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Grinnell was one of many Iowa communities “founded on the treeless prairie, in advance of civilization.” 26The choice of this site, mid-way between Iowa City and Des Moines, was carefully made by the New Englander Reverend J. B. Grinnell and his associates. The “treeless prairie” meant that farms could be easily established. Transportation was another consideration, for by the 1870s two major railroads passed through the community, one connecting Iowa City and Des Moines, the other a principal north-south route. The 1854 northsouth, east-west plat contained the usual one-block public square; it also housed the grounds for Grinnell College, founded in 1853. Andreas's general view of the city, published in 1875, indicates how quickly and completely the site was planted with shade trees (in fact or in Andreas's mind), among which emerged commercial and public buildings. Most of these buildings, such as the Grinnell Bank Block, the public school, J. B. Grinnell's own house, and the buildings of Grinnell College, were masonry variations of the Italianate style.

Although Grinnell's economy has profited by its proximity to railroad transportation, it has from its beginning been a college town. The pleasant quality of the community essentially lies not in its buildings but in its public and private landscaping. At the southwest edge of the city, off Iowa 146, is the 37-acre Arbor Lake County Park. The artificial lake, planned to store water for the community, was designed by Isham Randolph, the consulting engineer for the Panama Canal. Around this developed, from 1902 on, a variety of recreational features, including a bandstand, bath-house, clubhouse, and other buildings.


Andreas, Atlas of the State of Iowa, 1875, 461.

Writing Credits

David Gebhard and Gerald Mansheim

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