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This portion of the state provides a nearly perfect picture of the variation in topography encountered in Iowa. The eastern sections reveal a mixture of wooded river valleys and hills broken by open grasslands; to the west, the undulating open prairie asserts itself, with only occasional wooded sections generally found adjacent to the rivers and streams. Once the railroad reached this region, and new and improved farm equipment was developed and made available, this section quickly became (and remains) one of the richest agricultural areas of the state, the nation, and the world. The location of the railroad lines, and in the twentieth century the system of roads and highways, determined in most cases where towns and cities were laid out. Because of the more open nature of the terrain, the north-south, east-west grid system of land division is increasingly apparent as one travels west.

Although there are a number of post-Civil War communities within central Iowa, most of the larger towns and cities were founded quite early, in the late 1840s and on through the 1850s. Several of the cities in the eastern part of this area—Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, and Washington—still contain excellent examples of pre-Civil War architecture. Des Moines, the state's largest city and its capital, is essentially both a late nineteenth-century Victorian town and a twentieth-century modern city.

Writing Credits

David Gebhard and Gerald Mansheim

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