First House in Hiawatha

Pictured above is an artist’s sketch of the first building to be erected on Hiawatha town site back in 1857. The building stood on the corner of Oregon and Sixth, the corner which for many years was occupied by the Morrill & Janes bank.

The building was built by Seth Barnum, father of John and Sam Barnum, well known citizens of Hiawatha. Seth had moved his family here in 1856 and took a homestead adjoining the town on the south. He moved his family down into the timber on the old Ben Sprague place, near the present county farm where there was protection against winter storms, where his oxen could browse around and where there was plenty of firewood.

Hiawatha came into existence that winter, so he got out the timbers for this house and in the summer of 1857 erected the house. Seth Barnum moved into the frame structure and became the first official Hiawatha resident. The building was used as a combination home and hotel as travelers along the existing east-west trail were sheltered under its roof. It was also the only public building in the growing city for a number of years and records reveal that Chief Justice Pettitt held court within its walls in 1859.

The house was later moved to the Barnum property at the south limits of the city. It was a heavy building and it required 16 yokes of oxen to haul it to the Barnum homestead.

The M & J bank building at the turn of the century was the first stone building to be built in the city. The organization of the banking company was created in 1871.

One story from olden times relates many of the

spectators in the court house square watching the construction were freely predicting that the walls would

collapse before the roof was completed. – Hiawatha Daily World, May 15, 1957. & Special Issue of the World

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