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There are many facets to the history of Oelwein. In the following pages we recount some of the history about the stuff listed here:




The City of Oelwein

Oelwein is rich in history, here you can read some of the important highlights that helped shape our city. The town of Oelwein was laid out in a corn field purchased from G.A. Oelwein on the coming of the Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Minnesota Railroad (later called the Rock Island) in 1872. Some years later the two dividing streets of Oelwein were named after his sons, Frederick and Charles.

At the same time Otsego, one of the promising villages of Fayette County, died a natural death when missed by the same railroad by two miles in the nearby territory. Otsego had been the trading point until the Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Minnesota Railroad was established at Oelwein and from this time on, Otsego's business was gradually absorbed by Oelwein and some buildings were removed. With the establishment of the railroad station on the Oelwein farm, Dr. I. Pattison, acting as Postmaster at Otsego, and being a farsighted gentleman and a man of action as well, got busy at once, loaded his post office into a cart and moved it to the new town of Oelwein. He thereupon notified the authorities of the post office transfer.

It is interesting to note that while the town of Oelwein is named after the Oelwein family, the Oelwein's were not the original settlers of the land. On the contrary, it was entered by a professional man at Dubuque who made it his business to enter land, add a good fee for his trouble, plus a high rate of interest, and then not turn it over to the man in whose name it was registered until he was able to pay the price. Oelwein's present site was entered in 1852 by J.B Burch. It was Mr. Burch who built the cabin in 1852 which still stands as the center of attraction and as a pioneer landmark on the Oelwein estate, within a block of the present Hotel Mealey. The hamlet of Oelwein was instituted in 1873; incorporated as a town in 1888 with Dr. Pattison becoming its first mayor. Two years later in 1890 the census gave the population as 830. By 1895 the population had increased to 1928 and in 1897 Oelwein was incorporated again, this time as a city.

In 1900, following the opening of the Chicago Great Western Shops the previous year, Oelwein had 5,000 people within the city limits. The town suffered its chief setback in 1887, when nearly all of the old Main Street business district (now First Avenue SE) was destroyed by fire. Again, in 1968 the town suffered another setback when a tornado swept through the main business district and destroyed the junior high school, a grade school, and many homes and places of business.

Today Oelwein's population numbers 6,772 within its city limits with several hundred more living on the outskirts of our fair city and twenty industries call Oelwein their home. Mercy Hospital of Franciscan Sisters completed a five million dollar expansion, making it the best medical facility in the area. To attest to this, five new doctors have moved to Oelwein in the last few years.

Even with the disasters and setbacks, Oelwein has fought back and is again a livable and lovable community. In January of 1892 the Chicago Great Western Railway Company took over the bankrupt Chicago, St. Paul, and Kansas City Line. The CGWRR and the master mechanic then built a small railroad car repair shop in Oelwein. Primarily because of financial concerns, the assistant general superintendent's offices were moved to Oelwein as well. Oelwein was more centrally located on the newly acquired line and it was thought that, away from the influence of the bigger cities, labor would be cheaper.

Late in 1893 the officials of the Great Western announced that Oelwein was to become the center of repair operations. Originally, this total repair shop was not planned for Oelwein, but the residents of Oelwein "campaigned" for these shops by promising to donate land, give $200 to help start the building of the shops, and purchase some new machinery. The Oelwein Land Company was organized for the purpose of obtaining the land and money pledged to the Railway Company in exchange for building their new repair shops in Oelwein. This company was incorporated in April 1894 and some of the gentlemen involved are familiar names in Oelwein to this day (i.e. Gustavus A. Oelwein, Sr. and John Jamison). This scheme did not raise the money hoped for, but the shops came to be built in Oelwein any way because of its central location on the line and the additional branch lines running to Kansas City and Omaha.

Clearing the land for the shops began in June 1894 and the shops were finally completed and put into operation in May 1899. Thus, Oelwein became known as the "Hub City" because of the rail lines coming into town and the repair shops located here. Oelwein remained a "railroad town" until the 1980's when most of the railroad business was moved out of town. Transco Railway Products exists in Oelwein today. That business employs 135 people and they are still in the business of repairing railroad cars. Transco employees are very active in the community and are very interested in preserving the railroad heritage of our city. In the past, employees have donated their time to refurbish a caboose and an engine that are displayed near the Hub City Heritage Museum, 26 2nd Avenue SW, the museum of railroad memorabilia.


     © Photographs, Graphics and Descriptions Copyright 2002 - Oelwein Area Historical Society
Last Update:   Tuesday, 19-Apr-2005 19:06:15 MDT
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