Historic Pella Trust

Historic Pella Trust Historic Pella Trust is dedicated to the preservation, protection, and restoration of Pella's architectural resources.

Sunrise service at Historic Coal Ridge Church south of Red Rock Lake. This was a beautiful way to start my day. Happy Ea...

Sunrise service at Historic Coal Ridge Church south of Red Rock Lake. This was a beautiful way to start my day. Happy Easter!

South Pella’s Amazing Boomtown Days: When the Des Moines Valley Rail Road arrived in 1864 South Pella experienced expl...

South Pella’s Amazing Boomtown Days: When the Des Moines Valley Rail Road arrived in 1864 South Pella experienced explosive growth, the likes of which Pella has not seen before or since (recall that at that time South Pella was the terminus of the DMVR). One iconic, early Pella firm that dominated Pella business like few others, was waiting for the railroad to arrive, having started operations on December 21, 1864, exactly one week prior to the first passenger train steaming into Pella. David Huber and Charles Snow combined to form the business of Snow & Huber. They were termed “Commission and Forwarding Agents”, but that didn’t begin to tell the story.

Snow & Huber not only handled the logistics of shipping and storage of freight for regional merchants, they also bought, stored and sold enormous amounts of commodities and produce from farmers. Their office and warehouses were initially located along the railroad tracks east of the depot. Records of their first few months in business show merchants traveling to Pella from Red Rock, Bennington, Pleasantville, Peoria, Knoxville, Wheeling, Monroe, Prairie City, Galesburg, Hartford, Des Moines, Indianola and even Winterset, to procure their merchandise shipped here via the railroad.

According to an early ad, Snow & Huber carried salt, cement, lime, wagons, buggies and sleighs. They had a huge assortment of agricultural implements and a large lumber yard that featured siding, fencing, flooring, shingles, lath, doors and windows. Snow & Huber also purchased wheat, rye, oats, corn, buckwheat, butter, eggs, rags, hides and poultry in staggering quantities. An 1869 article in the Burlington Hawk Eye newspaper reported that Snow & Huber had purchased 11,000 dozen eggs in 15 days, and in one span of seven weeks had shipped 122 railroad carloads of grain, along with several additional carloads of potatoes. Within two years, Snow & Huber quadrupled the number of eggs they bought - an astounding 22,000 dozen eggs were purchased and shipped in a seven day period; all this occurred in the days before refrigeration. In 1873 Snow & Huber placed an order for 300 wagons from a local wagon manufacturer (likely either Buerkens Mfg. or Pella Mfg.). The total amount of business conducted by Snow & Huber is hard to imagine.

At the same time that Snow & Huber opened, McGavic, Wray & Co. opened a large lumber yard one block west of the depot on the northeast corner of today’s South and East First Streets. An 1865 ad listed products including clear planks and boards, flooring and siding, fencing, joists, timbers, shingles, doors, sashes and blinds. One obstacle faced by early lumber yards was convincing customers to purchase “store-bought” lumber. At that time most people were still used to cutting their own timber and hauling it to a local sawmill to have it cut for them. Times change!

Even Snow & Huber wasn’t large enough to handle all the local demand. By 1869 a second commission, forwarding and agricultural company, named Ramsey & Co., had opened. This firm was located on the SW corner of today’s Clark and South Street, where American Wood Fibers is now located. Always smaller than Snow & Huber, Ramsey sold plows, reapers, wagons and cane mills. They were also in the business of purchasing and shipping grain. After a time, Ramsey’s facilities were taken over by Snow & Huber.

Construction was booming in Pella, and especially South Pella. By 1869 a third lumber yard appeared in South Pella, this one operated by Sam Atlee. Atlee’s was located across South Street from Ramsey’s. In 1871 Atlee’s Lumber Yard was purchased by one-time cabinet maker and former miller F. W. Waechter who changed the name to Waechter Lumber Yard. In 1904 the business was moved to the NW corner of Main and University Streets by his son, Adolphus, where it continued to be operated for four successive generations of Waechters.

