One of the most colorful figures in Sioux City history, John Peirce was born in Pennsylvania March 17, 1840. He came to Marion, Iowa, at the age of 21. There he married Alice Granger.
Soon after his marriage, Peirce joined the Sixth Iowa infantry and fought in the Civil War. In April of 1862, Peirce lay seriously wounded on a battlefield, a severe wound to his chest. A confederate surgeon passed by him, saying that Peirce could not be helped. According to the often-told story, Peirce opened his eyes, raised up on his elbow and said, "Like hell I'm as good as dead! I'll still be alive when you Johnnies are licked."
Peirce lost a lung as a result of his wounds, but after spending a long time in the hospital, he recovered and the Peirces moved to Sioux City in 1869.
A major promoter during Sioux City's boom years, Peirce become involved in the real estate business. He was instrumental in developing the north side, grading the hills and building a cable line the full length of Jackson Street all the way to 40th Street. At its end, the cable line looped around a wooden pavilion that provided shelter and soft drinks for customers. Dances held at the pavilion were a popular activity. A power plant at 29th and Jones Streets provided power for the cable line and street lights in the area.
Peirce was active in promoting projects for the development for Sioux City including cable lines, businesses and railroads. He built a stone mansion for his family at 29th and Jackson (which later served as the site of the Sioux City Public Museum for nearly 50 years). In 1890, Peirces sold their old home at 21st and the Boulevard to the Sisters of Mercy as a site for a hospital. Apparently, the Peirces left all of the furnishings behind for the sisters, including the horse, buggy and cow.
Mr. Peirce lost most of his fortune in the financial panic of 1893. He sold his mansion though a lottery, which later was shown to be fixed.
The Peirces left Sioux City in 1901 and moved to Seattle, where Peirce went about the business of creating another fortune. He and his wife left on a long-planned trip to Europe, where his health started to decline. Despite his poor health, the Peirces traveled through France, the Holy Land, and India before they returned home. Soon after his return to the United States, Peirce died of cancer, which had developed in his wounded chest. He died June 14, 1910.
On February 12, 1901, Peirce and his family left Sioux City for Seattle. It was at that time that Peirce delivered his bittersweet "Farewell to Sioux City."
Farewell to Sioux City
Goodbye, Sioux City, perhaps for aye. You are at once the birthplace of all my ambitions and the graveyard of all my hopes.
After dedicating thirty years of my best strength to your development, you are not a city but a town, with an interesting past, an uneventful present, and a peaceful and conservative future.
No devotion of mine could prevent the calamity which spread your broken idols all around, and unrelenting fate still holds the ruins in her embrace. No period of prosperity can lend new animation to your fettered limbs, for commerce has her lines not laid within your favored zone.
Yet, old girl, there burns within my bosom that youthful first love that knows no death, and my hope is that, while you lie bound Prometheus-like, no vultures will further pluck your vitals.