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“Marshalltown is situated on a handsome piece of ground near the Iowa River, some four miles east and a trifle north of the exact center of the county,” according to Huebinger. 41The site of the city on the rolling prairie between the Iowa River to the north and Linn Creek to the south was platted in 1853. After several years of the usual battle as to which town would finally house the county seat, Marshalltown was selected in 1859. With the arrival in 1863 of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, the community increasingly became not only a distribution center for the region, but an important railroad and manufacturing center.

In the late nineteenth century the city won the statewide battle to became the site of the Iowa Soldier's Home. The city became the hub for three railroad systems (including the location of a large repair shop for the Minneapolis and Saint Louis Railroad), and by 1900 it had developed one of the state's most extensive electric streetcar systems (in operation from 1892 to 1928).

Following the lead of Elbert Hubbard and his popular Little Journeysseries of the 1900s (which included such titles as Little Journeys to the Homes of Great Business Menand Little Journeys to the Homes of Great Teachers, published by the Roycrofters at the Roycroft Shop, East Aurora, New York), Marshalltown created its own “Little Journey to Marshalltown,” advertising itself in the mid-teens as a “City of Progress.” A 1916 publication of the Marshalltown Club reported that “the moral tone and social betterment of the city are steadily progressing,” and that “twenty-two churches and nine schools … bear further testimony to a spirit of social progress.” 42

The twenties and thirties brought increased manufacturing and also US 30, the famed Lincoln Highway. Even in the depression years of the thirties there were some 56 factories still in business in the city. The development of the industrial section adjacent to the railroad and Linn Creek meant that the northern boundary along the south bank of the Iowa River was not despoiled, as was so often the case with riverfronts in Iowa and throughout the country. Thus, much of the area around the Iowa River was developed for parklike uses, including the grounds of the Iowa Veterans Home, Riverside Cemetery, and Riverside Park. (Note that there is a Memorial Log Cabin within Riverside Park, at the end of North Third Avenue. It was built in 1936–1937 to honor early pioneers.)

Generally, the nineteenth-century parts of Marshalltown have the flavor of the mid-1870s and later, due in part to an extensive fire in 1872 that destroyed many of its business and factory buildings, as well as a number of houses. The section just west of the downtown still contains a number of historic buildings. People interested in post-World War II suburbia should travel south on Center Street to West and East Olive Street, and then begin their wanderings to the south. The “best” area is to the west, around Elmwood Country Club. In the postwar years the city has gained one monument and lost another. The usual suburban ranch houses built within the community were joined by a side-entrance Lustron house (c. 1950) at 901 Fourth Street North. However, Marshalltown lost the Coffee Pot Cafe (1933), a tavern and restaurant with curb service. This two-story stucco building in the form of a giant coffee pot was demolished in the 1970s.


Huebinger, Atlas of the State of Iowa, 344.

Marshalltown Club, In the Forefront as a City of Progress.

Writing Credits

David Gebhard and Gerald Mansheim

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