by Nathaniel Otjen
We went down to the creek
The sides were filled
with tiny watery activities
The mind was split & mended
Each perception divided into more
& there were in the hearts of the water molecules
little branches perpendicular to thought
— Brenda Hillman, “Practical Water”
From the late 1830s to 1926, Hubbard Park was a residential neighborhood of Iowa City. A diverse group of European immigrants, Euro-Americans and African Americans lived in this community beside the river. Most were working and middle class residents employed in local trades. Long before Europeans came to settle here, however, several Native American tribes called this land home. The Office of the State Archaeologist recently discovered projectile points that belonged to native people living in this area some 3,500 years ago.
This former Iowa City neighborhood is now simply called “Block 98” after the block number given to this area in the town’s original 1839 plat map. The University of Iowa demolished the neighborhood in 1926 to make space for the Women’s Athletic Field. In 1991 the field was renamed Hubbard Park to honor the University of Iowa’s first African American professor, Philip G. Hubbard.
These stories tell an environmental and social justice history of this former community.
The Neighborhood Residents
While the residents of Block 98 shifted throughout history, one constant tied everyone together: they were a diverse group of hardworking people.
Before Europeans and Euro-Americans came to reside in Block 98, several Native American groups lived in this area along the Iowa River. Through archaeological excavations, we know Native Americans lived here throughout the Archaic, Woodland and Prehistoric periods. Their history in this place probably stretches back several millennia.
The first Europeans and Euro-Americans moved to Block 98 around 1840. The majority of the block’s buildings were constructed between 1857 and 1868. By the early twentieth century, more than twenty houses and numerous outbuildings stood in this community.
Most of the people who lived in this neighborhood were middle and working class. House sizes varied from larger two-story homes inhabited mostly by middle class families to smaller cottages lived in by poorer, working class folks. The majority of residents were renters who could not afford to own their home. Some homeowners did live on Block 98, but they were relatively uncommon. Class divisions further permeated housing in this neighborhood — the working class tenants lived on the block’s south side and the middle class residents lived on the north half.
The residents of Block 98 worked as general laborers, painters, carpenters, teamsters, dressmakers, milliners, tinners, and bricklayers.
Following the Civil War, several African American families came to reside in Block 98 and by 1900, a robust community had formed in this neighborhood. Indeed by this time, several families had become linked through marriage.
The local historian Irving Weber described the 1910 community composed of “a series of plain, unpretentious and somewhat rundown two-story frame houses. A badly dilapidated board sidewalk, paralleling Iowa Avenue, was almost ready to fall apart.” His view of Block 98 aligns with the opinions expressed by other Iowa Citians throughout the mid nineteenth to early twentieth centuries, to whom the residents of Block 98 were nearly invisible. As the Office of the State Archaeologist’s William Whittaker explains, “In the political and social sphere of nineteenth-century Iowa, Block 98 residents carried little weight. Because they were considered unimportant, relatively little information about them was ever recorded.”
In 1926, the University of Iowa demolished the neighborhood to create a Women’s Athletic Field.
Below are several stories about the residents of Block 98.
1500 BCE – 1000 CE:
During the Office of the State Archaeologist’s 2014 excavations of this site, archaeologists discovered thirty-three prehistoric artifacts. In particular, researchers uncovered two projectile points, a modified shell and several ceramic shards.
The oldest projectile point dates to approximately 1500 – 500 BCE. During this time, Native Americans slowly became more sedentary as they began to grow their own food. They also established long-distance trade routes with other indigenous groups across North America. While living here along the Iowa River, they probably ate foods such as birds, fish, shellfish, various plants, waterfowl, small mammals, freshwater mollusks, nuts, fruits and tubers.
The arrow point and ceramics belonged to a Native American group who lived in this area around one thousand years ago. Archaeologists refer to this period as the Woodland Period — a time characterized by elaborate mound burials, pottery and the cultivation of plants.
People lived in this location along the Iowa River for several millennia before the Europeans arrived and drove them from the riverbanks.
The first Iowa City Directory was established in 1857 — approximately two decades after the arrival of the first Europeans to Block 98. This directory tells us that three people lived in this neighborhood. William Poland, Thomas Parker and W. Pratt were all residents of Block 98 during this time. They held working-class jobs. Poland and Parker both worked as carpenters and Pratt worked as a farmer.
A building firm called Allens & Mahanna also operated in Block 98 during this time. It stood in the southeast corner of today’s Hubbard Park.
