Cerro Gordo County Iowa
Part of the IaGenWeb Project




Railroad Stations:
    600 2nd St. NW for Chicago, Great Western R.R. and Chicago Rock Island & Pacific Ry
    900 S. Pennsylvania Ave. for Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific R.R.
    600 1st St. SW. for Chicago & North Western Ry.
    428 3rd St. NE. for Minneapolis & St. Louis R.R.

Bus Station:
    16 1st St. SW. for Jefferson Trans. Co.

Interurban Line:
Mason City & Clear Lake (resort), regular bus service, 22 2nd St. NW.

Street Buses:
    Fare 10 cts, four tokens for 25 cts.

Accommodations: Four hotels; four cabin camps.

Information Service:
    Chamber of Commerce, Globe Gazette Building, 121 1/2 E. State St.
    Public Library, 208 E. State St.

Radio Station: KGLO (1210 kc).

Motion Picture Houses: Four.

    American Legion Municipal Course, N. end of N. Rhode Island Ave., 9 holes, 50 cts.

    East Park, 8 blks E. from square on E. State St.
    Roosevelt School, 1221 4th St. SE.

MASON CITY (1,130 alt., 23,304 pop.), seat of Cerro Gordo County, is a railroad and manufacturing town in north central Iowa. The city, rising from rolling prairies, is the center of a fertile agricultural region. There are few large in this part of the State, making this city the trding mart for an area extending 40 miles north, 50 miles east, and 60 or 70 miles west and northwest. Mason City is also a focal point for a large system of bus and truck transportation. Although the city has the friendly, intimate feeling of a small town, it is a prominent industrial center. Smoke stacks pour fourth black clouds over fields of corn and oats, and factories are separated from farms only by a barbwire fence.

Most of the pioneers in the territory were of the Masonic Order and the first settlement was named Shibboleth. Mason City was originally known as Masonic Grove, but when the town was platted in 1854 the name was changed. The county (Cerro Gordo) was organized in 1851 and named for a battlefield of the Mexican War.

John B. LONG and John L. McMILLAN, said to have been Mason City's first settlers, arrived in 1853 and made extensive claims along Lime Creek. An Indian uprising (Grindstone War at Clear Lake) on July 4, 1854, stampeded most of the settlers to the older towns on the Cedar River, leaving the county practically depopulated. Gradually the settlers returned and secured claims at a land auction, which opened on September 4, 1854. Cabins were built, sod was turned, and seed planted.

The first mill was erected in 1855 on Lime Creek by Elisha RANDALL, who at the same time built a lime kiln. In 1872 he invented and patented what was known as Randall's Perpetual Lime Kiln, which proved so successful that it was adopted in many part of the country.

Until 1855, Mason City was without local governement, as Cerro Gordo County had been attached to Floyd County for administrative purposes. In August the citizens voted again for the organization of Cerro Gordo as an independent county and three commissioners were appointed to determine the count seat. Mason City and Clear Lake were the chief competitors and Mason City, as the point nearest the geographical center of the county, was chose. However, the Sixth General Assembly, in December 1856, designated Clear Lake, under the name of Livonia, as the seat, but at a county election held in April 1858 Mason City was again selected.

As early as 1869, Mason City gave promise of becoming a railroad center, the Milwaukee railroad laying its track to the city in that year and, in 1870, completing it northward to Austin, Minnesota. In 1870 the Iowa Central railroad finished its line into the city and 16 years later the Great Western arrived, followed by the Chicago & North Western in 1889.

The last line laid to the city was the St. Paul & Des Moines short line (now Rock Island), which came in 1909.

An interest in air transportation was evident here as early as 1915 when two local men, Kenneth JAY and Charles HATHORN, constructed home-made planes. An airport was established in 1927, and in the same year Mason City adopted the city-manager form of city government.

The development of the clay tile industry began here in the 1880's, when much of northern Iowa had to be drained and tile was in demand. Until about 1934 Iowa usedmore drain tile than any other area of equal size in the world, and Mason City was the center of this manufacture. It is said that enough tile was made here every year to reach half-way around the world.

Today Mason City employs in its factories more than 2,500 people. A packing plant processes 800,000 hogs and 100,000 cattle annually, and the American Beet Sugar Refining Company, just north of the city, handles more than 100,000 tons of beets a year. However, it is in the manufacture of brick, tile, and Portland cement that the city is outstanding. From the outskirts of the city the burning kilns and smoking stacks are visible from the distance. The combined annual capacity of the brick and tile plants is more than 200,000 tons of manufactured clay ware. The two cement plants in the northern part of the city produce five percent of the entire output of the United States, and are valued at $5,000,000. They have a daily capacity of 12,000 barrels or about 25,000 carloads annually.

The first public junior college in the State was established here, March 19, 1918, and in 1934 high school musicians won the national championship in both band and orchestra competition.


FIRST NATIONAL BANK, NE. corner Federal Ave. and State St., was the scene in 1933 of a hold-up said to have been led by John DILLINGER.

page 287 is missing

DECKER MEAT PACKING PLANT (open weekdays, 9-2; guides), 320 15th St. NE., houses Mason City's largest industry. Twelve hundred men and women are employed and the annual payroll is in the neighborhood of $1,800,000.


Clear Lake, resort and State Park - 10 m.

NOTE: Author Joseph Frazier WALL is Professor of History at Grinell College. He won a Bancroft Prize in 1971 for his acclaimed biography Andrew CARNEGIE.

SOURCE: WALL, Joseph Frazier. The WPA Guide to 1930's Iowa Pp. 285-88. Federal Writers Project. University of Iowa Press. Iowa City. 1986.

Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, April of 2011



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