History of Oelwein

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Then & Now – A Look Back at Yesteryear

The land that was once a cornfield has become the city Northeast Iowa knows today. The land was entered in 1852 by a professional man, J.B. Burch, coming from Dubuque County. Burch made his business around entering land, adding a fee and high interest rate, and wouldn’t turn over the registered land until paid in full. He built the cabin that still stands today in Orville Christophel Park. The land was sold to G.A. (Frederick) Oelwein in 1857, for whom the city was named after. Oelwein was incorporated as a town in 1873.

The dawn of the railroad brought an influx of people from various cultures and countries who followed the railroad to Oelwein. It was nicknamed “Hub City” because of the rail lines coming into town and the repair shops located there. Even though most of the railroad business was moved in the 1980s, the railroad made Oelwein and the surrounding area what it is today.

In 1887, a fire destroyed the entire downtown. Being a youthful city at only 14 years old, it had not yet been realized the need of firefighting equipment. Main Street was at the mercy of the flames. In 1968, an F5 tornado devastated the community on May 15th at 4:57 p.m. A siren sounded its warning, but for only 15 seconds before the electricity failed due to the storm. The storm lasted a mere 180 seconds, but left the community in ruins and one person lost their life. The community started to clean up and recover the very next day.

There truly is only one Oelwein in the world! As a small melting pot, rich in diversity and culture, Oelwein makes it a priority to celebrate its rich heritage as a railroad hub, agricultural center and American city. Annual events include an Oelwein Celebration in June, Party in the Park June through September, Heritage Days in August and Olde Tyme Christmas in December to name a few. Many downtown promotions and events are held throughout the year.

Likewise, Oelwein is home to a wide variety of retail businesses, unique shops, restaurants, a public library, a movie theater, a bowling alley, industries, an excellent health care system, a municipal airport, a regional technical center and an excellent school system, including the Regional Academy for Math and Science and a Northeast Iowa Community College satellite center. In addition, Oelwein is fortunate to have a daily newspaper since the 1800s and a radio station for 50 years. All of these amenities and events make Oelwein a great community for the residents in and around the community.

History of Oelwein IA. For those interested in an up close glimpse of Oelwein’s history, the Hub City Heritage Railway Museum, Oelwein Area Historical Museum, Oelwein Public Library and historical markers offer a look at the past.