Johann Plumerm 51588 221st St.
Eight miles south of the Iowa School for the Deaf – halfway between Council Bluffs and Glenwood – is the Johann Plumer house. Built in 1864, it is the oldest in Mills County.
Johann Heinrich Plumer was born in Hanover, Germany, in 1795. According to family histories, he was a soldier in the Napoleonic Wars and fought in the battle of Waterloo.
Maria Gelthaus was also born in Germany, in 1796. Maria and Johann were married there and had six children: Caroline, Sophie, Heinrich, Frederich, Wilhelm, and Christopher.
They left their homeland in 1840 and came to the United States, settling first in Ohio, near Dayton. From there, the Plumers and other German families moved to Missouri, near the town of California – an area of heavy timberland. After a several years of hard work, an outbreak of malaria and news of more fertile land to the north led Johann to look for a healthier climate and a better life for his family. With Johann and Maria came their sons, Christopher, Fred, William and Henry, and a married daughter, Sophia Saar, and her family.
The Plumer family arrived in Iowa around June of 1851. According to family history, Johann stood on a hill overlooking the area and declared, “This looks good to me. Plenty of timber, water, good land. This is where we will stay.”
He bought land at $1.25 an acre, as stated on the original document signed by President Franklin Pierce. They cleared the land of hickory brush, and the sons and son-in-law built log cabins on nearby farms. They brought livestock with them – oxen, mules, cattle and sheep (although, thanks to the wolves, the sheep didn’t last long).
Johann sent word to former neighbors in Missouri of the rich land, and other families followed, coming by way of Old St. Mary’s on the Missouri River. (Old St. Mary’s was across the river from Bellevue, Neb.) More log cabins were being built, and the area became known as the Plumer Settlement. (A detailed account of daily living on the frontier can be found at plumersettlement.org.
In 1864, after 13 years of living in the log cabin, Johann built a grand two-story house, “supported by hand-hewn walnut beams, some as much as forty feet long.” “Johann kept his money in shop bags in walnut chests which he brought from Germany; in his declining years his sight failed but he could recognize the coins by the touch or ring as he would drop them on the table.”
In 1867, Mr. Plumer and Henry and Sophia (Plumer) Saar led the effort to build a church about 1½ miles from the Plumer homestead. Bricks were produced locally. According to the Plumer Settlement website, “The Salem Lutheran Church is one of the oldest Iowa Lutheran churches. In October 1880, the Western District of the Iowa Synod was organized in this church. It was known as the Mother Church of the Central District of the American Lutheran Church, from which some 100 Lutheran churches have stemmed, including those at Mineola and Treynor (Iowa).”
Burials were in Saar’s Field until 1874 when the cemetery was established across the street from the church. Maria Plumer, who died in 1859, was the first burial in the new cemetery. Johann died in 1883 and is also buried there.
“The Little Brick Church” closed in 1933, and was restored and remodeled in 1956 and 2001. It is now covered with stucco, and is sometimes called “The Church of the Woods”. Services are held once a year, on Memorial Day.
The Oak Bluff School No. 2 was built later; the teachers stayed at the Plumer house.
Stagecoach travel originated as a means to deliver mail on the frontier. They soon began to transport passengers, following paths cut by wagon trains in the coaches that were sometimes called “wagons without springs.” One of two stops on the Western Stage Company’s route between Des Moines and Council Bluffs was the Johann Plumer homestead. There, the company maintained a barn and an attendant, where drivers would switch to fresh horses, and travel-weary passengers slept on the floors of the two front rooms. The Western Stage Company ceased operations in 1870.
Henry F. Saar, son of Henry and Sophia (Plumer) Saar, states in his biography in “The History of Pottawattamie County 1883” that his father’s farm – adjacent to the Plumer homestead – was once an old stage route and a thoroughfare for emigrants going to California. “At one time, a train of 1,000 mules stopped to feed at his father’s place, and they had to haul corn by the load and scatter it over the ground in order to feed the ... ”
The Johann Plumer house has remained in the family for more than 150 years and is now occupied by his great-great-great-grandson (fifth generation).
Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “I believe the greatest thing in this world is not so much where we stand as in what direction we are moving ... and the further backward you can look, the farther forward you can see.”
– Preserve Council Bluffs acknowledges the following sources of information: The Glenwood Public Library; the Plumer Settlement web site; the Western Stage Company web site; and Clay Plumer. Mary Lou McGinn can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.