Thanks for subscribing! Please check your email for further instructions.
Story Courtesy of Jeff Rankin, Monmouth College Historian Author and Literacy Critic.
Lomax Township in southwestern
Henderson County is a quiet rural area containing fewer than 400 homes. That’s
a far cry from the vision of an entrepreneur named Thompson McCosh, who at the
turn of the 20th century believed he could establish an iron and steel
manufacturing metropolis there that would rival his native Pittsburgh.
In 1897, McCosh secured an option on
1,200 acres at Iowa Junction, one mile east of the village of Lomax, and laid
out a town that he named Ferrodale. On paper, the three-mile by two-mile site
was a potential gold mine, as it stood at the junction of three busy railroads.
The Toledo, Peoria and Western ran from Burlington to Peoria and connected to
the east coast. The CB&Q ran from Burlington to Carthage and Qunicy, while
the Santa Fe ran from Chicago through Fort Madison. The nearby Mississippi
River also provided an inexpensive potential route for shipping steel to St.
Louis and New Orleans.
Moreover, McCosh was a veteran steel
executive who was convinced the ground below Lenox Township was rich in iron
and aluminum ore, as well as petroleum and natural gas. He announced he would
first build his own factory at Ferrodale, following which other factories would
follow—particularly since he offered free building sites, free water and free
switching. He envisioned a utopian city patterned after the Illinois town of
Pullman that would be populated largely by Scandinavian immigrants. Land would
be offered at the bargain price of $75 per acre, payable over three years.
McCosh’s ambition was not limited to
city building. He also hoped to get into the railroad business, proposing the
Mississippi Valley Electrical Railroad, to run from Ferrodale north to
Muscatine, via Oquawka, Keithsburg and New Boston. It would possibly have
extensions to Cedar Rapids, Rock Island and Beardstown.
Despite assurances of great interest
among investors in Pennsylvania, the Ferrodale project seemed to encounter
constant roadblocks, none of which deterred the enthusiasm of McCosh, a former
Burlington manufacturer, who was then based in Chicago. In 1899, he wrote a
hopeful letter to the editor of the Burlington Gazette:
“I am corresponding with Pittsburg
parties with a view of establishing a tin plate works and a sheet iron mill at
Ferrodale, to be built entirely by eastern capital and Pittsburg skill, which
when consummated, will add to the population tributary to Burlington by the
employment of at least 500 hands. The fine location of Ferrodale and all the
advantages, both natural and acquired we have to offer, is attracting far and
At the same time, it was rumored that
$90,000 in stock had been sold and several factories had asked for land. In
June 1899, McCosh announced he had all the money he needed and the only thing
that was holding him back was the land titles. Yet there was no action, except
that McCosh moved his Ferrodale Land Company from Chicago back to Burlington.
Two years later, in the spring of
1901, McCosh was suddenly back in the headlines. Monmouth’s Warren County
Democrat reported that he had paid them a pleasant call and reported that “in
the near future a new manufacturing city will spring up in Henderson County
that will equal in many respects the largest industrial centers of the
country.” The paper reported that “while he has had many drawbacks to contend
with, he has never faltered in the belief of its ultimate success and the stock
is now being rapidly taken.”
Just seven months later, however, the
Burlington Hawk-Eye reported that an auction was held for the sale of the
furniture of the Ferrodale offices, which had been seized to satisfy the
landlord’s claim for rent. “This seems to close the history of Ferrodale,” the
paper wrote. “It may, or may not, have been the dream of a speculator. But it
was with feelings of regret that some of the onlookers saw the various articles
But McCosh was not that easily
discouraged. In January 1903 it was announced that Ferrodale was being
advertised more extensively than ever. A new prospectus told of Ferrodale’s
extensive deposits of aluminum that were 45 to 63 percent pure. In
addition, there were deposits of Fuller’s earth, fire clay and clay for the
manufacture of superior paving brick and red building brick. McCosh added
that superior oil and natural gas only awaited development.
In March 1903, the LaHarpe Quill
reported that McCosh and others had loaded 14 cars of machinery in Chicago for
shipment to Ferrodale. It would arrive with 25 of the best machinists in
Chicago and it was thought that the machines could be installed in about 120
weeks. It was noted that McCosh had contracted with lumber companies in
Burlington and Dallas City for building materials.
Mysteriously, there is no evidence
that the machinery ever arrived, or that a factory was ever erected at
Ferrodale. Over the next four years, McCosh would continue to promote
Ferrodale, despite his advancing age and declining health.
On June 6, 1907, McCosh died at age
76 in Mercy Hospital, Burlington. Monmouth’s Atlas newspaper wrote: “He knew
the Mississippi valley like a book and realized its possibilities. He
maintained that this whole country covers rich ore deposits, exceeding in
richness any yet discovered. The center of this great deposit, he declared,
laid down in the valley in Henderson county and there he went with dream of
millions, wealth and power. The historic site of Ferrodale was laid out.
Prospectuses of the future ore center were scattered over the entire country
and the dream became a seven-day wonder. Lots were sold and the boom seemed
about to realize, when McCosh lost his grip and the bubble bursted. But hope
never deserted. Time after time he has tried to resurrect the scheme but always
Thompson McCosh was the older brother
of Warren County newspaper editor George G. McCosh, who founded the Roseville
Gazette and later took over management of the Monmouth Evening Gazette. Born in
Pittsburg in 1831, Thompson was one of six brothers and three sisters who
emigrated to the Midwest in the 1850s.
In the spring of 1855, he partnered
with Robert Donahue to establish Donahue & McCosh—a Burlington marble firm
that specialized in tombstones and fireplace mantles. After 10 years of
steady growth, they embarked in a new enterprise and sold a third interest in
the marble business, allowing them to open an iron and heavy hardware business.
They built a five-story warehouse in Burlington containing 30,000 square feet.
By 1882, sales exceeded $600,000.
The partners then organized the Hawk-Eye
Manufacturing company to make spring wagons and buggies. After the invention of
barbed wire, they created the Hawk-Eye Steel Barb Fence Company, in partnership
with an inventor from Marshalltown, who had developed a machine that reduced
the cost of producing barbed wire by 50 percent. McCosh successfully applied
for a patent, and since his name was on it, he thought that gave him a hand up
in the business.
McCosh then sought to bring two of his brothers into management positions, his
partner Donahue objected, causing a rift between the partners and a dissolution
of the business. The iron and steel company had been the largest iron working
institution between St., Louis and St. Paul.
about this time, the eastern “barbed wire trust” forced many manufacturers out
of business, including Hawk-Eye, which went into receivership in 1891.
1895, McCosh picked himself up again and with partners incorporated the Chicago
Nail and Wire Company, which was apparently not a factory but a commission
business in iron and steel.
Despite his financial frustrations
and dying essentially penniless, McCosh remained an admired figure in the
Burlington community, who was active in the Presbyterian Church and the YMCA.
Four decades after his death, he was still remembered fondly in newspaper
columns as an energetic and charismatic entrepreneur.
For Maple City Memories, I’m