By 1868 the population of Block 98 had increased significantly. The first African American family moved here during this time and eight people occupied this neighborhood.
Martha Harrison and her daughter Sarah both lived in Block 98 from the mid-1860s to sometime in the early 1870s. Martha and Sarah were both African Americans who first moved to Iowa City from Missouri sometime after the Civil War. Martha was born in Virginia in the early 1830s. Sometime in her youth, Martha moved to Missouri where Sarah was born in 1853. Because neither can be located in the 1860 national census, they were most likely former slaves who gained their freedom either during or shortly after the Civil War. By 1868 Martha was a widow living with her daughter in Block 98. They probably struggled to make a living, so the Harrison’s began to accept boarders to earn extra income. In the 1870 national census, they listed two African American men who worked as barbers — George Mayweather and Mr. Watterford — as members of their household. By the time of the 1875 city directory, the Harrisons were no longer living in Iowa City.
Patrick Fay and his wife Ellen, both Irish immigrants, lived in this neighborhood for over twenty-five years. The Fays first moved to Iowa City between 1852 and 1854. They soon left however, to farm in Iowa County, Iowa. This venture was unsuccessful and they returned to Iowa City in 1860 where they remained in Block 98 for over two decades. While living in this neighborhood, Ellen and Patrick had several children. Their son Philip would continue to live in this community for most of his life. Philip was born in 1859 and worked as a laborer alongside his father.
George Tomlin spent most of his life in this community. He worked as a local painter for several decades before becoming a custodian at the University of Iowa in 1880. An English immigrant, Tomlin lived on Block 98 with his wife Lavinia and their three children.
The city directory changed in 1875 and the records became less precise, so only one man can be a confirmed Block 98 resident at this time. An African American woman also probably lived in this neighborhood in the mid-1870s. Other people inhabited Block 98, but confirming their location in this community is almost impossible because of poor historical record keeping.
Like the Fay family, the Scherers lived in Block 98 for much of their lives. Zachariah (Zac) Scherer and his wife Cynthia Ann Harris were born in Kentucky in the 1820s. They moved to Iowa City in 1856 with their children. Between 1857-75, Zac worked in Iowa City as a carpenter. He passed away sometime in either 1876 or 1877 and his wife moved homes, but chose to stay in Block 98. Cynthia’s son Archibald lived near her on Block 98 and owned a shooting gallery in town.
Catharine Bell probably lived in the northeast corner of today’s Hubbard Park. She was an African American woman and probably a former slave who gained her freedom during the decade preceding the Civil War. Catharine was born sometime in the early 1830s in Georgia. After gaining her freedom, Bell moved to Iowa City and by 1860 she lived here with her husband Hal (also identified as Henry). Hal was also African American and he grew up in South Carolina. Before moving to Iowa City, the Bells had five children and together they moved north to Iowa. In addition to their large family, the Bells also lived with Hal’s mother Sina (or Sine) Gwin who was born in the late eighteenth century in South Carolina.
According to the 1885 national census, over a dozen families lived on Block 98 in the mid-1880s. Here are some of their names: Joseph Sterett (painter), Hiram Toms (implement salesman), George B. Farrell, Charles Tillotson (tinner), Jacob J. Midelton (laborer), David Emmons (teamster), Peter Boarts (bricklayer), Jefferson Monroe Bright (carpenter), Alvin K. Rogers (laborer), Patrick Fay (laborer), Frank H. Riley (drayman), Leo Meyer (teamster), and Margareth Higgins.
Peter Boarts, the son of a German-born brick and stone mason, lived in Iowa City for over forty years. Born in Pennsylvania during the mid-1840s, he moved to Iowa City with his family between the ages of seven and thirteen. After serving as a sergeant in the Civil War from 1862-65, Boarts began working full-time as a brick and stone mason, learning the trade from his father. He spent nearly all of his life in Block 98 and died in 1891.
Jacob Jackson Middleton, a popular local figure, lived on Block 98 for only a few years around 1885. Born in Washington County, Iowa in 1841, Middleton became deaf at the age of five “by being held under water” (according to the Cedar Rapids Gazette in 1901) and soon moved to Iowa City to enroll in the School for the Deaf. A decade later, Middleton taught deaf students in Connecticut and Iowa. He married Melvina E. Long in the early 1870s and between 1872 and 1881 they had three children together. Middleton’s short stay in Block 98 marked a turning point in his life. Immediately after moving from this neighborhood, Middleton became a Methodist Episcopal pastor and preached using sign language. He also divorced Melvina during this time. In 1900 he lived in Cedar Falls, Iowa and would never again return to Iowa City. He then moved to Laramie, Wyoming and began a second marriage that soon crumbled. He died in Laramie in 1928.
