Hamilton was laid out in 1852 by several men in the area, including Samuel Gordon, who furnished a 160-acre tract of land. This land was purchased in 1833 by his father, John, for $150.00.
Artois Hamilton, of Carthage, was also active in the early history of the town. Mr. Hamilton was thought to hold money bags of considerable size, so the new town was named "Hamilton", in the hope that the honor might induce him to 'shell out'. Other names were presented and discussed, including "Bartlett", 'Rapids City' and 'East Keokuk', but the possible contribution of money was the clear winner in identifying a name for the town.
Hamilton was officially incorporated as a town in 1854, and then re-incorporated as a city in 1859. Some of Hamilton's early influential residents included:
- John Gordon -- the first settler in 1883. Mr. Gordon, his wife Elizabeth, and their two sons, traveled from New Hampshire and built the first log cabin at 240 North 9th Street. The site of the old homestead can still be viewed today. Read more about the Gordon family.
- Henry Dickinson, who set up shop in 1849 as a carpenter. In 1850, he and his brother-in-law, Bryant Bartlett, obtained a charter for a ferry between the Keokuk and Hamilton shores. The ferry was successful until "the great iron bridge" was constructed in 1871. Dickinson also served as Mayor of Hamilton, alderman, and as an Assessor of Montebello Township.
- Stephen F. Safford, a native of Massachusetts, came to Hamilton with his family in 1856. After a few years of teaching school, they became owners of a small farm. As great philanthropists, the Safford family did a great deal for the City of Hamilton.
- Charles Dadant, "bee-culturist," came to America from France in 1863. Dadant was engaged in the keeping of imported Italian bees.
Not much is known about Hamilton's population in the early years, but we do know it stood at 1,200 in 1831 and 1,800 in 1893.