Also by 1869 the first hotel had appeared in South Pella. The Ohio House was located on the east side of Main Street south of what is now University Street. Mentions of the Ohio House continued to appear in the local newspapers until at least 1886. By 1875 two more hotels had been opened near the depot. W. W. Nossaman operated the larger of the two new hotels, both located across South Street from the railroad depot. The name of the third hotel, which was located east around the corner from Nossaman’s Hotel, is not known. 1875, just 10 years after the arrival of the railroad, found fully 100 residences and business houses located in South Pella, which by then had a population of over 400. By this time, South Pella also had its own school - located on today’s Oskaloosa Street, approximately where Enterprise Rental is situated today. All this business activity happened, in South Pella, in the span of 10 short years. And this was only the beginning of South Pella.

South Pella’s history wasn’t always smooth sailing. Snow & Huber suffered through two disastrous fires. The first fire devastated their facilities in 1871. The story made the front page of the Iowa State Register newspaper (today’s Des Moines Register) for multiple days, with initial details sent from Pella’s nearby depot via telegraph. Snow & Huber soon relocated their business to both sides of Oskaloosa Street on the west side of East First Street, only to have their enormous wooden grain elevator again destroyed by fire in 1887. About this time Charles Snow left the firm before moving to Des Moines. David Huber continued to operate the business, thereafter known simply as David S. Huber. Huber went on to serve as alderman for South Pella and was then elected mayor of Pella in 1903.

The names of Snow and Huber remain familiar to many Pella residents. South Pella’s Huber Street was named in David Huber’s honor shortly after he retired in 1913 after nearly 50 years in business. The Cox-Snow Music Center at Central College is named after Charles Snow’s granddaughter, Queene Snow, and her husband Henry Cox. Stay tuned for more amazing history of South Pella. BB

Laredo, Iowa and the half way station...written by Dave Baker

Laredo, Iowa and the half way station...written by Dave Baker

#LAREDO, Iowa (#MAHASKA County)

FOUNDERS: Thomas M. Williams
POST OFFICE: 1856-1864

Interesting history about our neighbors in Leighton...

Interesting history about our neighbors in Leighton...


FOUNDERS: William C. Leighton, John Carver, and W. A. Burt
NAME ORIGIN: William C. Leighton
POST OFFICE: 1865-Present
LOCATION: Section 35 of Black Oak Township


Leighton was platted in an irregular eight block polygon adjacent to the Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific Railroad—which, for all intents and purposes, is exactly the way it is today. If you drive into Leighton today, you will essentially see the exact same layout that you would have in the 1880s, save a few distinct differences. The railroad tracks that once ran south of Patch Street, adjacent to Muchakinock Creek, are no more. Also, the westernmost street—West Street, has been delisted. North of Chestnut Street is Jackson’s addition. This is the only amendment to the original plat.

The railroad set up a depot in late 1865 that stood south of the intersection of Otley and Patch. Aside from this, a sawmill was the first sustained business operation in town. Other enterprises included a lumber yard, drug store, two general stores, a shoemaker, blacksmith, butcher, grocery store and Walton’s Hotel. As Leighton grew it became an interesting mix of cultures. Many of the original settlers and their families were Dutch. Leighton was close to Pella and so we see many names associated with this heritage—Bogaard, Bruxvoort, Van Roekel, Van Haaften, and Gosselink. Leighton was also close to the mining camps of Fishville and Evans therefore it attracted a population of miners and mining foremen. Many of these persons were of Welsh, and Irish origin. Henry Kuperus was an early resident whom had a particularly interesting background for the 19th Century. He was an immigrant from the Dutch Colonies in South Africa and beginning in 1913 ran a store in town.

Records indicate that there have only been two congregations that met in town. Both are still in existence though neither are in their original sanctuaries. The Leighton Christian Reformed Church was founded in 1857 and the Ebenezer Reformed Church of Leighton, established in 1894. We don’t know what the going rate was for a good pastor at Ebenezer; at Leighton Christian however a good pastor could expect to make $500 per annum in the 1890s. He also would be able to accommodate himself in the parsonage however. Ebenezer eventually owned the ball diamond in town.

Today Leighton is located off of Highway 163 between Pella and Oskaloosa. There are no more coal mines and the railroad no longer passes through. There are however, still a number of businesses in town. Among these are Leighton Lumber, De Vries Cabinet and Countertop, Leighton State Bank, Leighton Processed Meats, Dave’s Pro Auto, and just outside of town, Tassel Ridge Winery.


