Western Iowa, including Crawford County, was once part of three great European empires- Spain, England, and France. These countries did little to govern the land that was the tribal hunting grounds at various times of the Sioux, Omaha, and Otoes. Occasionally the Pottawattamie visited the southern part of the county. Game was plentiful for the French fur traders that worked in the area of the Missouri River. Through the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Crawford County became part of the United States. President Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark to explore this new territory and they camped at the mouth of the Boyer River at spot well-known to fur traders. It wasn’t long before settlers came to westward. In 1851, western Iowa was split into counties. Crawford was named for a Georgia statesman who served as a US Senator, Secretary of War, Secretary of Treasury, and Minister to France.
Three sources of settlers in Crawford County have been identified. First, settlers just naturally came west from the eastern cities. Secondly, Mormons migrated through Iowa in 1846. At lastly, the Providence Western Land Company of Providence, Rhode Island promoted frontier land. This company bought 20,000 acres in the middle of the county and located a site for the county seat. They named the county seat for the company agent, Jesse Denison. Mr. Denison constructed a lodging house and store and promoted the community in eastern papers and travel books. Within 15 years, the population grew from 235 to 800.
In 1862, the War Department recalled soldiers in the frontier as they were needed in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. This left the frontier open for Indian raiders. Forty Enfeld rifles and rounds of ammunition were obtained from the State and given to locals; then returned after the Civil War. Railroads expanded in Iowa after the war and this expansion also brought lawlessness with it.
The Lincoln Highway in Crawford County, as in other counties, follows the railroad through the hilly landscape. As rail lines were constructed first, they often had already found the best routes. Roads could do no better than to follow alongside the tracks.
Westside was the first town on the railroad west of the higher lands that divide the waters that flow into the Missouri and Mississippi valleys. It was founded in 1869 by the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad. It was west of a long, steep incline in the rail line called Arcadian Hill. To the east was another station called Eastside, but it was closed and its business moved to Westside.
Today, the town hosts Bingo every Sunday and annually, the Western Iowa Tractor Festival. The Five Mile House has hosted the King Shoot for almost 100 years. The Five Mile House is 5 miles south of Westside, near the town of Aspinwall. More information about the Shoot is under Aspinwall.
Vail was named by railroad builder, John L. Blair of New Jersey, for E.E. Vail, a relative, when the town was laid out for the Chicago and Northwestern in 1869. There are two natural prairies at local cemeteries. The town holds Vail Fun Days every September.
This town was named for the Rev. Jesse W. Denison, a Baptist preacher, who was an organizer for the Providence Western Land Company. Denison platted the town in 1856 and named it for himself.
Denison is the county seat and is home to many attractions. The Donna Reed Performing Arts Center houses the Donna Reed Theatre and Museum. It also operates the Reiney’s Soda Fountain. The Center was once an opera house and welcomed many big-name performing stars. The soda fountain came from Fat Moe’s Deli in Chicago. For more information, call 712-263-3334.
The Crawford County Speedway was once a horse track and has been transformed into a premier dirt race track. Call 712-263-8221 for more information. For tours of The Little Red Schoolhouse, call 712-263-5329. The 1885 McHenry House is now a museum. One of its prized possessions is Donna Reed’s Academy Award for “From Here to Eternity”.
The Neal Moeller Environmental Education Center has a naturalist who often gives environmental programs. Call 712-263-3409.
Yellow Smoke Mountain is a 358 acre recreational area with picnicking, hiking, camping, swimming, boating, canoeing, and fishing available. The lake is 35 feet deep and the home to bluegills, channel catfish, crappie, and largemouth bass. There is a beach, bathhouse, concession stand, fishing pier, and boat ramp. There is also a 4-mile paved bike trail. Yellow Smoke is 1 mile east and ½ mile north of town.
Arion is named for the celebrated poet and kithara player of Lesbos of ancient Greece. It is thought to be one of the mythic names for the Grecian god, Apollo. The community celebrates Buffalo Day on the Sunday before Labor Day.
