Dr. Jesse A. Wasson: a big man in La Porte, IN, AND in LaPorte City, IA — in more ways than one

The bust of Dr. Jesse Wasson that stands in front of City Hall in La Porte City, IA. (Courtesy Progress Review)

By Fern Eddy Schultz, La Porte County Historian

Recently I was contacted by a person who had been on a tour of the British Isles and met another tour member who was from La Porte City, IA. Their discussion was about the naming of the city in Iowa.

Dr. Jesse A. Wasson is given the credit for this naming, but why?

Well, he was born in La Porte, IN — according to his grave marker in Westview Cemetery in La Porte City, IA — on 22 October 1821, and died 15 May 1889 at age 67.

His first marriage was in La Porte, IN, on 01 January 1840 to Mary Cadwallader. They had six children. She, along with other family members, is buried in the Quaker Cemetery north on Park Street in La Porte. According to records on the Findagrave website, she was the daughter of Amos and Rebecca Cadwallader, “who were probably Gurneyites.”

Dr. Wasson was of Hicksite belief and “they were disowned by Whitewater Monthly Meeting for marriage out of unity.” They were divorced in La Porte County in 1854/55. She married Truman Merrill on 21 June 1859 and had one son. By 1860, Dr. Wasson was married to Junia Hahn, who died in 1924 at the age of 90/91. She is buried in the Westview Cemetery.

Wasson’s estate in La Porte City, IA.

In 1845, Wasson served as La Porte County, IN, Coroner. He was a graduate of the Indiana Medical College in La Porte, IN, with the Class of 1848, which was comprised of several other La Porte residents, including Landon C. Rose and Enos Penwell. Wasson’s residence stood on the southeast corner of State Street and Michigan Avenue, the later location of the Carlbeck Hotel. It has been reported that he left La Porte, IN, in 1854. He served as surgeon in the 9th Iowa Cavalry.

La Porte City, IA, was originally named La Porte, IA, but the post office found that to be confusing so they added “city” to the name in about 1921. Mail directed to La Porte, IN, and La Porte, IA, often arrived in the wrong location. The Iowa town was founded and laid out in 1855 by the Honorable Jesse Wasson. It is described as a town surrounded by rich farmland and derives its business mostly from local farmers.

Wasson’s office building in La Porte City, IA, is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Dr. Wasson was described in the local news media as “a giant of a man with a flowing beard, beloved by the citizens of town he founded. He was just about everything to La Porte, IA, serving in about every municipal capacity there was. He weighed about 500 pounds when he died and it was necessary to take out a partition between a window and a door to get his coffin in and out of the house, it was so large.”

In 2005, the 150th birthday anniversary of the founding of La Porte City IA, was celebrated. A large bust of Dr. Jesse Wasson, which was dedicated in 1998, stands in front of City Hall. Among his accomplishments are his serving as mayor,

La Porte County Historian Fern Eddy Schultz

building the first sawmill, persuading state surveyors to place the first state road through the city, co-owning the local newspaper, and serving as the first postmaster in La Porte City and the first justice of the peace.

Listed on the National Register of Historic places in 1999, is the office building of Dr. Wasson. It is the oldest surviving example of stone construction and the only extant first-generation commercial building in La Porte City, IA. It was built for Wasson for his office.

FERN EDDY SCHULTZ is La Porte County’s official Historian.

One Response to “Dr. Jesse A. Wasson: a big man in La Porte, IN, AND in LaPorte City, IA — in more ways than one”

  1. Mike Kellems

    Mar 06. 2019

    Who knew? What an awesome story! Visiting La Porte City, Iowa just made the bucket list.

    Thank you, Fern!

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