Villisca, Iowa

From the 1912 Iowa Touring Atlas


VILLISCA, one of the finest cities in the state, is situated in the southeast corner of Montgomery County, and is one of the chief trading points for a large part of that country, as well as for considerable portions of Adams, Taylor and Page Counties. This very attractive city is sixteen miles from Red Oak, the county seat, and is 106 miles from St. Joseph, Mo. The census of 1910 gave the place a population of 2,039, but it is believed to be considerable larger now. Such population figures, however, give no adequate idea of the importance and attractiveness of the town, which is nothing if not metropolitan in its aspect and in the way in which its citizens look upon things. Few, if any, towns of this size are important manufacturing centers, as well as centers of retail trade, and when one adds that Villisca is also a social and religious center as well, one is stating something that is indeed remarkable.

There was a time, of course, when there was no Villisca where the charming city of that name now stands, and it is likely that Indians at times set up their nomadic dwellings in the form of a temporary village on the site of what is now the permanent and happy abode of the pale face, who pushed them westward toward the setting sun, as the tide of immigration advanced. Perhaps it was in those days that the site of the future city was named, for it is said that the name chosen by Mr. D.N. Smith of Burlington, the founder of the town, is an Indian word and means "Pleasant View." At any rate this description could not be applied anywhere more appropriately than to Villisca. All visitors will agree to this. The city is situated upon a gentle slope, rising gradually, so that the town has a wide outlook, thought apparently not much higher than the surrounding country. IT can also be seen for a long way, as it overlooks a most fertile and populous and opulent country in the valleys of the Middle and West Nodaway Rivers, whose confluence, by the way, is just south of town. One of the impressions one gets as he stands in one of these marvelously fertile bottoms and looks over at the city, sitting so majestically upon rising ground, is that perhaps it is true that nature has deliberate intentions in these matters and that when she fashioned this part of the earth’s surface she intended that Villisca, the proud and beautiful Villisca, was in due time to occupy this site, as a fit setting for the civic activities of its people.

Mr. Smith of Burlington has been spoken of. This particular Smith was interested in the townsite company and was backed in his project by the Burlington and Missouri River railroad, which was the name of the Burlington route across Iowa in those days. There are Smiths here now, as elsewhere, but none of them is known to be a descendant of the founder of the town, who was interested as well in other towns and did not make his abode here, retaining his residence in Burlington, while he was selling lots and otherwise assisting in starting the town of Villisca. The railroad , moreover, since that time, as well as then, has had very much to do with the making of Villisca the fine town it is. The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy is a magnificent system, the main line of which through Iowa is built like a great wall across the state, in order to reduce the grade and make possible the sending of passenger and freight trains from one side of the commonwealth to the other at lightening speed.

This system is without a superior in the railroad world, either in point of rolling stock, roadbed and service to its patrons, has made Villisca a chief junction, and all of its trains, even the most limited of limiteds, stop here. Here the short line trains from Clarinda meet the main line. The unsurpassed train service it is not believed that nay town of twice the size can show anything that will distantly compare with it, has added materially to the attractions of Villisca as a residence town; or, rather, has made it possible for many who wished to live in the town to do so. For instance, many traveling men have their homes, here, and their families are a desirable addition to the society of the place, active in school and church work, and ever ready to lend a hand in any good cause. The counsel of the resident traveling man, it is everywhere admitted, has been helpful in promoting the prosperity of the town and in carrying out of plans for further beautification of the city. The hotels of this town are famous all over that part of the state for the excellence of their cuisine, and they daily feed hundreds of knights of the grip, some of them visiting Villisca trade and others only passing through between trains.

Architecturally, Villisca strikes the stranger most favorably, because of its dozens of fine business blocks and prosperous looking stores and because of its paved streets and broad cement sidewalks. The beauty of the park known as the public square is also notable and the splendid trees that provide the shade in this resting and breathing spot for the whole people, where the children are wont to gather and play during the summer and autumn, have been witnesses of the events of the town life during more than a third of a century.

Most recent among the improvements are the completion of $40,000 worth of paving, which gives an air of finish to the town. Then there is the beautiful Carnegie Library, which cost $10,000 to erect, which is an acquisition of recent years. The high school building cost ten thousand dollars also, and the Lincoln school, then which there is not a finer structure of its kind in the state, cost about $16,000. In the matter of church edifices, one finds in Villisca such buildings as one would hardly expect to find in a place of its size. There is the Methodist Church, an imposing pile. It cost $13,500 to build at a time when construction was cheaper than it is now. Then the Presbyterians have a church of rare beauty and it cost $12,000. Also the Baptists with their beautiful edifice of $12,000, all three of which have splendid pipe organs, the tonal quality of which the musicians of southwestern Iowa much admire. These buildings give one an idea of what a "classy" town Villisca really is and explains why many people who might move to much larger places prefer to remain here. Investigation reveals that the community is just as substantial as appearances would indicate.

While the city is the home of a number of flourishing manufacturing plants and is reaching out for more by a standing offer of free sites, it is, nevertheless, chiefly a retail market for the surrounding country in four counties.. It has fifty retail stores and some of them carry very extensive and very large stocks. The banks of the town are as strong as the rock of Gibraltar and have deposits aggregating nearly a million dollars. Like other towns of this part of the state, Villisca has no saloons. It has had none for a good many years. In addition to the three churches mentioned already, the town has the Christian, Christian Science, Catholic and Adventist denominations, and all of the congregations are strong and numerous. This is an indication of the state of Villisca’s society and the high merits of the town as a place for rearing children.

