History of Gilbertville

image of welcome sign to Gilbertville

The Early Days
In 1854, proprietors John Chamboux and John Felton came to the location of Section 22, 23 and 27, Township 88, Range 12 in Poyner Township and founded the town of Gilbertville.

Gilbertville, which might also be called the "Sand-Hill City", was surveyed and plotted by John W. Holmes on July 2, 1856. Chamboux, Felton, and Holmes had great dreams about the future of this town, and had plotted on the scale of a large city. For a few years the city grew rapidly. Chamboux, Kammon and Felton opened a store with a general assortment, well adapted to the wants of the country. Nicholas Bowden also opened a small store, but did not continue long. John Snyder had the first blacksmith shop, in 1855, and the first in the township. John Eickelberg started a wagon shop soon after. In 1857, Peter Felton started a steam saw mill on the Cedar bottom, under the bluff, on some vacant lots. With the floods in the summer of 1858, only the top of the smokestack was visible above the water of the Cedar River. The next season he moved it to the center of the public square.

In the early settlement of the place, it supported a small brewery and tannery, but they soon ceased operations. A few years after, two small distilleries existed for a short time. In 1856 a small Catholic Church was erected and used until 1868, when a larger one was built, which was destroyed by wind in 1874. Another church was built and dedicated early in 1875.

The City's Growth
In 1875, Gilbertville had two stores, three saloons, a post office, one blacksmith shop, and the main street was solid, containing nineteen families and ninety-eight inhabitants. Father Nemmers came to town in 1875 and it was said the towns conditions were not the best. It had become a wide-open town of ill-repute. Whiskey was too readily available and drunken brawls were not uncommon. It is stated that through the efforts of this man of God, conditions were eventually righted and soon more immigrants settled in the community.

Many European immigrants began to populate the town. Because many of the new inhabitants were of the Luxembourg descent who spoke French as well as German and/or Letzeburgesch Gilbertville was often called Frenchtown. Commonly called Letzeburgesch, the everyday language of the majority of native Luxembourgers is really a local German dialect known as Moselfrankisch.

The new settlers, finding the town to be a comfortable community of fellow native countrymen, often wrote about it to their friends and relatives at home in Europe or further east. These in turn arrived to expand the village. Many of these early inhabitants had names still familiar in the Gilbertville area today: Schommers, Nosbisch, Delagardelle, Weber, Robert, Thome, Zimmer, Mangrich, Ambrosy, Youngblut, Sondag, Felton, Schmitz, Stuckart, Falk, Demuth, Gales, Schares, Pint, Becker, Weyland, and Miebel.