History really is a fascinating thing. Each place has its own unique story, and that goes for the towns and cities of Iowa, too. From villages that began as a refuge for early European immigrants to towns that got their start as meeting places or trading posts, here are 10 towns in Iowa that have a fascinating backstory:
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Pella was founded in 1847 by a group of 800 Dutch immigrants, led by Henry Peter Scholte, who were fleeing famine and religious persecution. They decided to name their new home Pella, meaning "City of Refuge." The name Pella is a reference to Perea, an ancient kingdom where the Christians of Jerusalem found refuge during the Roman-Jewish War.
2. Sioux City
Sioux City was originally inhabited by Yankton Sioux when the Spanish and French fur trappers first arrived in the late 1700s. In the early 1800s, President Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark, to document the land that was purchased, including Iowa. Louis and Clark's expedition traveled up the Missouri and set up camp at what would later become Sioux City.
Elkader was officially platted in 1846, and the settlers had to find a name for the new community. They decided to call it Elkader, after Abd el-Kader, an Algerian who led his people in a resistance to French colonialism in the early 1800s.
As the story goes, Sabula was established in 1835 when a man named Isaac Dorman rode across the Mississippi River from Illinois on a log and decided to settle there. In 1846, Sabula received its current name, which derived from a Latin term meaning 'sandy soil.' Sabula is best known as Iowa's only island city; however, it didn't actually become an island until the lock and dam system was constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1939, flooding the lowlands of the area permanently, creating an island.
5. Saint Donatus
This beautiful village is known for its quaint Luxembourg-style architecture, but it wasn’t always so charming. The area was originally inhabited by Native Americans, and it is said that the ground was covered by bones when it was discovered by Flemish missionary Father Louis Hennepin in 1680. The gruesome scene led him to call the spot Tetes des Morts, meaning heads of the dead. European settlers arrived in the 1840s, fleeing the famine and economic hardships of Luxembourg. The town was officially founded in 1846 and named after the patron saint of protection from storms, Saint Donatus. Many residents of the area still speak Lux.
6. Lost Nation
There are a few different local legends about the origin of Lost Nation. One version says a man was looking for some relatives living in the area, and when he was asked where he was going, he said that he was looking for the lost nation. Apparently, the name stuck.
7. Spirit Lake
Before the first settlers, the Iowa Great Lakes area was used as a Native American hunting ground, which they referred to as the "Lake of Spirits." The first settlers immigrated to the Iowa Great Lakes region starting in 1856, when they named the area Spirit Lake.
8. The Amana Colonies
Back in 18th century Germany, during a religious movement called Pietism, two men started a religious group that later became known as the Community of True Inspiration. The group was persecuted for their beliefs, and eventually, seeking freedom from persecution, they began searching for a new home.They left Germany in the 1840s and headed for America. In 1855 they arrived in Iowa and started the colony of Amana, which means “remain true” in German.
Defiance had its start in 1882 when the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroad was built through that territory. The story goes that the townspeople, who had relocated from another settlement, were unhappy that the railroad had not laid tracks by their old settlement. In an effort to "stick it to the man," the people called themselves 'defiers' and named the town Defiance.
Jamaica was first platted in 1882. Apparently, the name that the townspeople wanted was already taken and they couldn't agree on a different one, so they did the only thing you can do in that situation. The mayor put on a blindfold, faced a map and placed his finger on Jamaica, and so the town of Jamaica was born.
Do you know of anymore places in Iowa that have a fascinating backstory? Share them with us!