Hiram N. Toms is most remembered for his time spent in the Civil War. Toms served as the 5th Corporal in Company G of the Iowa 22nd Infantry Regiment. In the 1864 Battle of Winchester, Virginia, Toms was severely wounded in the arm and head. His left arm had to be amputated. After the Civil War, Toms lived outside of Iowa City. By 1880 he lived on Block 98 and worked as an implement salesman.
While the population of Block 98 increased during the last decade of the nineteenth century and many newcomers poured into the community, the Ward family deserves particular attention.
According to the William Whittaker, the 1891 city directory lists a family with no house number located in the southwestern corner of today’s Hubbard Park. Whittaker suspects this residence belonged to Paul and Rachel Ward, an African American couple. The Wards would have lived in the Block 98 neighborhood from the late 1880s to the early 1890s.
Rachel Ward (Haskett) was the daughter of William P. and Margaret Haskett. William worked as a free black millwright before the Civil War. Rachel’s family moved from North Carolina to Georgia sometime in the late 1840s and then moved to Johnson County a decade later.
Paul Ward probably began his life in slavery and was freed sometime during the Civil War. He was born in either Virginia or Tennessee — the records are not accurate.
Paul and Rachel met each other at some point during the 1850s or early 1860s in Johnson County. They married in Johnson County, Iowa in 1865. It seems that Paul openly adopted two of Rachel’s children (Sarah Ann and Amanda) who were born before their marriage. Paul and Rachel had four children together. Their names were Margaret, Anaka, Rachel J. and Paul Jr.
Sometime between 1885 and 1891, the Wards moved to Iowa City where they lived on Block 98 near the Iowa River for a few years. Around the time of the 1891 city directory, Bertha Horack (later Shambaugh) photographed Paul and Rachel standing in front of their home. Tucked along the river, the small home is dilapidated and falling apart. The roof is caved in and the wooden siding is weathering away. Some siding or roofing material is piled near a road or sidewalk that runs in front of their house. Rachel stands with her arms crossed and Paul stands casually with his right hand in the pocket of his pants and his left hand hanging slack at his side. A small black dog sits at Paul’s feet.
The home’s condition suggests that the Wards were extremely poor. According to Whittaker, because the city did not assign the property a house number in the 1891 directory, Iowa City “may well have considered it a ruin rather than a habitable dwelling at the time that the city first assigned house numbers in the 1880s.”
On the back of Bertha’s photograph of the Wards, she wrote: “The house shown in this picture is one of the oldest in the State of Iowa. Some years ago the roof was partly torn off by a heavy wind. It was occupied at the time by an old negro and his wife, who, in spite of its disabilities continued to live in the house for a number of years. Naturally they suffered a great deal in inclement weather . . . . [S]everal charitable organizations made repeated efforts to get them more comfortably located, but the old couple stoutly refused to leave.”
They eventually did leave, abandoning the home in 1893. The family moved to a home on the corner of today’s S. Gilbert St. and Kirkwood Avenue. In the 1890s, this area was the southern extent of Iowa City. Shortly after the Wards left the Block 98 community, the city demolished the dilapidated house.
A few years after relocating to the southern edge of Iowa City, Paul and Rachel moved in with John W. McNeil, their son-in-law. The county Board of Supervisors paid McNeil one dollar per week for taking in Rachel and Paul. This arrangement was short lived, however, and fell apart within a year. After 1900 Paul and Rachel sporadically changed homes, trying to find cheap places to stay. During this time, they lived mostly on the south side of Iowa City. Rachel passed away in 1905 and Paul died shortly after.
References: Cynthia L. Peterson et. al’s “Archaeological Investigations of the Historical Hubbard Park Site (13JH1440), Johnson County, Iowa” and Lynn M. Alex’s Iowa’s Archaeological Past
The 1851 and 1881 Floods
In an assessment of the Block 98 community, William Whittaker describes the old city block as a “humble working class neighborhood, despite its proximity to power and prestige [the state capitol and after 1847, the University of Iowa].” Located at the bottom of the hill on a floodplain along the Iowa River, Block 98 existed largely outside of Iowa City’s popular imaginary. The land was cheap because Iowa Citians avoided the vulnerabilities associated with living on a floodplain. In many ways, the wealthier city residents forced working and middle class citizens into this neighborhood.
