Mar 29

A county has topped its 1870 population peak

To dig into the 2016 county population estimates, let’s start with the map I made last year.


The pattern hasn’t changed much: Every decade, the urban counties hit a peak — except that some in northeast Iowa topped out in 1980 — and a big lump of rural counties get farther away from the totals they had a century or more ago.

But in census estimates released last week (numbers obtained via the federal site, because the Iowa State Data Center’s bells-and-whistles website is nigh unusable), an exception arose.

Jefferson County passed 18,000 people and its 1870 peak of 17,839 last year, according to the census estimates. In fact, the re-evaluated yearly estimates put the record first in 2015.

Both the 1880 and 1900 censuses weren’t that far off from 1870′s, but there was enough of a dip afterward that Jefferson County languished below its high until now. It must be all the yogic flying in Fairfield and Maharishi Vedic City. (But seriously, the unique culture there is probably the main driver, seeing as though Libertyville school is closing this year.)

Statewide otherwise, the numbers are same-ol-same-ol:

  • Since 2010, Polk, Dallas, Johnson, and Linn counties are estimated to have added 87,886 people. The rest of the state combined has a net gain of 452 — and of those 95 counties, only 23 are on the plus side.
  • In the one-year estimate (7/1/15-7/1/16), those four counties gained nearly 15,000 people while the other 95 lost 2249.
  • 39 counties lost less than 100 people in a year, so it’s not horrible…
  • …until you see that all but six of those 39 have lost more than 100 since the last official census. (And one of the six is Dubuque, whose 2010-16 overall gain is 3350, making it a huge outlier.)
Posted in Iowa Miscellaneous | Leave a comment
Mar 28

Heads we win, tails you lose

July 21, 2012:
Current HMS Elementary School in Hartley, formerly Hartley High School. Once again, a beautiful Art Deco school building is facing the challenge of time, cost, and utility.

Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn has issued a challenge to its voters. If a bond issue doesn’t pass April 4, the northwest Iowa school district says it will close a building, KIWA Radio reports.

But the thing is, if the bond issue passes, the elementary in Hartley will close anyway. Twice before, in 2014 when the referendum was rejected with nearly 60% voting no, and last year when it got a majority but not a supermajority (off by 47 votes, says the Sioux City Journal), closing HMS Elementary was a known component of the plan. A new elementary would be built onto the high school at a different location in Hartley. The hedging between “close a building” and “close this building” is curious because the last vote got better results in Sanborn than Hartley.

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Mar 27

Some date edits, and a highway that was legally dead

Going through the legal descriptions of Iowa highways — just the state ones, not the US routes — have merited some editing to some pages. Mostly, these are fixes to time spans, now that we have dates of Highway Commission action if not the signs coming down in the field.

In some cases, what’s on the page wasn’t what was on the field. For example, the end of IA 283 was supposed to be a block east of where the “End” sign was. In cases like that I left it alone. On IA 364, the 1980 route log disagrees with the legal route description on whether the end in Harpers Ferry was 2nd or 3rd Street, but for the time being I am leaving that off the page. (More on that, and cases like it, to come.)

Minor changes were made to the following pages: 77, 103, 111, 130, 142, 186, 365, and 394 South. The IA 234 and 245 pages got a little more about their piecemeal decommissionings.

More substantial changes were made to the following:

