Webster county was established in 1853 by an act of the General Assembly of the state, as a consolidation of Yell and Risley counties. In 1855 the south half of Humboldt county was added to Webster, the latter county being named for the famous lawyer, Daniel Webster.
The first white settler in Webster county was Henry Lott who, in 1847, with some others, went into the Des Moines valley, near the mouth of the Boone river. Soon thereafter other settlers located in the southern part of Webster county, along the Des Moines river and its tributaries. In 1853 about 150 settlers had made their homes along the river, south of Fort Dodge. In August, 1853, the first election in the county was held, and in the fall of that year a town was laid out, between the Des Moines and Boone rivers, by the name of Homer which was made the first county seat. In February, 1857, the north tier of townships of Webster county were annexed to the new county of Humboldt, leaving Webster with its present boundaries.
Before 1850 Swedish immigrants settled near what is now Dayton. Among them was John Linn (or Lind) and his wife, Mary E. Sombers. He was born in Dödringhult, Ingatorp parish, Småland, May 29, 1826, and with his wife left his native land in May, 1849, spending 4 months and 11 days crossing the ocean. After their landing in America, they continued their journey by canal boat to Keokuk, and thence by team and wagon to Madrid in Boone county, Iowa, finally making their home in the southeast corner of what is now Webster county, before the federal survey had taken place, Linn took possession of a tract of land in Highland township, and was the first white settler in that township. Their daughter, Julia, who was born January 8, 1851, is said to have been the first white child born in Hardin township.
On account of the great distance from Mr. Linn's home to the nearest flour mill, Mr. Linn found it necessary to construct a hand mill, by means of which a strong man was able to grind two bushels of corn a day. This mill proved of great service to Mr. Linn and his neighbors in the early days of the settlement. In 1853 a man wanted to sell to Mr. Linn 80 acres of land where the city of Des Moines now stands for $320, but Linn refused the bargain, because he thought the price too high.
In 1854 Mr. Linn embraced the Methodist doctrine, and organized a church of that faith, and three years later was authorized to preach. After that he divided his time between the care of the congregation and of his farm. In 1868 he became pastor of a congregation in Moline, Ill., and in 1874 was promoted to Presiding Elder of the Iowa district, removing then to Des Moines.
From the first settlement at Dayton the Swedish colonists spread out
over the adjoining territory, and took possession of large stretches of
Webster county, especially the southern part of it. The communities of
Harcourt, Gowrie and Lanyon were settled mostly by Swedes, and Swedish
farmers located around Burnside and Callender, farther north, while the
city of Fort Dodge also received its quota of Swedish immigrants. Today,
Webster county contains a larger Swedish Population than any other county
in the state, Polk excepted. The total population of the county is now
40,425 of whom about 4,200 are of Swedish descent. Aside from Fort Dodge,
in which city about 1,000 Swedes reside, that nationality predominates
in the towns of Dayton and Gowrie, and Swedish farmers are found in large
numbers throughout the southern part of the county. The Swedes of Webster
county have made a large contribution to the upbuilding and developing
of the state, agriculturaIly, commercially and politically, having produced
a large contingent of men and women who have risen to prominence in both
the state and the nation.
As a protection for the scattered settlers in that region against hostile Indians a fort was established, in 1849, on the upper Des Moines river, by Colonel Mason of the Sixth U. S. Infantry. Originally called Fort Clark, its name was later changed to Fort Dodge, in honor of General Henry Dodge, U. S. Senator from Wisconsin. The fort was occupied by troops only three years, being vacated by the soldiers in October, 1853, when Major William Williams was left in charge of the property. The land reserved for the post was soon after offered for sale, and was purchased by a syndicate, headed by Major Williams. In March, 1854, the survey and plat of the town of Fort Dodge was completed, a postoffice was established, and Major Williams appointed the first postmaster. The following year a U. S. Land office was located at Fort Dodge, thus adding to the importance of the town.
Fort Dodge got its first railroad, The Iowa Falls and Sioux City, in 1869. The first store in town started business in 1855. Before the railroad came, all the merchandise had to be hauled by wagon from Keokuk, the nearest railroad station, at a cost of three cents per pound. The nearest flour mills were located at Oskaloosa and Des Moines, requiring two weeks for a trip to either town under favorable conditions. Now the city of Fort Dodge is one of the important railroad and commercial centers of that section of the state. Both the Illinois Central and the Great Western main lines from Omaha to Chicago pass through the city, besides branch lines of the Milwaukee and the Minneapolis & St. Louis roads. Large gypsum and cement factories, employing a considerable force of laborers, are located within short distance of the city. The Des Moines river divides Fort Dodge into an East and a West section. The Swedish settlers originally located in West Fort Dodge, but in later years many of the Swedish residents have acquired homes east of the river. According to the last census, Fort Dodge has a population of 21,895. Of its 1,000 or more Swedish residents some 60 are active in commercial and professional lines. The present postmaster of the city is of Swedish parentage, and three of the county officers of Webster county are of Swedish extraction. The Norwegians are also quite numerous in and around Fort Dodge, and many of the business men of the city are of Norwegian stock.