Block 98’s residents lived in the shadow of the impressive capitol building. Every morning, they would climb the large hill and walk into the heart of Iowa City and every evening after the day’s labors, they walked back down the great hill to their homes by the river.
Because of the neighborhood’s vulnerable position, flooding regularly occurred. Only a decade after the first working class residents moved into Block 98, Iowa City’s largest flood on record inundated this neighborhood.
1851 had been a wet year. Iowa received twice its annual rainfall and the ground was already soaked when the big rains arrived in May. Rain fell almost continuously for forty days and did not stop until July. Block 98 was completely submerged for weeks on end.
People were displaced from their homes, which were badly damaged by the floodwaters. An Iowa City newspaper wrote: “The water rose to the west side of the University campus, which was then the state-house yard. There were but few houses on the bottoms, but they were deluged. In one on the second bench, occupied by Mr. T. W. Wilson, the water rose two and a half feet, expelling the family.”
From archaeological excavations conducted in 2014, we know the 1851 flood deposited over 5-10 centimeters of river silt and loam over the entire block. The new soil was yellowish brown. Yards and gardens were covered by water and once the floodwaters receded, they remained buried by silt. People moved back into their homes and began tending gardens in the new soil.
Thirty years later, Block 98 was again inundated, damaging homes and displacing most (if not all) of the neighborhood’s inhabitants. An Iowa City newspaper reported: “Fortunately, our city stands high above all possible floods, with only a small part of its homes below the cruel line of inundation. That lower part was covered, driving about twenty families to higher ground.”
In both the 1851 and 1881 flooding accounts published in newspapers, the journalists write from the vantage point of the capitol building. Looking down on the scene, they describe the “cruel line of inundation” and cringe at the damage. Distanced from the wealthier landowners who lived “high above all possible floods,” the residents of Block 98 were left to recover on their own.
References: Cynthia L. Peterson et. al’s “Archaeological Investigations of the Historical Hubbard Park Site (13JH1440), Johnson County, Iowa”
The Pigs of Block 98
From the point of view of pigs, who were also residents of Block 98, life was hectic before the Civil War. Like neighborhood dogs, pigs ran free in the 1840s, 50s and early 60s. Chickens, sheep, cows and goats were not as fortunate and were kept close to people’s homes.
The pigs freely indulged in eating and cultivating people’s gardens. Some of their favorite foods were probably also enjoyed by the people who lived in the neighborhood. Pigs and people shared strawberries, blackberries, peas, hickory nuts, walnuts, elderberries, currants and grapes.
In addition to running through the neighborhood and eating people’s crops, the pigs ate the food leftovers that were tossed on the ground. They were experts of waste removal, helping to repress the spread of diseases. Perhaps contending with the neighborhood dogs and cats, pigs ate the remains of fish, turtles and bivalves caught in the nearby river. They also consumed the discarded remains of rabbits, squirrels, cows, chickens and goats.
The pigs probably witnessed the deaths of many animals in Block 98. Chickens lived with most families and they were frequently killed within the local neighborhood.
The neighborhood scourge for the pigs would have been the hog-finishing barn located just south of Block 98. John Powell owned and managed this operation, which appeared to detract people from moving to the neighborhood. According to Bill Whittaker, “Given the proximity to government and the university, it appears that Block 98 was underdeveloped . . . . Development was likely delayed because of the block’s position in the floodplain and memories of the Great Flood of 1851, and perhaps the proximity to the hog-finishing facility.” Both the pigs and people feared Powell’s business.
Following an 1864 city ordinance that made it illegal for pigs to roam freely about Iowa City, the number of hogs living in Block 98 sharply decreased. Chickens took over their diminished role in neighborhood life.
Two of the block’s residents probably had the good fortune to cohabit with pigs during the time of the decreasing hog population. John S. Fisher, a Pennsylvanian who relocated to Iowa when he was twenty-two years old, lived in Block 98 sometime between 1860 and 1868. With Mary Ann, his spouse, John helped raise five children during his time in Iowa City. After John first moved to Iowa in 1848, he worked as a farmer in Polk County and may have utilized his agricultural knowledge during his residence in Block 98. While living in Iowa City, he worked primarily as a painter.
