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History of Oelwein, Iowa

The town of Oelwein was laid out in a cornfield 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, Oelwein gradually absorbed Otsego's business 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. J.B Burch entered Oelwein's present site in 1852. 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.3

Today Oelwein's population numbers 6,493 within its city limits with several hundred more living on the outskirts of our fair city and twenty industries call Oelwein "Home." Mercy Hospital of Franciscan Sisters is just completing a five million-dollar expansion, making it the best medical facility in the area. To attest to this, two more new doctors will move to Oelwein this year.

Even with the disasters and setbacks, Oelwein has fought back and is again a livable and lovable community.


Copyright 1998,99 Tom Tolstead
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