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Luther and David Bowen

Luther Bowen

Luther L. Bowen was born Dec. 3, 1806, in Herkimer County of western New York and around 1833 he accompanied a party of surveyors and was engaged with them in locating the disputed boundary line between Illinois and Wisconsin. The work having been completed, he remained in Galena and was employed by a firm as a bookkeeper.

In exploring around the country looking for a good location, he finally recached this frontier settlement and determined it an excellent location for the founding of a city on the Mississippi River. He then negotiated with the settlers for their claim interests and returned to Galena with the intention of returning later and laying out the town.

In 1935, Luther Bowen returned to the settlement and began to develop the land he had purchased from the original pioneers. With a man named Murray, the two laid out the town and called it Savanna, which means, treeless grassy plain referring to the land south of town.

So the 36 acres of cornfield became streets and building lots. In laying out Main Street they took the westside, the line of field fences which had been built following the line of driftwood indicating some previous high water mark. Commerce Street was laid out one block west of Main Street along the bank of the river. This street and the part of Main Street lying south of which is now Chicago Avenue was vacated by an act of Legislation.

 Luther Bowen built a motel, The Mississippi” on Main Street at the present location of the Radke House. It became known as the Woodruff House and was eventually torn down to make room for the Radke Hotel. Luther also started a general store, established the first post office in 1836, and became the first postmaster.

He went to New York to buy goods for his store, and when he returned he brought with him a bride. He married Elizabeth Dale, native of Union County, Pennsylvania, and they had four children, Hattie E. Bowen Hershey (1845-1927), Jennie F. (1848-1922), Wilmot I. (1852-1884) and Aaron L. (1859-1939). 

They lived in the log cabin the Blundells had built and then constructed the first frame house at the corner of Third Street and Chicago Avenue.

In 1836, Luther and his brother, John, built a saw mill on Plum River on the opposite bank of the Kitching's grist mill. The pine logs to supply the mill were rafted down the Mississippi River and up the Plum River to near the mill. This was a great convenience for the settlers in building their cabins as it did away generally with the puncheon floors.

In 1835 and 1836, he established a ferry at the mouth of Plum River, which was made necessary in time of high water, as it was the only way to Savanna from the east and south.

He was instrumental in forming Carroll County and was one of the first commissioners of the new county in 1839. He died on May 5, 1876, at age 69, and is buried at the Savanna Township Cemetery.

Bowen Lincoln School
David Bowen constructed the first Lincoln School in 1870 at a cost of $24,500 on the hillside on Murray Square

David Bowen was born in Herkimer County, New York, on October 20, 1816. The younger brother of Luther H. Bowen, he arrived in the settlement in 1835, having walked nearly all the distance from Herkimer County in western New York and often told of passing through Chicago and coming on out here thinking this place looked like a much better location.

Young David Bowen was hired to get out the timbers for the frame work for Aaron Pierce’s hotel, the Frontier House, and spent the winter on the island across from the town, cutting the immense oak trees and hewing the timbers out by hand.

He soon became the city’s top architect and erected the first city hall, the first Lincoln School, the Methodist and Congregational Churches as well as several houses around town. He owned a planing mill in Sabula, was on the first jury ever empaneled in Carroll County and held the office of County Commissioner.

He married Miss Sila Pierce, daughter of Aaron Pierce,  on Jan. 31, 1844, and they had four children: Lester Waterman (1845-1928), Emma L. (1848-1919), Luther Sherman (1855-1934) and Frank Pierce (1859-1936), David L. Bowen died in 1898.

City Hall
City Hall was built by David Bowen in 1873 at the northwest corner of Third and Murray at a cost of $1,800. It consisted of two jail cells, an anteroom downstairs, and a meeting hall on the second floor.