Iowa - History and Heritage

The area that became Iowa was part of the Louisiana Purchase, a vast stretch of land that the United States bought from France in 1803. White settlers didn’t move into Iowa in large numbers until the 1830s, after most of the Indians—including the Iowa tribe, for which the state was named—had been driven out. With its rich, fertile soil, Iowa soon became an important agricultural area. It was made a state in 1846.

In the 1840s and 50s, Eastern Iowa played a vital role in the Underground Railroad. Quakers opened their homes to runaway slaves, sheltering them from slave trackers who followed close on their heels. Only 25 miles from Missouri, a slave state, the Quaker town of Salem was an early stop on the road to freedom. Formerly a meeting place for abolitionists and a sanctuary for escaping slaves, Salem’s Henderson Lewelling House is now open for tours, which reveal secret trap-doors and hiding places.

After the Civil War, settlers from the Eastern U.S. and immigrants from Europe inundated Iowa, and their farms covered the entire state by 1900. Today, Iowa is a major producer of corn, soybeans and hogs.

President Herbert Hoover was born in 1874 to Quaker parents in West Branch, near Iowa City. His birthplace is now the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, which includes the two-room Hoover cottage, a reconstructed blacksmith shop, a one-room schoolhouse, the president’s gravesite, 81 acres of prairie and the Hoover Presidential Library and Museum.

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