Mount Vernon owes its existence in part to the accident of history that ran the first north-south highway in the state over the top of the hill. This road from Iowa City (new state capitol) to Dubuque (largest settlement in the state) and was funded by the US Government in 1841 as a road to move troops from Ft. Snelling to Iowa City.
There were still powerful Native American tribes to the west of Iowa City. The steep hill was an ideal watering and resting place for oxen and people as the hill was even steeper than it is now. This area of Iowa was ceded the Meskwaki (Sac and Fox) nation in 1832 at the end of the Black Hawk War fought in Illinois.
The town began as a town to service travelers along the route with a tavern and a few craftsmen to repair wagons and harnesses. The watering trough was at the intersection of Main Street and Highway One (The military Road). There were less than 50 people near or on the hill in 1840. Several early settlers with claim to various parts of town put their land together and laid out the town into lots around the top of the hill in 1847.
The town grew slowly and with the establishment of Cornell College (1853) and the coming of the railroad (1856) the future of the town seemed secure. The town grew from the top of the hill to bottom — both the south and north – first along the Military Road.
The original town was about a two block square area with the center as the intersection of the Road and Main Street. The south slope of the hill proved easier to build on than the north and appears to have grown first.
The area between the original town and the college was essentially the first addition so that the college was within the city. Faculty homes and rooming houses sprang up all around the campus. The growth of the north side of the hill was delayed as much of the land was low and wet most of the time.
Rueben Ash was one of the early settlers in Linn County along with William Abbe to the west and Daniel Hahn to the south and east. Ash had a large farm that was cut in two by the railroad. Most of his farm was to the west and north of the house. By his death the town had expand to the borders of much of his farm.
When the city was incorporated in 1868 much of his land was included. Shortly after his death much of his land was slowly sold with the college buying a large track for athletic facilities (1891) and the land to the east was sold by his daughter to a group of local developers who created the Ash Park Addition, now a National Register of Historic Place Historic District.