Guttenberg's History

The earliest Euro-American occupation of the narrow floodplain along the Mississippi is not well-documented but probably occurred shortly before or after eastern Iowa was opened to white settlement by the Black Hawk Treaty of 1833.  A seasonal campground of the Sauk and Mesquakie tribes in the 1820's this area may have hosted Indian traders in those years, who viewed the plain, with narrow creek valleys opening into it from between high limestone bluffs, as a good place from which to conduct business and gain access to the prairie interior to the west.  The tiny settlement which grew up on the plain was called Prairie la Porte, and as the largest population center in newly-established Clayton County, was designated county seat in 1838.  This status was not long retained, however, as movement of settlers into western portions of the county resulted in removal of the county seat.

The Western Settlement Society of Cincinnati was a semi-charitable organization founded to aid German immigrants who wished to settle in the American Midwest.  In 1844, the Society purchased three hundred acres to the north, and 160 acres to the south, of the Prairie la Porte plat, and the next year acquired the plat as well.  Five German families arrived in March 1845, the most determined of an original band of 200 souls, most of whom had remained behind in Burlington, Iowa.  By 1851 the town had grown to nearly 300 people, and by 1856 to over 1500, only a few of whom were not German immigrants.  The new settlement was appropriately renamed "Guttenberg", and the name was accepted by the State Legislature.  Additional streets were laid out, from the south Hermann, Wieland, Lessing, Schiller, Herder and Goethe streets; and, above the original plat, Mozart and Haydn streets.  Prairie la Porte survives in county records as the north half of the original town plat.

Guttenberg's most important historic resources represent two broader themes in its history.  The first is the remarkable vernacular architecture of an early Iowa immigrant community, with its heavy reliance on use of local native building materials.  The second is the variety of commercial and industrial pursuits that brought initial and later long-term prosperity to Guttenberg and enabled the town to fully exploit its location on the Mississippi River. Guttenberg has long been noted for its well preserved pre- and post-Civil War vernacular architecture. Perhaps the most striking feature of Guttenberg's architectural landscape is the large number of limestone structures, the majority dating from before the Civil War and some perhaps built as early as the mid-1840's.  They represent a rather extensive use of a locally-available but unwieldy, building material, possibly even in preference to equally-available timber.  Examples of stone construction include not only industrial and commercial buildings (where the material's load-bearing and fire-retardant qualities would have been most appreciated) but also houses, large and small.  Use of limestone is not unique to Guttenberg it is found in many eastern and central Iowa communities, and as in Guttenberg was most commonly used in the 1845-70 period, but the high proportion and variety of stone structures remaining in Guttenberg sets this community apart from many towns of its age in the state.

 (excerpts from "Guttenberg Iowa-The Limestone City of Clayton County Its Architecture and History, 1854-1951 by James E Jacobson)