Bentonsport, Van Buren, Iowa
About thirty miles west of Fort Madison, IA on Iowa’s Mormon Pioneer Trail is the small village of Bentonsport. It is situated on the north bank of the Des Moines River in Van Buren County four miles northwest of Bonaparte. Bentonsport was once an important port-of-call for Des Moines River steamers. In 1836 the site was established as a trading post operated by Charles Sanford. Originally known as the Ross Settlement, the name was later changed to Benton’s Port, in honor of Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri.
By the time the Mormon pioneers came through Bentonsport, several flour and saw mills had been constructed and were in use. A number of Latter-day Saints found employment there. Being a river town, Bentonsport has had its share of serious flooding. Two of the worst were 1851 and 1903. Presently, Bentonsport has a riverside village of little shops, an Indian artifact museum, historic bridge, perennial garden, and festivals.
There are several extant buildings of interest to students of Latter-day Saint history at Bentonsport. The first is the Mason House Inn.
A small sign in front notes that this structure was built by “Mormon craftsmen going to Utah.” It was used as a hotel for riverboat travelers and was a station on the Underground Railroad. Currently, it is privately owned and used as a bed and breakfast. Its rooms are quaint and feature rustic themes of more than a century ago.
There is a second building in Bentonsport that dates back to the period of the Mormon pioneers. The ruins of this stone block structure are colloquially referred to as “Mormon House.”
According to tradition, this building was built by Mormon craftsmen as a two-story duplex. It may have even housed Mormon workers as a dormitory while they worked on other buildings and projects. It was subsequently used as a wagon factory and private residence before falling into a state of disrepair. According to the sign in front, the structure is owned by the Bentonsport Improvement Association.
Map & Directions
Beginning at Fort Madison, IA on the west side of the Mississippi River, follow SR 2 west for about twenty-five miles. Turn north on CR W40 to Bonaparte and then left on CR J40. Follow that road northwest for about four miles to Bentonsport. GPS: 40°43’31.84″ N; 91°51’12.64″ W.
The address of the Mormon-built Mason House Inn is 21982 Hawk Drive, Bentonsport / Keosauqua, IA 52565-8260.
Articles & Resources
William G. Hartley and A. Gary Anderson, in LaMar C. Berrett, ed. Sacred Places, Vol. 6 Iowa and Nebraska, 43-44.