1) Leighton once had a saloon but it met with an unfortunate end. When Muchakinock Creek overflowed in 1881, the water toppled the wooden water tower. As it came down, it hit the side of the saloon—an old wooden building also located near the stream. The saloon, being unsecured, came loose from its crude foundation and floated downstream. It was never rebuilt.
2) Five doctors have practiced in town since 1865. Two of them, Dr Howe, and Dr. Sybenga were also mayor.
3) I’ve found conflicting information about the Leighton Schools. It did have its own district, but the years in existence and the building years do not match up. What I do know is that the town relied on Black Oak schools throughout its early years. A “modern school,” was built after 1910 and Leighton has been in Pella’s school district since 1958.

TOWN MOTTO or SLOGAN: “ A Little Bit of Town And Country”


1) Tassel Ridge Winery
2) The Ebenezer and Leighton Reformed Churches

More about South Pella’s amazing but largely forgotten history. Today we take a look at the most important day in the ...

More about South Pella’s amazing but largely forgotten history. Today we take a look at the most important day in the history of Pella outside of its founding in 1847: The arrival of the Des Moines Valley Railroad (DMVR). Pella’s future changed forever on Wednesday afternoon, December 28, 1864 when a passenger train pulled into South Pella’s brand new railroad depot. Pella was finally connected to the rest of the country through a modern, timely means of transportation. Overnight South Pella became a boomtown. Raw materials and goods began pouring into the area; access to unlimited markets opened to farmers and manufacturers; passengers and travelers could conveniently access distant steamboats and railroads; correspondence could be sent and received quickly and inexpensively.

For the first 17 years of Pella’s existence, transportation was chiefly provided by horses, either pulling wagons laden with freight, or coaches for mail and passengers. Fortuitously, Scholte had the foresight to locate Pella on the ridge running parallel between the Des Moines and Skunk Rivers. This ridge stretched all the way from Keokuk on the Mississippi River to Des Moines in the center of the state - a distance of some 140+ miles. A primitive “road” followed the ridge providing the primary means of transportation through this part of the state. With no bridges or alternate routes, travel and transportation to the center of the state was primarily funneled up this road.

The railroad was a long time in arriving in Pella. An initial attempt had been made to make the Des Moines River navigable for year-round steamboat traffic through an ambitious project that would have entailed a system of 37 locks and dams between Keokuk and Des Moines. When this project eventually collapsed with only a few locks and dams completed, attention was shifted to constructing a railroad along the north side of the Des Moines River valley. Rails were initially laid from Keokuk in 1857 and had reached Eddyville by 1861, when the Civil War caused a halt to construction. In 1864 construction was restarted and the railroad reached Oskaloosa in July and Pella in late December.

For over a year Pella remained the terminus of the Des Moines Valley Railroad. As such Pella had its own depot and even a roundhouse in which to rotate the engines to travel back to Keokuk. All the local railroad facilities were located in South Pella, near the current location of Heritage Lace on South Street. For ten years the DMVR was the only railroad in the county as well as being one of the first in central Iowa. As a result, merchants, farmers and passengers flocked from miles around to use the depot for travel and freight.

Seemingly overnight South Pella residences and businesses sprang up: hotels arose; stockyards appeared; lumber yards sprouted; prominent shipping and forwarding agents bought and sold farm commodities and implements. Business boomed and Pella flourished. It was nearly two years before the railroad reached Des Moines; until that time Pella was a regular destination location for farmers and merchants from as far away as Des Moines, Indianola and Winterset.

It was over ten years before another railroad came to Marion County and during that time Pella remained a major shipping center for much of Marion, Jasper and Mahaska counties. During that time Pella’s population increased nearly 20% and South Pella’s population went from essentially zero in 1854 to over 400 by 1875. In 1870, as a sign of South Pella’s importance to the community, an overwhelming majority of Pella voters approved the annexing of South Pella and South East Pella.

The railroad had an immediate and long-lasting impact on Pella and single-handedly put South Pella on the map. We will talk more about some of those amazing early South Pella businesses in upcoming posts. BB


608 Lincoln Street
Pella, IA


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