The truth is – any growing city will eventually have ‘suburbs’ – separate communities that spring up around a growing community, developing their own city government and services. Today, for example, Iowa City has both University Heights and Coralville – separate Johnson County cities yet still a part of the greater Iowa City area.
Did you know that around the turn of the 20th century, there were two small communities located just east of the Iowa City border – East Iowa City and a small neighborhood called Rundell – both of which were birthed when two new industries were created nearby?
In the 1890’s, the American Industrial Revolution was in full swing and Iowa City was right in the middle of it all. Business was booming and entrepreneurs were busy trying to keep up with the expanding market.
In 1899, the W.F. Main Company (top left-below) and O.S. Kelly Manufacturing (bottom left-below) built new plants just east of the Iowa City city limits (see map below). W.F. Main had direct railroad connections with the BCR&N (The Plug) Railroad, while O.S. Kelly had immediate rail access to the Rock Island Line.
In an another post, we introduce you 40 Turn-of-the-Century Leaders Who Shaped Iowa City, and here, we’d like to tell you about the two men who led these two new Iowa City companies – impressive leaders who not only succeeded in business, but also became land developers who helped birth these two new communities on the east side of the city.
Let’s start with Willard F. Main, who came to Iowa City from Minnesota in 1888 to enroll in the law college at SUI. He ended up opening a jewelry repair and alteration – or “jobbing” – business on the 2nd floor of the Odd Fellows building at the corner of College and Dubuque Streets. In 1898, he sold this business to build the W. F. Main Company – the first jewelry and watch factory west of the Mississippi River – the largest of its kind in America!
Over the years, W. F. Main engaged in several trades, and he made his mark on the Iowa City community as a wholesaler and distributor of goods. In an article published on July 17, 1908, The Iowa City Citizen described Main as “keen, resourceful, original, strong in his judgment of large business conditions, and with a sort of dynamic energy that is never ready to quit.” The caricature above illustrates some of W. F. Main’s many endeavors.
The W.F. Main plant opened in 1900, located just east of the Iowa City city limits on the farm land that was originally part of Thomas B. Wales’ Brookbank Farm. Read more here. Wales had one of the largest breeding farms in the U.S. for Holstein cattle and had a direct line with the BCR&N (The Plug) Railroad – see map from 1900 (above left) and as it appears today (above right).
The O.S. Kelly Manufacturing Company was founded by Oliver S. Kelly (above) in Springfield, Ohio, and manufactured steam traction engines, cable plowing steam traction engines, steel water tanks, and threshers. Kelly’s Iowa City operation – which opened in 1900 – specialized in farming implement machinery.
James H. Maggard teamed with O.S. Kelly from the mid-1880’s, and came to Iowa City to serve as branch manager, overseeing the construction and operation of the new Kelly Works (pictured above). According to historian Irving Weber, the Kelly building measured sixty feet by three-hundred feet and consisted of two stories, 148 windows, double doors, and an addition on the back for a service room. The Rock Island Railroad ran a siding directly onto the property, and, by 1909, streetcar service gave workers easy transit between downtown Iowa City and the factory – see map from 1900 (below left) and as it appears today (below right).
Over the years, Maggard wrote all of the promotional literature for the O.S. Kelly Company, and issues of The American Thresherman and The Threshermen’s Review from the early 1900’s feature ads with unmistakable Maggard wording. Maggard has been called “the Mark Twain of writers on engineering” and is best remembered for his innovative farming inventions.
(JP-021) Above is a rare 1907 business letter from O.S. Kelly’s Iowa City plant to a dealer in Clermont, Iowa.
Once these two new businesses were up-n-running, the next step in attracting quality employees was surrounding these factories with affordable land where people could build houses, settle in with their families, and call their new community – home!
As soon as W.F. Main decided to sell his jewelry shop (1898) and build “the nation’s largest jewelry & clock manufacturing plant,” he invited the citizens of Iowa City to come east, buy land, and help him start a whole new community named East Iowa City. In 1899, he had the city drawn up (see plat below) and began selling lots – with the promise that a street car line would soon connect its residents with Iowa City.
W.F. Main was working hard to draw in young people to work and live in East Iowa City. Here are some excerpts from an article in the March 2, 1900 edition of The Iowa State Press…
As you can see from the map (below) between Iowa City and the new East Iowa City, there was a large empty space (red outline) in East Lucas Township just begging to be developed. That’s where James H. Maggard stepped in – pulling together an investment team for a whole new neighborhood called Rundell. Geared specifically for his employees at O.S. Kelly Works, 274 lots quickly sold to new home owners, with Maggard’s’ promise that he would help the city develop a street car franchise that would service the new neighborhood. Read more here.
As you can see from the articles (above) and the maps (below), 1910 proved to be a pivotal year for Iowa City. On Monday, March 21, 1910 – in a very close vote – the residents of our fair city decided to double the size of Iowa City – annexing new areas on the west side of the Iowa River, and the Rundell neighborhood and East Iowa City to the east.
Now “officially” attached to Iowa City, the expansion into East Iowa City and the Rundell neighborhood took big steps forward. More investments began to happen – land prices increased…
As for the promised street cars, J. H. Maggard was good on his word, and on November 17, 1910, the first Iowa City street car – The Iowa City Electric Railway – was rolling from the Rundell neighborhood into downtown Iowa City. Read more here.
But over in East Iowa City, our other entrepreneur – W.F. Main began to move his investments elsewhere as early as 1902, selling his shares in the business, leaving the new residents to fare for themselves. Thus – no street cars!
As you can see from the maps, Iowa City’s Rundell neighborhood (above) and East Iowa City (below) both flourished long after these two turn-of-the-century companies closed their doors. O.S. Kelly Manufacturing ceased operations in Iowa City in 1911, with the building being used by other companies well into the early-mid 1980’s, before being torn down. When W.F. Main sold out to other investors in 1902, the name changed to Puritan Manufacturing Company, and over the next thirty-plus years, the factory was used for many purposes before being destroyed in a massive fire in 1937.
Today, only Maggard Street and Rundell Street – both off Sheridan Avenue – and Chadek Green Park remain as tributes to these two founding fathers and their large manufacturing plants.
Above, you see the two obituaries from the Iowa City Press-Citizen. J.H. Maggard died suddenly on August 11, 1924, at age 70, and is buried with his wife, Ella Mary McKee, in Oakland Cemetery in Iowa City. W.F. Main died in 1950, at age 90, and is apparently buried in Rock Falls, Iowa, but no records were currently found.
Kudos to these two Iowa City turn-of-the-century entrepreneurs – W.F. Main and J.H. Maggard!
Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.