  • We now have an intersection for the end of IA 246.  There’s some discrepancy as to what street is named what, but the southeast corner of the square was the end of the route.
  • IA 328‘s north end has been corrected to First Street, and the photos with old US 20 moved down the page to be the closest to the city limits, where there was a secret route until 1987.
  • IA 154 was killed off and replaced with an extension of IA 187 Thanksgiving week 1980, a few months after 187 was taken away from its end at Backbone State Park and extended north to IA 3 at Starmont school. That’s why the 1981 map is how it is. All of the new-sign photos at its ends will stay on the 187 page, and it’s possible I may simply combine the two.
  • IA 333 approached its post-2003 endpoint from a different direction in the first few years of its Fremont County life (then it continued with US 275, and then east to US 59). The existence of 333 itself was up for grabs in late 1980 — read the entry on Jason’s site for more. But once it was set, it used Main and E Streets in Hamburg until a project was finished in late 1984. In addition, the legal description appears to say 333 still continues with 275 to the east split at now-J64.
  • IA 341 contained the biggest surprise. Until now, I thought that the little stub between “Old Highway 18″ and existing 18 was retained until 2003 because Ruthven wanted a state connection to the city limits, or because the 18 bypass called for it, or because someone simply forgot that that part should have gone to the county. But all of those were wrong. The slight bypass of Ruthven was done in 1966, and the highway was turned over in 1988 — but then in 1993, the state took the stub back! It was never re-signed, but there is a definite break between when the route existed as a signed highway and when it was kept as a secret route.

EDIT: Corrected description of IA 333 information.

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Mar 24

Historic highway meetings in Denison and Denison

The modern-day Jefferson Highway Association, dedicated to promoting the 1910s north-south Pine to Palm Highway, is having its 2017 convention in Denison, Texas. The JH ran through Iowa mostly on now-US 65 and 69, sharing the Lincoln Highway in Story County. Here is a Google map of the entire route but I think the Iowa routing needs to be refined.

The Lincoln Highway Association, meanwhile, is having its annual convention in Denison, Iowa.

Now that is a coincidence.

(I know what the secret museum on the LHA agenda is!)


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Mar 23

Links on IA 12 page fixed

June 4, 2014: The national north end of US 77 is just across the border at I-29 in Sioux City.

Well, this is embarrassing: When I moved the website from, I moved the locations of the IA 12 South and US 77 pages. However, I never edited the links to those pages from the main IA 12 page. They are fixed now, and linked properly in this blog post.

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Mar 22

Closing off an ancient curve, and Centerville’s IA 60 history

Appanoose48 appanoose1951
Appanoose County in the 1948 (left/top) and 1951 Iowa Highway Commission state maps. Notice the non-existence of Lake Rathbun. Drake Avenue is shown as the north-south piece of IA 277, but it actually belonged to IA 60, as you will see in the research below. (Also, the map dot of Brazil became the map dot of Sunshine, at the end of IA 138, but the name wasn’t changed until the next year.)

Appanoose County is going to take out a curve that was part of a state highway until the middle of the 20th century.

Drake Avenue, or 217th Avenue, runs a fraction of a mile west of IA 5. It was the original road for IA 60 (IA 6 until US 6 was brought into Iowa, then renumbered again in 1969). At the time, having that north-south road with a little curve meant traffic between Numa and Centerville could avoid a railroad crossing, and the curve is visible on late 1930s aerial photos. Now, the railroad is long gone, and the angle to the east-west road creates safety issues, so the county is going to make that a dead end and pave the north-south gravel road in April, the Centerville Daily Iowegian reports.

In a series of construction projects in the 1950s, IA 60 was moved to the east, following 18th Street in Centerville. A decade ago, tracking down specifics would have been extremely time-consuming, but thanks to the magic of microfilm scanning and OCR, it took a matter of hours to get what I wanted from the Iowegian archives.

Originally, 60 followed Drake Avenue and Haynes Avenue in Centerville. The modern street configuration is a clue; Haynes keeps its name even when the road turns east-west. On April 27, 1949 — a date learned a decade ago from research at the Iowa DOT library — 60 was realigned from Cincinnati to Green Street on the south edge of Centerville. It had gone north from Cincinnati to meet IA 277, the spur to Numa. The first state map to show this was the “1950 Alternate.”

But to get 60 onto 18th Street in Centerville, three different projects were undertaken. The first was to take out the brick paving and widen 18th south of IA 2; the second was to rebuild 18th between 2 and Haynes; and the last was angling the road northeast of Haynes away from what is now Shamrock Lane. These relocations were completed in September 1952, September 1956, and September 1957, respectively.