Towns are said to have their characters, quite as much as men have, and observation seems to confirm the truth of this saying. Villisca might be said to have a cheerful disposition and a wholesome, friendly way of looking at things. There is little litigation between residents of the town and no disorder, and a large way of regarding the affairs of the day leads to tolerance of opinion. The two newspapers, The "Review" and the "Letter,: reflect this attitude of the community and are molding public opinion along right lines. Both offices are admirable equipped for issuing a newspaper and both are able to do job and book work that would do credit to plants in the largest cities. The "Review" is republican and the "Letter" is democratic.

In the other professions besides journalism, Villisca is well represented. There are a number of physicians and dentists, some of whom have almost a state-wide reputation for ability in practice. That there are more auctioneers than lawyers may be taken as an indication of the fact that the town is more of a market for the disposal of wares than a forum for the trial of cases.

Villisca has more than a dozen lodges and several public societies that have helped much in the development of the city. In past years the Villisca Improvement Association made a name for itself in the history of the town by general beautifications of the city in general and the cemetery in particular. A fine iron fence was put along the front of the cemetery. For many years the Ladies; Library Association, in the days prior to the coming of the Carnegie Library, which is now a social center of importance, kept up the public taste for good reading and exhaustive research by the maintenance of a city library of about 1,500 volumes, which were the nucleus of the present supply of books. These public spirited ladies also put on a lecture course. This article would be incomplete without mention of the domiciles of these enterprising and public spirited ladies. Villisca can well boast of her beautiful residence streets and avenues, with their wide parkings and spreading shade trees, as well as the almost palatial homes, a number of which cost from seven to ten thousand dollars, with the well kept and spacious grounds surrounding same.

Villisca citizens maintain a lively interest and give in a most substantial way to the observance of a number of festivals during each year. There have been mid-summer carnivals that attracted thousands from the countryside and from other cities, Old Settlers’ Day, which is a great event of each year, and numerous other annual or occasional observances.

No description of Villisca could be complete without a description also of the country surrounding the town and supporting it very largely on account of its wealth of agricultural resources. It is said by those who have made a study of such subjects that it is not too much to say that the country around Villisca is one of the most productive in the world. Farm lands have been steadily advancing and sales are recorded in which the price per acre of farms has been as high as $200 per acre. Much, in fact most, of the land is not in the market and it is difficult to say just what the sale price of the average acreage would be.

As to the valuation of the real estate in the city, the assessor put it at nearly a million dollars and the personal property at more than half that much. The assessed valuation is much lower than the real value, of course, and the property contained within the city limits is likely to reach not less than three millions of dollars.

Fire protection is a thing that a business man or a house owner appreciates as much as anything else. Villisca has such protection in adequate quantity both in strength of its volunteer fire department and its pressure of water. The fire fighters number over sixty and turn out quickly and fight flames vigorously, whenever there is a call. The river, one might say, can be turned into the water mains and the pumps at the water station exert all pressure that can possibly be required in any contingency.

The water system is a costly one for installing, but well worth the expenditure when installed. The supply comes from wells sunk near the town and the water obtained is noted for its softness. An admirable water system with excellent drinking water is supplemented in the right way with a sewer system that keeps sanitary conditions good. A franchise was voted recently for a new and up-to-date electric light plant, which guarantees a twenty-four hour service, together with a street lighting system of electroliers, making a "Great White Way," also ample sufficiency of power for all purposes.

As has been said, the thing that Villisca wants and is striving for more than anything else is factories. The people of the town realize that the chances for reaching metropolitan proportions, or for even a large gain in population and business lies in the acquisition of labor employing institutions that will make the town more of a market and more of a receiving and shipping point than it is at the present time, although it is now one of the largest in the west for its size. Fifteen acres were purchased and set aside some years ago for free factory sites. This land is the best obtainable for the purpose, being close to the center of the city and at the same time handy to the tracks that would have to be used for receiving and shipping freight.

Accordingly when the traveler, passing on the trains, sees signs blazoning forth the fact that the city of Villisca has factory sites to give away and is anxious to donate them to all who mean business, he may be sure that the desire on the part of the town is a genuine one and that it is inspired by a real appreciation of what it takes to make an Iowa town, or a town anywhere else, permanently prosperous–diversity of industries. Villisca not only wants industries of the kind she has not now, but she desires as well to have more of the kind that she has. The Commercial Club, which has the factory hunting campaign in charge, is working for the good of the whole town, and the manufacturers already on the ground appreciate to the full the fact that the coming of more institutions even in their line will make Villisca ;that much more important as a distributor of such goods. There is no pettiness about the business men of this town.

Just what the future of Villisca is, one can scarcely venture to predict. Indeed who can predict the distant future of any place? Times change, conditions change. There is this to be said with a great degree of certainty, however, that it is the determination to keep the town in the front rank as a manufacturing center that has made Villisca what it is, and it is only reasonable to believe that the same determination will make of the small city a large one when [the future] arrives that this part of the United States will be as much of a manufacturing [concern] as any other part of it. It is to be noted that many towns of Iowa that for [a time] could not command wide attention or reach great growth, have in recent years [been first] among the chief centers of population and industry. This has been the case with [other small] towns and it may not improbably be the case with Villisca, for the rise of new [prosperity] has been preceded by a long period of effort on the part of the people of an ambitious city.

Note: The original document this text was taken from is damaged near the bottom. Bracketed [text] present in the final paragraph is an attempt on the part of website editors to "guess" what the missing words are.  If you have a copy of this document, please e.mail us with the actual transcript and we will update this page accordingly.

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