When Phil Lack of Orchard went to a recent farm sale north of Osage, he found something quite historical, and to him personally fascinating.
He went home with several copies of the "Lithograph City Enterprise," a newspaper that was mailed out of the Orchard Post Office around the time of World War I. The dates on the old newspapers range from 1916 to 1918 and contain a wealth of information on a town six miles south of Osage that most people never even new existed.
"I think I paid about $1.25 for them, but for me personally, they are much more valuable," said Lack, who is a local history buff, especially those aspects involving the Orchard area. "The story of Lithograph City is just fascinating."
The ghost town of Lithograph City, about two miles southwest of Orchard, was founded in the early 1900s adjacent to quarries that produced lithographic limestone.
Production in these quarries peaked during World War I when access to German lithographic limestone was cut off. According to research conducted by Lack, in 1915, Lithograph City had 15 houses, a hotel, a dance hall and a museum, not to mention its own weekly newspaper.
After the war, use of stone blocks in lithography declined, and the city was renamed Devonia. By 1938, no trace of the town remained.
According to Amanda Indra, a former Orchard resident who wrote a college essay on the former town, the rise and fall of Lithograph City was quite swift.
"Although it came and went within a few decades, the town of Lithograph City has become only a distant memory, remembered by a few," said Indra. "It was a place of promise and high expectations, filled with countless 'maybes' and 'might have beens.'"
Indra explained that Lithograph City was almost entirely dependent on the lithographic limestone that was quarried in the area in both Floyd and Mitchell Counties.
The quarries operated for only a short period, however, and the town failed to prosper as metal engraving replaced lithographic stone in providing good quality printing at lower cost.
Indra said a post office was never established in Lithograph City, so the town is rarely found on maps or listed with abandoned towns in Iowa.
"The town's almost complete dependence on the stone, along with a variety of other factors, eventually led to its swift demise," Indra said. "Lithograph City had so much going for it, yet so many things went wrong. Bad timing, the lack of railroad, new printing technologies all led to its demise."
Despite its decline, Lack's collection of the Lithograph City Enterprise newspapers harkens back to a unique time - not only in the area, but in the printing and publishing business.
Before printed books, certain aspects of culture such as history, laws, and church liturgy were preserved only by memory. The first manuscripts were hand-written on papyrus sheets which were glued together and rolled up.
The rise of mechanical printing techniques involved blocks of wood, raised type molded of metal, or images engraved into wood or metal. With the advent of movable type and the production of bound pages, the written word had become more accessible to the general population.
Near the end of the 18th century, the technique of lithography was invented by a young Bavarian playwright, Aloys Senefelder, who sought an inexpensive means of reproducing his scripts. He found that text could be reproduced from smooth slabs of dense, fine-grained limestone inked with a preparation of wax, soap, lampblack and water.
Lithography, as this process came to be known, is derived from the Greek words for "stone" and "writing." It is based on the concept that grease and water will not mix, and that greasy inks will adhere to an already greased surface while unmarked areas will remain clean provided the stone is kept damp during the operation.
At the turn of the 20th century, Lithograph City was founded because of this interest in high-quality lithographic stone.
Sedimentary rocks in this part of Iowa include compact, laminated, lithographic limestones which were deposited during Devonian time (about 370 million years ago) as limey muds in shallow tidal-flat environments associated with cycles of worldwide lowering of sea level.
These limestones were exposed along the Cedar River near the Floyd-Mitchell county line, and in 1914 they prompted Clement Webster, an enterprising citizen of Marble Rock, to establish a settlement called Lithograph City. Here the limestone was quarried and marketed to compete with the more expensive, imported Bavarian stone.
In the 1903 Annual Report of the Iowa Geological Survey, Samuel Calvin noted that samples of Iowa's lithographic stone were submitted for testing to the lithographing house of A. B. Hoen & Company of Baltimore, Maryland. Hoen's "Discussion of the Requisite Qualities of Lithographic Limestone, with Report on Tests of the Lithographic Stone of Mitchell County, Iowa" was also published in this volume.
Clement Webster himself published a journal called Contributions to Science, and the June, 1915 edition is devoted to "Lithographic Stone at Lithograph City, Iowa" and includes 31 photographs, plates, and endorsements from lithographing companies.
Webster recounts that in 1903 the Interstate Investment and Development Company of Charles City submitted samples of stone from its Lithograph City quarries to the Iowa Publishing and Lithographing Company of Davenport, Iowa.
This firm reported the stone's quality as equal to the best German stone for high-grade lithography and placed the material on exhibit at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis. These stone products from the Lithograph City quarries were judged in open competition by an international jury and took the gold, silver, and bronze medals as well as the Grand Prize Award.
Today the stone, chemicals, inks, and papers of lithography are largely the craft of artists and artisan-printers. In 1960, the Tamarind Lithography Workshop Inc. was established in Los Angeles under a grant from the Ford Foundation for the purpose of providing a new stimulus to the art of lithography in the United States.