E.R. Clapp’s early days in Fort Des Moines

Edwin Ruthven Clapp
Edwin Ruthven Clapp

My 2nd Great Grandfather – Edwin Ruthven Clapp (1827 – 1906)

E.R., as he was known, was a powerful and well connected man in Des Moines.  He was a banker, real estate developer and a factory owner.  He was “Sargent of Arms” of the Iowa State Legislature and moved in the highest levels of Iowa politics and society.

But of course all that didn’t happen at once. We know from other sources that Edwin, or Ed. R, or E.R., came to Fort Des Moines as a young man and found work on the river as a ferryman.  But we have not had a lot of details.

If you speak nicely to google, she reveals some references to E.R. Clapp’s early life.

In 1919, 13 years after E.R. Clapp’s death, Tacitus Hussey published a volume with several anecdotes about Ed Clapp’s early life:

Reminiscences of Early Des Moines
BY
TACITUS HUSSEY
Published 1919

Dr. P. B. Fagan came here with Judge P. M. Casady, with whom he was early associated. He was one of our earliest physicians. They arrived in a buggy
and were ferried across the river by Ed Clapp, then the barefooted, one
suspendered ferryman who announced the fact to his associates as follows:
“Boys I’ve just ferried over two of the starchiest fellows I have ever seen. They
had on black coats, trousers and vests — and if one of ’em didn’t have his boots blacked I’ll be damned.”

A bit later in the same volume, we get this:

The first ice plough was used on the Des Moines river in the winter of 1856. It at-
tracted much attention when Ed Clapp set it to work. It could do more work than
four cross-cut saws operated by four men by hand.

We know from other sources that E.R. started and owned The Des Moines Ice Company, cutting and storing ice from the river.  Later he would install the first industrial refrigerated ice making machine in Des Moines.

Here’s a clip from the book  “Industrial Refrigeration volume 29” published in 1905:

Des Moines Ice Company

4 thoughts on “E.R. Clapp’s early days in Fort Des Moines

  1. Hello Cousin.

    I do not know if you monitor this blog, or if you have replied to living history farms. E.R. Clapp previously owned the property that is today living history farms. That is where he raised beef cattle during the Civil War.

    Ella Clapp White is my Great-Great Grandmother. Her son W.L. White, Jr. married Elizabeth (d. 1921 Woodland Cemetery Des Moines – I don’t know her maiden name) and they had three daughters. The youngest daughter Margaret Jane White b. 1904 (my Grandmother) married Edwin Larkin Wight of Stuart Iowa, they had one child (my father) Edwin Ruthven Wight.

    My Grandmother’s sisters were Ella Ruthven White, who never married (b. 1900 d. 1958 Twin Bridges Cemetery Montana, used the name “Ruthven White”) and Helen Elizabeth White b. 1902, who married John Kirble (spelling?) and had children John Jr. and Joan. I believe they lived in California. W.L. White Jr. d.1944 Twin Bridges Cemetery Montana.

    I believe that you are mistaken about E.R. Clapp being in the shoe business. It was the W.L. White Shoe Co. located in the Clapp block, and as far as I know E.R. Clapp was the Landlord only. You also list him in your article about the Clapp family as William H. White, which is an error.

    1. Hi Colleen:

      Thanks for the correction on William L. White’s middle initial. You are correct of course.

      Regarding Edwin Clapp and the shoe business:
      The only evidence I have of the Edwin Clapp Shoe Company is an advertisement in the Des Moines Daily News on March 26, 1906, which reads as follows:

      EDWIN CLAPP Has for years had the reputation of making the best men’s shoes ever made – in fact, the styles have always been made in advance by Edwin Clapp – – others imitate the styles — but they can’t imitate the quality and workmanship but that you can readily see it is an imitation — There is something about a Clapp shoe that none of the other manufacturers can get. We are the exclusive selling agents of the Edwin Clapp shoe in Des Moines and have them n all the Clapp Styles, sizes and widths. W.L. WHITE THE SLEEPLESS SHOEMAN 506 Walnut Street, Des Moines

  2. John Lewis and Lucy Clapp home is down the road from Living History Farms It still stands It started out as a two room home and was added on thru the years.

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