First called Dowville, the name was changed to Dow City. The name comes from Judge S.E. Dow, a prominent citizen of the county, who once owned the land the town site was platted. Dow House is on the National Register of Historic Places. The City Park Museum has a Rock Island caboose, country schoolhouse, and the town’s original jail.
The town was platted in 1882 by the Milwaukee Land Company of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad. The town was named by the officials of the railroad, but the reason for the selection is unclear. One suggestion is that there was a “wall” of aspen trees nearby, but aspens are not native Iowa trees. Perhaps the railroad misidentified the trees.
Many men in the area belong to “Schuetzen Verein” which means shooting club. Back in 1876, Andreas Lentz built a barn to be used as an amusement area. The barn sheltered teams of horses while family members spent afternoons and evenings socializing. In 1899, the Schuetzen Verein bought the barn to hold meetings and shooting contests. They met once a month and gave prizes to the best shooters. Eventually they changed it to a yearly contest which they have held for almost 100 years. The exception being during the war years when ammo was hard to secure. The barn has also been used for weddings, funerals, masquerade dances, and Kinderfest on Children’s Day. Today the contest is held the first Sunday in June. The day begins with a 9 AM procession to the home of the previous King where refreshments are served and music enjoyed. At noon, they return to the barn (now called the Five Mile House) for contests. The women have a ball throwing contest and the men have a shooting contest. The King and Queen winners are crowned and dance is held during the rest of the afternoon and evening.
Aspinwall is the smallest town in the county- with a population of only 41, but it has some interesting stories passed down through the years. One story says there were 20 saloons in town in the early railroad years. Another story says the James Brothers (Frank and Jesse) and their gang hung out in the hills near Aspinwall and in Cherokee and Sac County between the 1870’s and 1880’s. They eluded the law for 16 years. Cole Younger, one of the gang, was also seen by farmers in the area.
Early settlers found many deer in the surrounding groves. When incorporated, the name was retained. The population (44) has not increased much over the years.
This town was named for the historically famous Charter Oak, located in Connecticut.
Deloit was first known as Mason’s Grove and later as Bayer’s Valley and Bloomington. Postal authorities had wanted a less common name and it was named Beloit, after a city in Wisconsin. Another city already had that name so the “B” was changed to a “D”. This may be the oldest town in the county as it was originally platted in 1857. But in 1900, the business district was moved from the original location on top of a hill to the sites of the Illinois Central and Chicago Northwestern railroad depots.
Each summer, Deloit hosts an Antique Tractor Pull and fun day of games for kids. Every Friday, there is Bingo in the community building.
This town was first called Swedeboy or Swedeburg. The Swedish settlers didn’t like the name because there were similar town names. Kiron was a name perhaps taken from a settlement in Manchuria. Another version says the name was to be “Kidron” after a stream that flowed near Jerusalem, but when recorded, the “d” was omitted.
The name was decided in an 1885 Fourth of July tug-of-war contest in the nearby town of Astor. Two proposed names were Paupville, after land owner Les Paup, and Manila, a name inspired by the new twine called Manila Binder Twine. Manila was the winner, but the second “l” was added when recorded. The homes and businesses of Astor, which was 2 miles to the west, were physically moved to the new site when Manilla was established.
Today, the Milwaukee Road Caboose Museum is in the Bandshell Park and the third Sunday in October, the town hosts a craft festival.
The town was laid out by the Western Town Lot Company in 1899 and named for an early settler. The schoolhouse has been converted into a community center.
The name of the post office here was originally Hohenzollern, but when the Western Town Lot Company laid out the town in 1899, it was named Schleswig for a region in northern Germany and southern Denmark. Many of the early farmers emigrated from this area. This German heritage can be seen in the design of the buildings on Main Street. The town has a 9-hole golf course where several tournaments are held each year. An annual Calf Show is held the first weekend after Labor Day.