Though the Swedes were among the earliest settlers of Webster county, they do not seem to have been attracted to Fort Dodge until the latter part of the sixties. In 1869 and 1870 quite a number arrived, most of them from the Dayton settlement in the southern part of the county, and some from Swedish settlements in Illinois. Among the early arrivals were O. H. Larson, Gust Ahlstrand and August Nelson, all of them reaching Fort Dodge in 1869. Mr. Larson built the first frame residence on the West side of lumber shipped in from Dubuque, Ia. He also erected the first store building, and, in partnership with Andrew Moe, a Norwegian, started a grocery and provision business. West Fort Dodge was then called Riverside
Fort Dodge has three Swedish churches, two belonging to the Lutheran, and one to the Mission Friend denomination. The First Lutheran Church was organized in the home of August Nelson, May 13, 1870, by the Reverend Håkan Olson. Twenty-five adults were enrolled as charter members, sixteen more being added in December of that year. During the first three years meetings were held in private homes or in an old brick school house on Second Ave., between 7th and 8th street, and sometimes in a German Lutheran church. In December, 1870, Hon. John F. Duncombe presented the congregation with two lots, and in 1873 a church building was erected on J street, near the Des Moines river, a regular minister taking charge the following year. A new church was built on a more suitable site in 1904-5. The congregation has now 141 members. During later years it has been served by the same minister as the Swedish Lutheran Church at Callender.
The Bethlehem Lutheran Church was organized May 5, 1902, by some 50 members of the First Lutheran Church, who separated from that body because they wanted a church built on the east side of the river. A church building was erected the following year. This congregation has made a rapid increase in membership, having now 404 communicant members. The Swedish Mission Church, which was organized in 1896, has a church located at Avenue B and K street, in West Fort Dodge, and a membership of 115. Since 1915 the Swedish Order Vasa has also been represented among the Swedes of Fort Dodge. A lodge by the name of Viking was organized August 15 of that year, which has now a membership of about 50.
The Swedish Lutherans of Fort Dodge have taken a leading part in financing and constructing a fine modern hospital in the western part of the city, which is now finished, though not yet fully equipped for service. Mr. Hjalmer P. Sandberg has from the beginning been the chief mover of this enterprise, and is still secretary and manager of the Hospital Association, a body composed of interested members of six Lutheran Synods in Iowa; viz., Augustana (Swedish), Norwegian Lutheran, Danish United Lutheran, Missouri, Ohio and Iowa. The governing power is vested in a board, selected by the membership. The organization was formed in 1921, and the collecting of funds commenced in 1923. The hospital site is a beautiful 38 acre tract, secured for the purpose, on a hill in the western part of the city. A modern hospital building with a capacity of 100 beds has been erected at an approximate cost of $500,000. To date $280,000 in cash has been collected, and additional pledges for $65,000 secured. The name of the institution is The Lutheran Hospital of Fort Dodge, Iowa.
Among the industries of Fort Dodge the Stromberg Hatchery deserves special mention. Its proprietor and manager, Mr. E. S. Stromberg, was born in America of Swedish parents, and came to Otho, Webster county, in 1894. Thirty years later he located in Fort Dodge, and started a hatchery, adding to it from time to time, until it now has a capacity of 428,000 eggs. In 1930 about 11/2 million chickens were hatched. About 35%, of the hatchings are delivered direct to customers in the surrounding territory, while the rest are shipped to points all over the United States. All the hatchings are from accredited standard quality flocks, including 22 varieties of chickens, and are sold under 100% live delivery guarantee.
Of the early Swedish settlers of Fort Dodge Gust Ahlstrand had a history of particular interest. Born in Melby, Jönköpings Län, Sweden, April 25, 1840, he left his native land for America in 1859. He located first in Andover, Ill., where he lived with a sister, Mrs. Fair, until the Civil war broke out. On February 27, 1862, he enlisted in Battery H, First Illinois Light Artillery, commanded by Captain Axel Silversparre. Mr. Ahlstrand took part in the battle of Shiloh and a number of smaller skirmishes. His services expiring February 27, 1864, he reinlisted the same day and during the following summer accompanied General Sherman on his advance on Atlanta, Ga. On July 22, 1864, Mr. Ahlstrand was taken prisoner by the confederates, and during 9 months was confined in the notorious Andersonville prison, suffering hardships, the results of which remained with him till his dying day. Being mustered out of service in June, 1865, he returned to Andover and, together with his brother August, engaged in farming until 1869, when he married Sophia Lovisa Swenson, also from Melby, Sweden, the marriage being performed by Rev. Jonas Swensson. The same year Mr. and Mrs. Ahlstrand, with some other pioneers, emigrated to Iowa, and on August 6 of that year the ex-soldier purchased a lot in West Fort Dodge and built a. little hut, where he and his wife lived until the following year, when a farm was purchased in Lost Grove township of Webster county. Adversities of different sorts compelled Mr. Ahlstrand to leave the farm two years later and, in 1872, he returned to Fort Dodge, where he plied his trade as a carpenter for many years, retiring from active work in 1910. Mr. Ahlstrand was an active and prominent member of the Swedish First Lutheran Church of Fort Dodge, being for many years a member of the church board, and afterwards a deacon. He was also a member of Fort Donaldson Post, G. A. R., part of the time as Commander. Mrs. Ahlstrand died in 1911 and her veteran husband April 16, 1925. One son, Gustaf Norton, died in 1909. Two other sons are still living in Fort Dodge, William Theodore, engaged in the postal service for 33 years, now retired, and Luther J., who is still serving Uncle Sam in the Fort Dodge postoffice.