For those who pass through McPaul today, it's hard to imagine that it once was a bustling community serving as a transportation center for much of Scott Township in southwest Iowa. Like other small towns, McPaul's beginning was tied to the railroad construction following the Civil War. A line from Kansas City, Missouri, to Council Bluffs was planned in the early 1850s but it wasn't until 1867 that the section from Council Bluffs to Hamburg was completed, owned by the Council Bluffs and St. Joseph Railroad.
The area that became McPaul was likely chosen as a station on the north-south route because of its proximity to the thriving town of Thurman, three miles distant. Then, standard practice was the railroad company would have constructed the depot, shipping facilities and cattle enclosures.
The earliest extant plat land records, from around 1865, show "McPaul" with its planned subdivisions, including residential lots and livestock pens, nestled on both sides of the yet-to-be-completed rail line.
But where did the name McPaul come from? There's no doubt that it was a grammatical compound provided by Daniel McFarland Paul, a well known merchant/farmer and leading citizen of Fremont County. Daniel and his wife Elizabeth had moved to Iowa from Missouri in 1861, escaping the "muttering ominous of civil war" and established a mercantile business in Fremont City (Thurman). Within a few short years McFarland and Company had grown to encompass the Paul Bank, several enterprises including furniture and lumber outlets, and land holdings throughout the county (with several tracts located along the railroad). Additionally, Daniel Paul served as postmaster of Plum Hollow and was the first mayor of newly incorporated Fremont City.
The town of McPaul grew steadily, it appeared in an 1891 commercial atlas of Iowa with a map showing 70 residential lots, a post office (established in 1870), public school, livery, and general store. The town's expansion included a United Brethren Church in 1902, dedicated by Pastor Joseph Barkheimer. But the heart of McPaul was the depot, processing passengers, mail, livestock, produce and freight carried by the Adams Express Company. All manner of goods arrived daily. In 1901 the Thurman Mirror reported delivery of what was thought to be the first automobile in Fremont County to Charley Paul, Daniel's grandson: "An [excited] great crowd of men and boys gathered around it, a large majority of whom had never seen an automobile, and it was thoroughly inspected." But not all freight deliveries were as welcome as a new car: In January 1902, 18 gallons of liquor consigned to ten local residents, from a distillery in Kentucky, were seized by the constable on information provided by Pastor Barkheimer.
Family names associated with the town included Leeka, Fulton, Bebout, Study, Hood, Odell, Ettleman, and Schooley. Daniel Paul ("Uncle Dan"), a longtime resident of Thurman, built a home just outside of McPaul in 1896, four years before his death at age 86. McPaul likely reached the zenith of its growth in the early 1900s. Never home to more than 75 residents. Although important for its service to the area, it was seen as a "railroad town" to be avoided by those who could afford to live in the prosperous town of Thurman, "home to less than a dozen persons whose combined wealth was more than one million dollars," according to a 1913 article in the Tabor Beacon.
As the years passed, McPaul's importance as a rail center steadily faded, victim to competition from the trucking industry (McPaul's cattle pens were removed around 1946), automobiles,
fire, and mother nature. Missouri River flooding had swamped the town before, but the 1952 inundation resulted in the closing of the general store operated by the Theodore Schooley
family; the grain elevator, another Schooley enterprise, burned down, and the post office was closed in 1957. As for the railroad, McPaul's last depot agent, Mrs. Frances Arnold, closed
the doors in 1961 and the town became what it is today, a "fast track" for trains who speed by without stopping.