Cedar County

Cedar County was formed on December 21, 1837 from sections of Dubuque County. The name comes from the Red Cedar River which runs through it. Cedar is the only county that shares its name with a tree.

Herbert Hoover, the 31st United State President, was born in West Branch in 1874.

In 1931, during the depression, farmers in eastern and southeastern Iowa rose up in a violent protest against a state policy that they felt interfered in their farm operations.  This was called the Iowa Cow War.

Today, the Cedar County Conservation Commission manages 6 parks and 7 wildlife areas: Bennett Park, Cedar Bluff Wildlife Area, Cedar Valley Park, Massillon Park, Norton Nature Area, Pioneer Park, Red Oak Park, River Valley Wetland, Rochester Park, Rock Creek Timber, Townsend Wildlife Area, West Rochester Sand Pit, and Hoover Nature Trail.

Towns along the Lincoln Highway in Cedar County     


Clarence was originally called “Onion Grove” because of the widespread growth of wild onions in the area. The town was moved in order to be close to the railroad and changed the name to “Clarence” in honor of Clarence, NY native, L.B. Gere, who was one of the earliest business men in the Onion Grove Station. The Union Pacific runs parallel to the Lincoln Highway at the northern city limits. The community has a replica of the Statue of Liberty for visitors to see and a Frisbee golf course at the City Park.


This area, as in most of central Iowa, was once covered by tall blue-stemmed prairie grass and prairie flowers and was inhabited by Native Americans and prairie animals. In 1834, the Blackhawk Purchase opened up the prairie for land seekers. The first pioneers came to Lowden in 1839 after crossing the Mississippi River at Clinton.

In 1857, the Iowa Land Company, as agents for the Chicago, Iowa, and Nebraska railroad, surveyed and platted the town on 12 acres. The rail line in Lowden was completed in 1858 and the town incorporated on May 5, 1867. The railroad was important to the town as it brought goods and passengers to and from the town. Passenger service ceased in 1950. The Lowden terminal is the main station between Clinton and Cedar Rapids.

Lincoln Highway Hotel

Lincoln Highway Hotel in Lowden ©Hoehnle

The Herbert Hoover Highway intersects the Lincoln Highway at Lowden. Between 1914 and 1923, food relief programs were administered by Hoover and fed 318 million victims of war and drought in Europe and the Soviet Union. The Highway was designated as the Herbert Hoover Highway in 1923 as a tribute to his efforts.


In 1867, the local citizens petitioned the Cedar County Court to incorporate the towns of Iroquois and Mechanicsville as one town called “Mechanicsville”. On April 6, 1868, the first election was held in the incorporated town of Mechanicsville. The first ordinance that was passed prohibited the townspeople from letting their horses, mules, and hogs from roaming the streets as hogs wallowed in the mud on the streets and animals were hard on the lawns and gardens.

The first paving of the streets was done in 1925 on Main Street, now known as First Street. One engineering firm was hired in 1959 to do a survey on street improvements. A second company was hired to finish the work in 1960. Bids were let in 1961 and a long legal battle ensued that even made national papers and the project was not completed until 1964.


Historic Service Station in Stanwood. ©Mike Kelly

Historic Service Station in Stanwood. ©Mike Kelly

Stanwood was platted in 1868 and named for H.P. Stanwood, a railroad official.

Other Towns in Cedar County
  • Bennett

As a right-of-way agent for the Burlington, Cedar Rapids, and Minnesota Railroad, Chester Settle Bennett had named several towns. Judge James Rothrock of Tipton thought it would be appropriate for the agent to have a town named for him.

David W. Walton was the first settler in the area in 1836. The Mississippi and Missouri Railroad came to Iowa in 1853 and surveyed the area in the northern part of Muscatine County. In 1854, Benjamin Brayton, a civil engineer for the Rock island Railroad, came to the area to negotiate railroad business. Brayton was friends with John Dix and Thomas Durant and they changed the course of the railroad to go through Cedar County instead of Muscatine County. The town was laid out and platted by Brayton, but he named it for his friend. The village well was dug in 1854. In 1855, Durant was recorded as a town and the first building erected, followed soon by a hotel and depot.

Today, visitors can stop into the Tri County Heritage/Genealogy Museum and learn more about the community and its history.

Tipton is the county seat and was once known as “the agricultural and livestock center of the world”. The first large Victorian home was built in 1841 for the first Cedar County Judge- and the house still stands today.

Other interesting sites are the Old Cedar County Jail (which is the last standing “Mom and Pop” jail in the country), the Cedar County Historical Society and Museum and Prairie Village, and the Cedar County Attic Museum. The 1903 Carnegie Library has been preserved and houses a display of original Grant Wood art; including 17 lithographs and 2 oils, oil by Marvin Cone, and original oil naïf and 2 prints by Polly Kemp. The 1898 Queen Anne home of Alex and Harriet Fuldwider Spear is now the Spear House Bed and Breakfast.

West Branch is best known for two important items in American History. Before the Civil War, West Branch was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Abolitionist John Brown once stayed at the Maxson farm just east of West Branch.

Herbert Hoover, who later became President of the United States, was born in a 2-room cottage in West Branch. He was orphaned at the age of 9 and he left, never to return. Today, the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum is in West Branch.

Scattergoods Friends School is a Grade 9-12 College Prep school run by the Quakers. The students help with the organic farm which includes 140 varieties of produce and help raise 200 animals every year. The school is located at West Branch.