About Independence

A Progressive Community
Independence is a dynamic, growing community in scenic Northeast Iowa.  It has small town appeal with many conveniences of a larger city.  Independence is a progressive community offering great opportunities and amenities for people of all ages while preserving a fascinating history. 

In the last eight years, a new junior/senior high school opened, a new public library facility was built, and there have been major expansions at the Buchanan County Health Center and the Independence Municipal Airport.   In addition to the new facilities and expansions, there have been many updates to parks, trail systems, and to the main business district, providing a wide range of services and a great quality of life.

Opportunities to Learn, Play, and Grow

The educational system consists of the Independence Community School District (ICSD), St. John School, and Hawkeye Community College’s Independence Center.  Many options for higher education are close as well.  The University of Northern Iowa, University of Upper Iowa, Hawkeye Community College, Kaplan University, and the Allen College of Nursing are all within 35 miles of Independence.

Heartland Acres Agribition center offers interactive experiences to learn about agriculture’s past, present, and future.  The Independence Public Library offers resources and opportunities for all ages that are relevant and responsive to the community’s ever-changing needs.   

There are also many opportunities to enjoy the outdoors and community events in Independence.  There are beautiful parks with up-to-date playground equipment, shelters, and a band shell.  The band shell is center stage for the 4th of July Celebration, voted one of the Des Moines Register’s “10 Great Events.”  The Wapsipinicon River flowing through town offers many recreational opportunities as well.  Check out the Community Events Calendar on the Chamber of Commerce website for current events.

A Fascinating History
Independence has a beautiful main street with a fascinating history.  Underneath the current storefronts is the previous main street, dating back to the 1840s-1860s, when the city’s founding fathers decided to raise all the business buildings up because of frequent flooding downtown.  What remains underneath can still be viewed during special underground tours offered by the Buchanan County Historical Society.  The new sidewalks, unique shops, and restaurants make main street an inviting destination.

Not only is the history found under the main street fascinating, but throughout the city.  Founded in 1847, Independence was a center for horse-racing with two of the fastest race horses and a kite-shaped race track bringing thousands of people to the area for races in the late 1800s.  The Wapsipinicon Mill, long an icon of Independence, is still home to tours and special events like the Farmers’ Market during the warmer months.  A few other special historical sites you can still see today are the Mental Health Institute and the train depot, which houses Buchanan County Tourism.

Check out Independence first-hand.  It is a great place to live, work, and play!

Early Beginnings

Nestled in Northeast Iowa, Independence was home to some of the first settlers west of the Mississippi. Known for its Midwestern hospitality and strong-dedicated work ethic, Independence residents have been proud people promoting progress since being founded in 1847.

On June 15, 1847, 3 commissioners, approved by the state legislature, visited Buchanan County to locate and name the county seat. Once they found a location, they called it Independence (thanks in part to the approaching 4th of July) and so our history began.

In 1853, Independence was slowly developing and had 12 inhabitants including a few stores, sawmill and a blacksmith. By the end of the decade, Independence had grown from a dozen citizens to a striving community of 1500 residents. Complete with mills, machine shops, churches, hotels, stores, a post office and a courthouse, Independence began to thrive as the entrepreneurial spirit and commerce became a staple of the community.
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Innovative & Historic Initiatives
Located on the banks of the Wapsipinicon River, Independence has experienced many innovative and since historical initiatives. In 1854, the Wapsipinicon Feed Mill and dam became operational. The 5-story structure is 122 feet long by 62 feet wide and was used as a flouring mill and in 1923 began producing the "Wapsi" brand of poultry feed. Today the Mill is operated by the Buchanan County Historical Society and is open for tours and special events during the summer months.

Other developments that transpired before the turn of the century include the 3-story Gedney Hotel and Opera House, the Independence and Rush Park electric street trolley, Iowa Hospital for the Insane, Illinois Central Train Station and Depot, and the steamboat Iowa.

Horse Racing
Known for its horse racing since 1866, Independence was home to 2 of the fastest racing horses in the world. In 1889, thousands of spectators were present to watch the most anticipated horse racing event ever between Independence's own Allerton and Axtell. The stallions were owned by local entrepreneur and developer Charles W. Williams. That same year, Williams sold Axtell and purchased 120 acres to build a kite-shaped race track. In August 1890, over 225 horses were present for the inaugural race at the Rush Park race track and over 10,000 people were in attendance.

Present Day Amenities
Residents and visitors alike enjoy looking back at the community's progression through its almost 160-year history. Today, Independence is home to over 6,000 residents. Independence truly exemplifies why residents proclaim "America's Fame is in our Name" with amenities such as the:
  • Buchanan County Health Center
  • Buchanan County Safety Center
  • Community service organizations
  • East Central Iowa Rural Electric Cooperative
  • Independence Light and Power Independence Police and Fire
  • library
  • Municipal airport
  • Public pool and Railroad
  • Superior parks and recreation
  • Telecommunications