Elkader perfectly fits one's image of a small, prosperous midwestern community. The name for the town was coined after the romantic nineteenth-century Algerian leader Abd-el-kader. The surrounding country is hilly and covered with trees; through this winds the Turkey River. The river is the dominant feature of the town, breaking it in two with the business district to the southwest side and the county courthouse opposite. The history of the community follows a typical pattern of mid-nineteenth century settlements in Iowa. The town was laid out in 1847, and a flour mill was erected at that time. The town grid of streets runs southeast-northwest and southwest-northeast, following the course of the river at this point. The earlier mill was replaced in the 1860s by a larger one that stood just northwest of the county courthouse.
Some effort was made to use water transportation by steamboat on the Turkey River, but this did not prove feasible. In the early 1870s, a narrow gauge railroad was built which connected the town to the line of the Milwaukee and Saint Paul Railroad.
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