Montrose, sited at a deep western bend of the Mississippi River, was the location of a French-Canadian trading post of 1799. Later, in 1834, the first Fort Des Moines was established there. In 1837, after the fort was abandoned, the town's grid was platted. Two other events that took place here are historically important, the establishment by Dr. Isaac Galland of the first schoolhouse in Iowa in 1830, and the planting of the first orchard (apples) in Iowa. The actual location of both the schoolhouse and the orchard now lies under Lake Keokuk (created by the construction of Keokuk Dam in 1914). The small one-room log Galland schoolhouse was in use for only three years; eventually it was cut up and used for firewood. In 1940 a replica of the Galland school was erected and now some fifty years later the replica has all the appropriate appearance of age, and its location on a hillside backed up by a thick grove of trees conveys the atmosphere of Iowa in the 1830s. The actual building is located on the Mississippi River Road, three miles south of town at the site of Galland.
Within Montrose is Saint Barnabas Episcopal Church (1867–1872) situated at Third and Chestnut streets. Romantically sited in an open, parklike setting, it conveys the atmosphere of an English painting. As is generally the case with Episcopal churches, Saint Barnabas seems to pose as a dollhouse-scaled English village church, with a square entrance tower and buttressed side walls. The style of the church is Gothic Revival; the rough limestone walls have weathered to an ancient appearance.
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