James M. Rogers was born in New York state around 1812. By 1860, Rogers had moved to Iowa City’s Block 98 where he worked as a farmer and laborer. While he lived briefly in Block 98 with his wife Lydia and their children, the family’s experience in this neighborhood must have been positive because after James’ death in the 1890s, Lydia hastily moved back to Block 98. Perhaps Lydia continued the family’s farming practices when she returned to this community. If this is true, Lydia may have sold eggs, milk, chickens and ducks to the local Rinella Grocery Store. The Rinellas (Joseph and Josephine) moved to Iowa City from Sicily around 1895 to join three of Josephine’s brothers who had settled in town a decade prior. Their local grocery store became a prominent neighborhood business during the turn of the century.
While many of the neighborhood pigs were eaten by the community’s residents, they cohabited this space with humans and participated in the neighborhood’s day-to-day activities. Without the pigs, Block 98 might not have grown into such a lively community.
References: Cynthia L. Peterson et. al’s “Archaeological Investigations of the Historical Hubbard Park Site (13JH1440), Johnson County, Iowa”
The 1926 Demolition
The construction of both the Iowa Memorial Union and the adjacent Women’s Athletic Field marked the end of the Block 98 community. Over the span of several years during the early 1920s, the University of Iowa purchased and then demolished all of the buildings on Block 98 and the northern Block 99 where the IMU is located. By 1926, Block 98 had become a Women’s Athletic Field.
Planning for the IMU began a decade prior to the construction of the Women’s Athletic Field. The university wanted to develop a building that would function as a hub for University of Iowa students and organizations, so they proposed the construction of the Iowa Memorial Union.
In 1922, after several years of fundraising and planning, B. J. Lambert, a College of Engineering faculty member, drew up plans for the IMU to be constructed directly west of the Capitol Building along the Iowa River. In this design, the IMU would be constructed directly in front of the Capitol Building along the south side of Block 98. In his master’s degree thesis about the construction of the IMU, Gearhart Alan Musselman writes: “The location provided the ultimate in beauty and, if the proposal were followed, would also have allowed for an expansion of the overtaxed gymnasium for men and the athletic field for women.”
A few people objected to Lambert’s proposal because it would displace Block 98 residents, but it seems the loss of this community was a secondary concern. According to Musselman: “The cost in time and money, they concluded, could not be justified.”
Furthermore, the people who opposed this construction plan did so because the proposed location would hide a view of the Old Capitol from the west. Musselman writes, “The supporters of Professor Lambert promptly retorted that Old Capitol was not very pleasing from the west in any case.” While this comment could represent a simple opinion that the Capitol Building was better viewed from the top of the hill in the east, the criticism also suggests that Block 98 caused the unpleasing western view of the Capitol Building.
After reading Lambert’s proposal, another College of Engineering faculty member, Professor Frederic G. Higbee, proposed to shift the IMU north so it would no longer block the Capitol Building. In 1923 the university accepted this plan. According to Musselman, Higbee liked this proposal because, “The land was cheap and unimproved; there would be no need for any large-scale demolition.”
In a November 1923 letter written by the Board of Trustees of the Iowa Memorial Union that was sent to the Iowa State Board of Education seeking approval for construction of the IMU, the Board of Trustees plainly writes, “Your petitioning body requests that if this petition meets with your favor, you secure that portion of land lying north of Jefferson Street, west of Madison Street and bounded on the west and north by the Iowa River, remove the present buildings on this site, and complete such grading and filling as the harmonious development of the university grounds may require.” The Board of Education soon accepted and “the harmonious development of the university grounds” quickly commenced.
“By November 11 , lumber was being hauled to the construction site and the few, small existing buildings located on the block were being moved or razed,” Musselman notes. The inhabitants of Block 99 were forced to relocate.
Both Block 98 and Block 99 were completely razed by 1926 when the Iowa Memorial Union first opened. Workers covered the former neighborhood with several feet of fill soil and then converted Block 98 into the Women’s Athletic Field, which would be operated by the Department of Physical Education for Women.
The Women’s Athletic Field was composed of a field for field hockey and several baseball diamonds and other playing fields. In 1991 it was renamed Hubbard Park to honor Philip G. Hubbard, the University of Iowa’s first African American professor.
References: Cynthia L. Peterson et. al’s “Archaeological Investigations of the Historical Hubbard Park Site (13JH1440), Johnson County, Iowa” and Gearhart Alan Musselman’s “A history of the Iowa Memorial Union”