Ottumwa... the name means place of perseverance and land of rippling waters.
Ottumwa embodies the westward expansion of the United States, plentiful game, good fishing, and the river’s rippling waters. These qualities enticed Iowa’s most famous chiefs, Wapello, Keokuk, and Appanoose, to settle here.
They weren’t alone for long, in the land rush of 1843 a group of white investors staked out 467 acres along the winding Des Moines River, to make a town. The railroad came through in 1859, opening Ottumwa and Wapello County to the world and ensuring the city’s continued growth over the next 100 years. By 1870 Ottumwa boasted a population of over 5,000 people.
The city’s population boom was fueled by rapid industrial growth. Large deposits of coal drew mining and manufacturing plants making sewing machines, agricultural tools, box car loaders, cigars, and more. As Ottumwa moved into the 20th century, Dain Manufacturing opened a new factory that would become John Deere, one of Iowa’s largest employers.
Trade, meat packing, and entertainment all flourished as well. Industrialists populated the bluff along the river with prestigious homes that embraced a variety of significant and enduring architectural styles. They were also staunch supporters of Ottumwa’s flourishing arts and culture.
While the river fueled the growth of the city it also formed a natural barrier dividing the town. In the 20th century several bridges were built to unite Ottumwa. The most distinctive was the Jefferson Street Viaduct, completed in 1936.
Ottumwa’s population peaked with the city hitting its stride as a center of business, education, and health care. From the early 1970’s Ottumwa began a steady decline. The manufacturing base that had built the city dwindled. As factories downsized and closed, the city changed.
Ottumwa is once again growing and thriving. New businesses continue to open and expand, preserving Ottumwa’s place as regional economic center. With very active civic arts groups and the opening of Bridge View Center, Ottumwa’s own state of the art Civic Center, we continue to grow as a cultural center. There are more reasons than ever to come to Ottumwa, stay in Ottumwa, and take pride in Ottumwa.