European settlement in Pleasant Valley began when Roswell Spencer built a log cabin in 1833. The following winter, the family of J.B. Chamberlin moved into the very same cabin and stuck around long enough to be considered Pleasant Valley’s first permanent settlers. In 1840, the town tried to ensure its future relevance by bidding for the county seat, but, unfortunately for Pleasant Valley, they lost to Davenport. In 1856, Spencer, now a permanent resident, platted the village of Pleasant Valley, first calling it Valley City. In subsequent years he built a sawmill, a frame house, and a grist mill. Stones from the grist mill were used to build Trinity Lutheran Church, and the church later became the post office—the only one in the United States that is housed in a former church, for what it’s worth. In spite of the village’s early promise, growth was minimal and the town has never incorporated.
For much of its existence, Pleasant Valley was marked by a distinctive aroma—onions. In the 1850s, Captain Isaac Hawley planted the first crop. By 1858, several others had joined him and a robust onion farming industry had taken root. Henry Schutter arrived in 1856 and eventually became the most successful farmer of the bunch, managing hundreds of acres and earning the nickname The Onion King. The Pleasant Valley onion farmers were “organic” before organic was cool. They used homegrown seeds and developed their own varieties; weeds were picked by hand instead of being controlled with herbicides; farmers enriched their soil with manure instead of chemical fertilizers; onions were harvested manually instead of by machine. Onion farming lasted for generations, but a 1927 infestation of Yellow Dwarf virus led to a slow decline in the industry, as many farmers switched to other crops or moved out of the area. Even as the industry was waning, onion farming was an important safety net for many area families during the Depression. In the late 1990s, Stanley Schutter, the great grandson of The Onion King, retired, closing the last remaining onion farm in the area.
Lock and Dam 14 Recreation Area (182nd St.; 309.794.4524) is just north of the village; it has a boat ramp, picnic tables, and two hiking trails. There is a rustic trail along the river that is accessed by the boat ramp, but a more interesting hike is the one-and-a-half mile trail on Smith Island. To reach the picnic tables and Smith Island, you get to walk across the top of a lock gate, in this case the auxiliary lock gate. Cool.
- Post Office: 24621 Valley Drive; 563.332.6232.
Heading upriver? Check out LeClaire.
Heading downriver? Check out Riverdale.
© Dean Klinkenberg, 2009,2018
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