Nestled in Northeast Iowa, Independence was home to some of the first settlers west of the Mississippi. Known for its Midwestern hospitality and strong-dedicated work ethic, Independence residents have been proud people promoting progress since being founded in 1847.
On June 15, 1847, three commissioners, approved by the state legislature, visited Buchanan County to locate and name the county seat. Once they found a location, they called it Independence (thanks in part to the approaching 4th of July) and so our history began.
In 1853, Independence was slowly developing and had 12 inhabitants including a few stores, sawmill and a blacksmith. By the end of the decade, Independence had grown from a dozen citizens to a striving community of 1500 residents. Complete with mills, machine shops, churches, hotels, stores, a post office and a courthouse, Independence began to thrive as the entrepreneurial spirit and commerce became a staple of the community.
Located on the banks of the Wapsipinicon River, Independence has experienced many innovative and since historical initiatives. In 1854, the Wapsipinicon Feed Mill and dam became operational. The five story structure is 122 feet long by 62 feet wide and was used as a flouring mill and in 1923 began producing the “Wapsi” brand of poultry feed. Today the Mill is operated by the Buchanan County Historical Society and is open for tours and special events during the summer months.
Known for its horse racing since 1866, Independence was home to two of the fastest racing horses in the world. In 1889, thousands of spectators were present to watch the most anticipated horse racing event ever between Independence’s own “Allerton” and “Axtel”. The stallions were owned by local entrepreneur and developer Charles W. Williams. That same year, Williams sold “Axtell” and purchased 120 acres to build a kite-shaped race track. In August of 1890, over 225 horses were present for the inaugural race at the Rush Park race track and over 10,000 people were in attendance.
Other developments that transpired before the turn of the century include the three story Gedney Hotel and Opera House, the Independence and Rush Park electric street trolley, Iowa Hospital for the Insane, Illinois Central Train Station and Depot, and the steamboat “Iowa”.
Residents and visitors alike enjoy looking back at the community’s progression through its almost 160 years of inhabitance. Today, Independence is home to over 6000 residents. With many amenities such as the Buchanan County Health Center, Buchanan County Safety Center, Independence Police and Fire, Independence Light & Power Telecommunications, East Central Iowa Rural Electric Cooperative, superior parks & recreation, municipal airport, public pool and library, railroad and many community service organizations, Independence truly exemplifies why residents proclaim “America’s Fame is in our Name”.