But where was 277′s end during this time? That’s a bit murky. The 1950A to 1953 maps show parallel lines, perhaps because the roads (Drake and 18th) were close enough that the mappers weren’t quite sure how to show the change. On June 2, 1948, before any relocation, the Iowegian reported:

When the new route is completed and finally paved the present highway which goes south from Centerville on Drake avenue by way of Streepyville to Cincinnati, will become county road and will be turned over to the Appanoose county engineer and board of supervisors.

That implies that Drake was going to be dropped from the system, and that is what handwritten notations on a county map show. I believe that in the 1949-52 time frame, it’s possible that 277 curved up to meet 60 at the intersection of Drake and Green, but not likely. The east-west road where the curve splits off was already part of the state system, as part of IA 216 to Exline, before that highway was paved on a different alignment.

In October 1952, most likely prompted by the relocation of 60 onto 18th Street south of 2, the Highway Commission set the east end of IA 277 at the southeast corner of Section 12. That is where J46 intersects 5 today, about half a mile east of the old curve that is going to be sealed off.

Five years later, the entirety of IA 277 was paved, including the replacement of 18-foot concrete with 24-foot concrete on the part that used to be IA 60. The spur to Numa was a victim of the Great Decommissioning of 1980.

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Mar 21

Analysis of 2017 RAGBRAI route

July 23, 2008: RAGBRAI riders enter the west side of Tama.

FORTY YEARS after its first and only visit to Allamakee County, RAGBRAI is going to end in Lansing.

From Orange City (which is new as a starter town; others started in Hawarden) to Charles City, not much is totally new to RAGBRAI, with the exceptions of Sutherland (on the gravel loop) and Thornton. But then the route opens up to many new sights.

The route has been to Chickasaw County only once since 1993, and hasn’t routinely trod any ground northeast of West Union except for 1977, and both those change this year. New Hampton, Waukon, and Lansing are both on the route for the first time since 1977, the latter two as host cities (making Allamakee the first county to have two overnight towns in one year). Lawler, Castalia, Waterville, and Harpers Ferry are all new, as is Postville, heretofore the 10th-largest place in Iowa the ride had not visited.

Wapello becomes the least-recently-visited once-host city (1979), followed by Akron (1982) — which, given the trends, is likely to be here permanently — then Keokuk (1992) and, surprisingly enough, Marion (1994).

Finally, with Ionia on the route this year, 1977 becomes the third year for which every town passed through then has been passed through at least once later (1975, 1980).

My list of yearly RAGBRAI towns has been updated based on the Register’s daily maps issued last week.

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Mar 20

947. Palmer

March 20, 2003: A Fort Dodge Messenger newsrack in Palmer announces the beginning of U.S. military action in Iraq.

Fourteen years and five ISU men’s basketball coaches ago, I took my first solo multi-day trip to photograph Iowa highways.

Palmer was the first town on March 20, 2003, that I had never been to before. I have not been back since. That makes it my least-recently-visited town in Iowa. But I was glad I got there, because a month later IA 315 was decommissioned (Pocahontas County signed agreements before the mass turnover later that year).

One of these days I’ll get back and see what things look like now. But that will be part of plans yet to be made.

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Mar 18

Bring on the Boilermakers

IFOctober 29, 2016: Penn State scores one of its many touchdowns against Purdue in West Lafayette, Indiana. The final was 62-24. Yes, I watched both Iowa State and Purdue play football in person in 2016. You can’t hurt me.

The Big 12 Tournament’s winner takes on the Big Ten’s regular-season champion tonight (WHY are we so late this year?) in Milwaukee for the chance to, presumably, play the Big 12′s regular-season champion.

Iowa State has never played Purdue in football, as I mentioned before, but have met four times in basketball (h/t They would have met last year in the NCAA Tournament but Purdue fell on its face. Now, in a game between two teams’ fanbases who are historically scared to death of being snakebitten/losing a player to injury/having a house dropped on them, the question is, who will come out alive?

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Mar 17

US 20 detour starts next week

The detour for US 20 in western Iowa that originally was going to last through two winters but then discontinued will restart Monday, the Iowa DOT says in a press release. Construction will go on throughout the year, pushing ever closer to making US 20 four lanes across the state.

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