The original scheme in this area was to pose two towns across from one another on the Des Moines River. Napoleon was to be on the south bank and Bonaparte on the north, but only Bonaparte was realized. A gristmill and dam were built on the river during the years 1839–1841, and Bonaparte was the site of one of the sets of locks built to make the lower Des Moines River navigable by steamboats.
On the northeast corner of Main and First streets is a mildly Prairie-style two-story brick building housing a bank on the ground floor and a Masonic Lodge above. Farther down Main Street are several excellent two- and three-story commercial blocks with metal facades. The most exuberant of these is the Cresap and Stadler Opera House (1894). The Bonaparte School, designed by H. W. Underhill in 1915, was built on the hill overlooking the town (at 807 Washington Street). A conventional two-story brick schoolhouse was made unconventional by the inclusion of two slightly projecting towers surmounted by broad-eaved hipped roofs on brackets. The detailing is sparse, but what there is adheres to the Prairie mode.
Hillcrest, the William Meek house, occupies a site on the north side of Fifth Street, between West and Main streets. In the 1890s a good-sized two-story brick Italianate house (1865–1869) was dramatically remodeled into the then-fashionable Queen Anne style. A three-story tower with a conical roof was added at one corner; a wide porch with Tuscan columns was taken across the front and terminated in a projecting spire-roofed pavilion. At the same time a new steeply pitched roof was added and overscaled gabled dormers were introduced. One can still discern the original Italianate structure at the sides and rear, but it has been completely swallowed up in the new front of the house.
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