09 June 2007

Iowa's Passing Mormons and Utopians

A State Historical Society of Iowa plaque at a pretty little welcome center off Exit 4 on I-35 in Iowa tells two interesting stories, one on each side.
The Mormon Trail

The Mormons of Nauvoo, Illinois, forced from their homes following the murder of their prophet, Joseph Smith, Jr., began their trek across Iowa in 1846 on their way to the Great Salt Lake Valley. From their first permanent campsite on Sugar Creek they travelled across southern Iowa toward Winter Quarters, near present-day Omaha. In addition to Sugar Creek, the Mormons also established permanent camps at Garden Grove in Decatur County, Mount Pisgah in Union County, and Kanesville in Pottawattamie County.

While camped by Locust Creek, near Corydon, William Clayton learned of the birth of his son in Nauvoo. On April 15, 1846, to commemorate this joyous event, he wrote the famous hymn "Come, Come, Ye Saints." The hymn became a great rallying song of the Mormons.

In 1846, seven Mormon families became separated from the larger body of migrants. They stopped for the winter in present-day Green Bay Township, Clarke County, and established what was known as "Lost Camp." These families remained in the area until 1854, when they resumed the trek to Utah.

Utopian Experiments in Southern Iowa

Several utopian groups attempted to implement in southern Iowa their dreams of a better social structure. In 1839, Abner Kneeland, a pantheist, started Salubria in Van Buren County. Beset with economic problems, the experiment dissolved after Kneeland died in 1844. In 1843, followers of French socialist Charles Fourier founded Phalanx in Mahaska County, but this communal experiment lasted only two years. Followers of another Frenchman, Etienne Cabet, tried several experiments in the United States, including Icaria in Adams County, which existed from 1860 to 1895.

Led by Ladislaus Ujhazy, a group of Hungarian refugees from the Revolutions of 1848 settled in Decatur County in 1850 and founded the town of New Buda. After experiencing economic difficulties, most of these people moved to Texas in 1853.

In 1851, people from near Farmington formed a communal association called the Hopewell Colony. They moved to Clarke County later that year, and founded the town of Hopeville. Although the communal nature of the colony soon changed, the village survived and for several decades was a thriving community. It is the only one of these southern Iowa utopian experiments whose remnants lasted into the 20th century.
Wisconsin also seems to have attracted more than its share of utopians, these days confined mostly to Madison, I suspect.
The best-known communal experiment in Wisconsin was the Wisconsin Phalanx, a community based on the principles of Charles Fourier, established at Ceresco (Ripon). It was the second largest Fourierist experiment in the country, lasting from 1844 until 1850, and housed around 180 people, most of whom lived communally in the Long House. Although the Phalanx was an economic success and attract[ed] national attention, problems developed and the members agreed to dissolve their community in 1850.

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