsvania, who died on the 31st day of October, 1838, of the effects of a pistol wound, in the 39th year of his age."

Cyrus was the editor of Burlington's first newspaper and poised to become one of Iowa's leading political figures when he was shot down on the streets of Burlington.

To back up a couple of years from 1838, Cyrus and his business partner, James Clarke (who went on to become Iowa's third and final territorial governor), had won the contract as official printers for Wisconsin Territory during 1836, the year the first territorial legislature met in Belmont, Wisc. The next year, the territory's temporary capital was moved across and down the Mississippi to Burlington and Clarke and Jacobs and their families followed.

The first issue of their The Wisconsin Territorial Gazette & Burlington Advertiser was published on July 10, 1837, with Clarke as publisher and Jacobs as editor.

Iowa Territory was formed from Wisconsin effective July 4, 1838 (and encompassed in addition to what now is the state of Iowa all of Minnesota west of the Mississippi and the Dakotas east of the White Earth and Missouri Rivers). Jacobs, who also was an attorney, was elected to the first territorial legislature and was appointed U.S. district attorney by President Martin Van Buren at the same time Robert Lucas (a former Ohio governor after whom Lucas County was named) was appointed territorial governor.

Before he could assume either position, however, Jacobs was shot down on a street in Burlington by David Rorer, also an attorney, with whom he had been engaged, some said, in a "long-simmering" political dispute. This encounter sometimes is described as a duel, but most likely it was just an argument that escalated and then turned deadly. Rorer, who went on to become one of Burlington's most prominent citizens, never was prosecuted. It isn't clear if Jacobs was armed, although one biographer described him as "sensitive, high-tempered and sudden and quick in quarrel."

Governor Lucas was infuriated and wrote the following, "The recent transaction in this city that deprived the Legislative Assembly of one of its members elect as well as all other transactions of a similar character, should meet with the indignant frown of every friend of morality in the community; and the practice of wearing concealed about the person, dirks, pistols, and other deadly weapons, should not only be considered disreputable but criminal and punished accordingly. There certainly cannot be a justifiable excuse offered for such a practice; for in a civil community, a brave man never anticipates danger and an honest man will always look to the laws for protection."

Rorer was not amused and became one of Lucas's most fervent political enemies, according to John Carl Parish's 1907 biography, "Robert Lucas."

It seems likely that Jacobs was not buried at first where he now rests, but instead in Burlington's first cemetery, sometimes called Smith. Bodies were removed from that cemetery when the land was needed for development and relocated here, at Aspen Grove. His grave now is just north of that of his business partner, James Clarke, and the grave of a second territorial governor, Henry Dodge.

Two Governors

James S. Clark, following his partner’s violent death in 1838, went on to build a career in public service for himself. He was named secretary of Iowa Territory in 1838 and served until 1841; was mayor of Burlington during 1844-45 as well as the city’s first school board president; was named delegate from Des Moines County to the Iowa Constitutional Convention; and finally was appointed Iowa’s third (and final) territorial governor, a post he held until 1846 statehood. Lucas County’s neighbor to the west, Clarke, was named in his honor.

But his career, too, was cut short by death. James died at Burlington 25 July 1850 at age 38 during a cholera epidemic that also claimed the life of his wife, Christiana Helen (Dodge) Clarke, and one of their children, James.

They are buried just south of Cyrus Jacobs at Aspen Grove.

James S. Clarke’s father-in-law, Henry Dodge, was one of Wisconsin Territory’s most influential citizens. A renowned soldier in the various wars with American Indians and recognized as the man who engineered Chief Black Hawk‘s defeat, he was named governor of Wisconsin Territory by President Andrew Jackson during 1836 and served until 1841; was elected to the U.S. House from Wisconsin Territory in 1841; was reappointed territorial governor in 1845 and served until Wisconsin statehood during 1848; and then was elected to the U.S. Senate from Wisconsin, a seat he held through 1856, when he retired from public life.

Upon retirement, he returned to Burlington, where he had lived first when Wisconsin’s territorial capital was located there briefly in 1837-38. He died at Burlington on June 19, 1867, and was buried south of the Clarkes at Aspen Grove. Southeastern Iowa's Henry County was named in his honor.

The original Clarke and Dodge tombstones remain in place, but a large contemporary monument detailing the careers of James and Henry was erected between them by the Burlington Women’s Club during 1991. Click on it to read more about them.

And finally, ancient stones

Aspen Grove’s Potter’s Field, located to the right just inside the cemetery’s Potter gates, is an anomaly in an otherwise beautifully landscaped cemetery although it certainly is well maintained. But this is where Burlington’s poor, who could afford to be buried no where else, were interred. As most will know, “Potter’s Field” has noting to do with the Potter family --- it is just the old, old name for a place where the poor and unknown were buried (The Chariton Cemetery’s Potter’s Field was hidden shamefacedly in the extreme southwest corner of the original plat until time caught up with it and fields of Twentieth Century tombstones moved into that scenic area).

But Aspen Grove’s Potter’s Field also was the place where graves were relocated from the city’s original cemetery, sometimes called Smith, when it was decided by city fathers to use that area for other purposes. So many of Burlington’s earliest residents rest here, shoulder-to-shoulder with the poor, primarily because no one was left to ensure more exalted sites when their original resting places were disturbed. This collection of ancient tombstones from the 1830s and 1840s probably accompanied bodies from the old cemetery which were reinterred in a trench grave. Stones of this age are rare in Iowa and these are worth a visit.

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