The community was laid out in the mid-1840s on rolling land north of the Wapsipinicon River. Its economic future was assured when the county seat and the state penitentiary were located there, and later when it became a junction point for the Iowa Midland Railroad and the Dubuque and South Western railways. Though close to the Wapsipinicon River, the city is not oriented to it, except for some hilltop residences on its southern border. Across the Wapsipinicon River is the Wapsipinicon State Park, a 251-acre park begun in 1921. Local limestone was used for the gateposts and other structures within the romantic, well-laid-out park.
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