The Press Release

Johnson County’s Remembrance Park Celebrates Diversity In Our Distant PastBook release kicks off new park project for Iowa City.

March, 2022 Press Release.

A recently-formed Johnson County Historic Committee plans Remembrance Park – A Wildflower Park to Contemplate the Origins of Johnson County, Iowa. Located south of Iowa City – near the intersection of Sand Road and Napoleon Road  – Remembrance Park will be located near the sites of the first Johnson County Fur Trading Posts of the 1830’s (see pic below). A late-summer 2022 park dedication is being planned.  READ MORE.

The Book Release – Remembrance Park – Marybeth Slonneger…

Released March 1, 2022 – Remembrance Park: The Fur Trading Era in Johnson County, Iowa and a Proposal for a Wildflower Park to Contemplate the Origins of the County. A stunningly beautiful book – filled with color photographs – and rich history – the story of Johnson County, Iowa’s first settlers in the 1830’s. By Hand Press, 313 pages – paperback – $19.95. READ MORE.

The Book Release – The Author..

Marybeth Slonneger is long-time resident of Iowa City and author of numerous books focusing on Johnson County history including Finials: A View of Downtown Iowa City (2015), Wetherby’s Gallery: Paintings, Daguerreotypes and Ambrotypes of an Artist (2012), The Burg: A Writers’ Diner (2011), and Small But Ours: Images and Stories from a Nineteenth Century Bohemian Neighborhood (1999).

The Book Release – The Synopsis…

There are a handful of names that always surface whenever the earliest history of Johnson County is told. Chauncey Swan, of course, is often cited as the Father of Iowa City, and Johnson County’s first white settler, John Gilbert, even has a street named after him. Iowa City historian, Marty Boller, writes…

For many years, folks like Irving Weber and others have focused exclusively on John Gilbert. But now, thanks to long-time Johnson County historian, Marybeth Slonneger, and her new book Remembrance Park, we are invited to take a deeper dive into our amazing history – not only setting the record straight on the earliest fur-traders in Johnson County, but also setting the stage for us to celebrate the long-forgotten story of diversity from our distant past.

Johnson County – The Earliest Days of Fur-Trading on the Iowa River…

Long before Iowa became a state (1846), the proud Meskwaki people lived on the rich prairie land adjacent to the many rivers that flowed into the Father of Waters – the Mississippi River. The first settlers that came west into what is now called Johnson County were fur-traders. One family, the Phelps from Illinois, built an extensive network of trading posts on these rivers, partnering with the Meskwaki tribes to provide valuable furs to potential buyers back east. Sumner Phelps (above left) along with his brother, William (above right) formed S.S. Phelps & Company in the 1820’s, and it’s Sumner’s trading post that was first built in Johnson County in the early 1830’s – long before John Gilbert arrived on the scene!  READ MORE.

Johnson County Diversity – The First Business Meeting – January 1838.

With Johnson County being established by the Wisconsin Territorial legislature (December 1837), several pioneers, led by John Gilbert, met in January 1838 for Johnson County’s first business meeting – held at his trading post. The goals were simple: pull together a written proposal that would be taken to Territorial legislators in Burlington, requesting of them funding for Johnson County roads, bridges, and postal service. Here’s the unique Roll Call for this 1838 Johnson County Business Meeting: Jennie – a Native American woman, Mogawk – an African-American man, and Henry Felkner, John Gilbert, Pleasant Harris, Isaac N. Lesh, and Eli Meyers – five white settlers. All seven co-living peaceably alongside three Meskwaki tribes, estimated to be about 1,500 in population, led by Chiefs Poweshiek, Wapashiek, and Totokonock. A very diverse group – co-laboring for a short period of time – for one common purpose – survival! That’s our Johnson County heritage. Historian Laura Rigel calls this unique 1838 Johnson County experiment in diversity: A Dream City.   READ MORE.

For more information about Remembrance Park – The Book and the Project:

Our website:

Johnson County Remembrance Park Committee: Marybeth & Ken Slonneger, Jo Myers-Walker, Marty & Sandy Boller

Chairman: Marty Boller is a graduate of Iowa City High School (1969) and the University of Iowa (1973). Marty has been a pastor in Cedar Rapids for much of the last thirty years, but moved, with his wife, Sandy, to Iowa City in 2020, and is now a part-time historian of Johnson County. His website is  

Contact Marybeth Slonneger:  (319) 400-0713

Contact Marty Boller:   (319) 361-5256

Our friends from Iowa’s Meskwaki Tribe have provided us with a beautiful vision statement that says it all. Read more about the work of keeping the Meskwaki language alive.