Elkader's First 100 Years
Elkader's first permanent residents arrived in 1836 when Elisha Boardman and Horace Bronson settled on the banks of the Turkey River in Pony Hollow. Boardman established the first farm and together with other early settlers built the first schoolhouse. Timothy Davis, John Thompson and Chester Sage laid out a plan for their community which was officially platted on June 22, 1846. Davis was challenged with the task of choosing a name for the new Iowa community. They named the new village Elkader after Abd el-Kader, a young Algerian hero who led his people in a resistance to French colonialism between 1830 and 1847.
Elisha Boardman is credited as the first white settler of Boardman Township. In 1836 he built a cabin on the north side of the Turkey River at the site of what later would become the train depot and is currently the farmers’ cooperative.
Horace D. Bronson also came as a settler to the area in 1836. He built a cabin on the south side of the Turkey River near Founders’ Park.
John Thompson was the first business owner in Elkader. He purchased land in 1844 and in 1846 built the Elkader Flour Mill Company with Chester Sage and Timothy Davis. The public library, 130 N. Main Street, is located on the original mill site. Thompson also built mills at Clermont and Motor Mill. Chester Sage sold his interest in the mill in 1856 to Thompson and Davis.
The first retail store, sawmill and gristmill were in operation by 1847, a blacksmith had arrived and Elkader was the hub of local activity. Between 1849 and 1880 Elkader was in competition with Garnavillo and Guttenberg for the prized title of county seat in Clayton County. Elkader made its first unsuccessful bid to become county seat in 1849, losing to Garnavillo. In 1856, with a population of 500, a foundry, a wagon and carriage shop, a plow shop and other new businesses, Elkader made a bid for the county seat and won. The following year Guttenberg regained the title. In 1860 another election was held for county seat. Elkader prevailed and won subsequent challenges for the title in 1864 and 1868. Elkader has remained the county seat since 1868. The present courthouse building in Elkader was constructed in 1867-68.
Although the population grew slowly during the 1860's, 70's and 80's there were many important developments in the community. A newspaper began publishing. The gristmill burned to the ground in 1860. It was rebuilt and enjoyed strong sales and even shipped flour to Europe. On September 15, 1886 a train from the Milwaukee Line steamed into town for the first time and in 1888 construction on our beautiful keystone bridge had begun. Turner Hall, Elkader's first entertainment and meeting hall, was built on the site where the Elkader Opera House now stands.
Growth had increased again and by 1900 Elkader recorded over 1300 inhabitants. Four weekly newspapers including one German language paper were being printed, waterworks were installed in 1896 and the completion of the cofferdam above the bridge in 1915 brought improved electrical service to Elkader's residents. Around the turn of the century when fires destroyed the old Scott House hotel, Turner Hall and the Elkader gristmill, each was rebuilt.
The end of the war stimulated another period of growth. The 1920's brought the addition of a movie theatre, a public library, and improvements to an already well-respected school system. A gymnasium was added to the existing school structure and the Elkader Junior College opened its doors in 1929.
During World War II many of our young men and women entered the military while at home citizens joined in the war effort by buying war bonds and participating in USO and Red Cross drives. After many long years of war, Elkader was finally able to celebrate victory in the fall of 1945. News came of Japan's surrender during the county fair in Elkader.
This article is based on information compiled by Ed Olson.