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Belle Plaine City

Belle Plaine City Hall is located at 1207 8th Avenue, Belle Plaine, IA 52208; phone: 319-444-2200.

Beginnings [1]

Belle Plaine, Iowa, a community situated in east-central Iowa approximately 45 miles west of Cedar Rapids, Iowa and 6 miles south of Iowa Highway 30. Belle Plaine was founded as a railroad town and its quick growth and long-term prosperity rested with the railroad.

The town of Belle Plaine was laid out in 1860 on the northern bank of the Iowa River in Benton County. The town site was chosen both for its topographical advantages and in anticipation of the coming railroad, which was extended from Cedar Rapids to Belle Plaine in 1863. For many years, the railroad was the underpinning of the city's economic health; Belle Plaine commerce thrived with the railroad and suffered when service diminished, impacting the community as a whole. Although the history of the community and its commercial district is most directly tied to the railroad, the routing of the Lincoln Highway through the town in the 19-teens, provided an economic boost to the commercial district beyond that of the railroad and its impact on the resources of the district is apparent in buildings constructed in the first half of the 20th century.

In July 1861 the Cedar Rapids and Missouri Railroad (later part of the Chicago & North Western) extended from Clinton as far as Cedar Rapids. Those wishing to travel west from Cedar Rapids did so with the Western Stage Coach Company. Plans to extend the rail line west from Cedar Rapids initially considered a route across the state to terminate in Sioux City, but eventually the route of the line was set to end in Council Bluffs, creating the potential for a station at Belle Plaine. To meet the requirements of the government's land grants, the railroad needed to lay tracks up to 40 miles west of Cedar Rapids by January 1, 1862. Initially, the company favored locating a station at Buckeye, but landowners in that town were unwilling to make the land concessions requested by the railroad. An agreement between the Cedar Rapids and Missouri Railroad and landowners Presley Hutton and Benjamin Parris was made; a grant of 40-acres to the railroad established the station at Belle Plaine.

In anticipation of the coming railroad line, John I. Blair (who is described in local accounts as a "railroad magnate"), platted Belle Plaine on April 24, 1862. The 13-block plat was filed and recorded on May 13, 1862. Late the following summer, Presley Hutton filed a plat of the town's first addition, which bears his name. When granting land to the railroad, Hutton had reserved a parcel of ten-acres around his home; that land was ultimately situated between Blair's original plat and Hutton's 1863 addition, creating a longstanding aggravation to city abstractors. In April of 1865 Blair's Addition was platted, adding Blocks 14-21 to the town site.

The first train to Belle Plaine arrived late in 1863 and the following year a four-stall roundhouse (non-extant) was built on the south side of the tracks. Within six years a new ten-stall roundhouse (non-extant) was constructed; a 30-stall roundhouse (also non-extant) replaced that structure in 1884.

Belle Plaine was incorporated in 1868 and by that early time the advantages of being a railroad town were apparent in the commercial district. With the convenience of transporting goods via the railroad and the city's distance from other communities of any size Belle Plaine was the primary supplier to the large community that surrounded it and the composition of the town's commercial sector reflected that status. In the fall of 1869 the Belle Plaine commercial district (concentrated along 12th Street) boasted eight dry goods stores, nine groceries, four clothing stores, three boot and shoe stores, three drug stores, three hardware stores, two furniture stores, two tailor shops, four millinery shops, two agricultural depots, two jewelers, three lumber yards one book store two livery stables one flouring-mill two harness shops, one photograph gallery two carriage shops one musical instrument and sewing machine agency, two meat markets, four saloons, three hotels, one bakery, one bank, one newspaper, two grain elevators, five lawyers, four physicians, and one dentist. The town's economic vitality as it was tied to the railroad can be further measured by the amount of agricultural products shipped which, in 1870, amounted to 1,029 train-car loads of grain or an average of thirty-two wagon loads sold every business day of that year.

  1. Alexa McDowell, Architectural Historian, AKAY Consulting, Belle Plaine Main Street Historic District, Benton County, Iowa, nomination document, 2013, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
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