It was on this day June 13, 1876 – In this Centennial year, the Old Settlers Association (OSA) decided to renew their annual festivals – holding a big reunion on the farm of Johnson County pioneer Cyrus Sanders – the first since 1870.

According to Our Iowa Heritage  - In January 1861, amid the impending Civil War, approximately eighty seasoned pioneers of Johnson County, each boasting at least two decades of residence, convened within the newly erected County Court House. Under the guidance of Henry Felkner, an esteemed figure in the county, the Old Settlers’ Association (OSA) was formally established. Over the ensuing sixty-four years, spanning from 1861 to 1925, the OSA not only provided a venue for longtime residents to gather and reminisce but also, through its annual journals, bequeathed a wealth of historical insights into Johnson County's past. 

Henry Felkner assumed the inaugural role of OSA chairman, with Dr. William Reynolds, a prominent early educator of Iowa City, serving as secretary. Joining them were notable figures such as surveyor Cyrus Sanders, abolitionist Dr. Jesse Bowen, journalists Thomas Hughes and Silas Foster, and county court commissioner George Fesler. 

The OSA convened for its maiden meeting on January 26, 1861, attracting nearly eighty attendees within the recently completed Johnson County Court House. However, due to the outbreak of the Civil War shortly thereafter, the association did not formally reconvene until February 22, 1866, when David Switzer assumed the role of chairman. Switzer, renowned for constructing the county's inaugural dam and mill on Clear Creek in 1841, led the committee alongside Frederick M. Irish, a beloved sea captain who had arrived in Iowa in 1838. 

The First OSA Festival

The decision to host the first OSA festival was made during a committee meeting on June 2, 1866, setting a precedent for future reunions. Subsequent festivals occurred intermittently, with notable events including a grand gathering on July 4, 1870, hosted at the farm of pioneer Cyrus Sanders. 


Although a hiatus occurred in the publication of OSA yearbooks between the 1870 and 1883 reunions, newspaper archives reveal sporadic festivals held during this period. Noteworthy among them were consecutive reunions in 1876, 1877, and 1878, all held at Cyrus Sanders' farm. 

The location of OSA festivals diversified in later years, with the 1882 reunion marking a shift to the Johnson County Fair Grounds. Subsequent gatherings were held at various locales, including downtown Iowa City's Ham's Hall and Sylvanus Johnson's farm, commemorating Iowa City's earliest pioneers. 

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Preservation was the next step

By the late 1880s, the OSA embarked on a visionary endeavor to preserve Johnson County's heritage. Spearheaded by Henry (H.J.) Wieneke, the association oversaw the construction of two log cabins reminiscent of the county's early settlements. These cabins, along with a larger replica of John Gilbert's Trading Post, now stand as enduring symbols in City Park, a testament to the foresight of the OSA members. 

The tradition of OSA reunions persisted until 1925, marking the conclusion of an illustrious sixty-four-year legacy. Through their dedication and foresight, the men and women of the Old Settlers’ Association bestowed invaluable contributions to the preservation of Johnson County's rich history for generations to come. 

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