On the 25 June 1860, a petition signed by Samuel Briggs and others was filed in the court by Judge James W. McDill at Afton, asking for the establishment of a civil township to be formed from townships 72 and 73. Ten years later, 1870, township 73 was set off and organized as Spaulding Township. Prior to 1860 the territory had been included in Platte Township which originally included all the western half of the county. The honor of naming the new township was given by the judge to “Uncle” Sammy Riggs. Riggs promptly named it Douglas after his idol, Stephen Douglas of Illinois. The township lines had been surveyed in 1848 and the subdivisions in 1849. The west branch of the Platte River crosses it diagonally from northeast to southwest.
The first permanent settlement made in Douglas Township as was made at Rigg’s Grove by Samuel Riggs who arrived in the fall of 1853 and laid the corner stone of his Tippecanoe log cabin on section 30. H was the third settler in the western half of the county, preceded earlier in 1853 by Frank Bruning and Amos Ames in Platte Township. Next addition to the settlement was William Moore on section 28, then came Jimmy Lytle with his wife Katherine and six children from Ohio to settle on section 17 and the Myers family on the same section about July 1854. In August, Mr. Warren settled on section 6 and the following spring sold to William H Turpening. At the first vote after the township was organized in 1860, seven votes were cast.
In the early years, the pioneers had to travel to Winterset or to Hawleyville, Page county to get milling done except for a small mill at Petersville that could crack corn. Samuel Riggs daughter, Mary Riggs Donahue was the teacher of the first school, erected on section 30 near Rigg’s Grove. In this pioneer schoolhouse the early settlers gathered for all. In 1858 when the Western Stage Company opened a mail and passenger route from Albia to Council Bluffs, Iowa, the Lytle’s cabin became a stage tavern. Known as Lytle’s Tavern, weary travelers and their teams westward bound were welcomed and cared for until the railroad was completed to Cromwell in the spring of 1870.
The first settlers voted at Rigg’s Grove but in the presidential campaign on 1872, the township voted in Creston. The voting precinct was then located at Cromwell and later the east half was given a separate voting precinct at the Beck schoolhouse.
Cromwell was the first town developed in Douglas Township followed by Creston. Cromwell was originally selected and designated for the division station of the Burlington Railway, which would have made it the leading city of southwest Iowa, instead of Creston.
D. N. Smith laid out the town of Cromwell and a blacksmith, named Rodaheaver, erected the first building in 1869. Thomas Ballard opened the first small general store next to the shop and he also delivered the first mail in Cromwell. The Beard Brothers followed with a hardware store near by and with the prospects of a division station, the town grew very rapidly and soon had a population of four to five hundred people. The other pioneer business men were, Dr. J. B. Wilson, druggist, first postmaster and first practicing physician. Fogg and Dodge were the first implement dealers soon followed by John A. Rogers, an early settler and hotel manager; J. Q. Nelson, wagon maker succeeded by J. S. Pickering; William Penches, William Moffet and Dave Blosser, early blacksmiths; M. Beymer and Johnny Burnette opened the first lumber yards, which later combined into one under the ownership of W. M. Sparr, later conducting the lumber and hardware business with his sons, F. G. and Fred Sparr and W. F. Parrish who became a partner. E. S. Cresswell, J. C. Williams and Frank Upham were pioneer general merchants and prominent citizens for many years. P. T. Mayne was the first grain dealer followed by the Gault Brothers, James and Dave handling both grain and stock. Early on Cromwell had and large flour and feed mill owned by J. C. Williams, J. H. Brown and Captain Reuben Kelley. The first miller was Mr. Piepgrass. William Ohlschlager, section foreman; Charles Horn, shoemaker; M. S. Hubble, preacher and nurseryman; Spofford, Cromwell hotel, were the first in these fields. Mrs. Rebecca Cochran, landlady and Mrs. Jesse Wright, the weaver, answering every call of sickness and help, are well known names from that era.
The 1876 Cromwell Business Directory shows: M. W. Purviance, Postmaster and Express Agent, dealer in groceries; Cromwell House also known as The Hotel, R. B. Cochran, Proprietor; Cromwell Mills; General Merchandise Store; Cromwell School; W. M. Emerson, MD Physician and Surgeon; R. H. Johnston, MD Physician and Surgeon; Dr. McCaldwell Physician; N. M. Rhino, Physician and Office; Phelps Drug Store, Mr. Phelps druggist; Free Baptist Church, Rev. M. S. Hubbell; Meat Market; Boot and Shoe Maker; W. D. McClelland, Depot Agent and Telegraph Operator; McErven, Druggist; Blacksmith; Odd Fellows Hall; Pickering, Wagon Maker and Furniture Dealer; John Rogers, Justice of Peace and Real Estate Agent; W. M. Sparr, Lumber and Hardware, Upham, Notary Public; Vess, Harness Maker; Waffles Saloon and Proprietor of Harness Shop; J. C. Williams, Dealer in General Merchandise; and William Ohlschlager, Section Boss from Prussia.
The first public school was opened in the spring of 1870 with Jasper Riggs as teacher. A second room was added in 1876 with Mrs. M. S. Hubble, teacher. The Cromwell Herald was published in 1884 by Charles H. Thomas. George Spurrier later published a paper in Cromwell.