History of Cedar Rapids 2018-03-02T12:05:40+00:00

Looking at the History of Cedar Rapids Iowa

Cedar Rapids is a well known city in Cedar Rapids. Home of Mount Mercy, Coe College, and Kirkwood College, they score high on education and are the second largest city in the state of Iowa, behind only the capital of Des Moines. The history of this city is interesting, and shows the amazing impact this often quiet small Iowan city has had on popular culture and the world around it.

Overview of The City of Five Seasons

Nicknamed the “City of Five Seasons” with the fifth season being friendship, a nod to the general friendliness you find from most Iowans, Cedar Rapids currently sits at about 130,000 people in the main city, with multiple suburbs around it such as Marion, Robins, Hiawatha, and Ely that continue to add to that total. A rapidly growing area, the space between Iowa City (home of the University of Iowa) and Cedar Rapids is rapidly shrinking due to new construction and that entire area is becoming known as “The Corridor.”

Founding & Early History

Cedar Rapids’s first permanent resident was Osgood Shepherd, who settled there in 1838. Originally named Columbus, the name would be changed just a few years later. Cedar Rapids was a natural name considering the huge number of red cedar trees that grew in large forests around the river, and the fast rapids that part of the river displayed around the area. This base area still makes up the vibrant downtown and reminds the city of its past.

The moving of Sinclair Meatpacking Plant led to an economic boom, and the great location helped with growth. Coe College was founded in 1851 and was a very early adopter among schools as they quickly accepted both women students and students of color in the 1800s. The city quickly became one of the most important in the state, and has continued into the present day.

Flood of 2008

One of the major impacts in modern Cedar Rapids history was the devastating Flood of 2008, which absolutely obliterated the downtown, as well as huge chunks of the city under 10-20 feet of water – despite those areas not being designated as flood zones. To give an idea of how unexpected this was, in the entire 170 year history of the city the highest the Cedar River managed to get during the worst of the flooding was 20 feet high. In 2008 the river was up to 31.10 feet. Over 10 square miles were completely flooded with over 7,800 properties that had to be outright abandoned and many more damaged.

The damage was in the many billions of dollars and included critical buildings like the courthouse, the police station, the library, and the city hall. Recovery would take nearly half a decade and there are still sections of the city with vacant properties or properties that have been cleared out.

The City in Pop Culture

One place Cedar Rapids has made a major splash in proportion to size is in pop culture. For such a relatively small city, many big time actors and actresses have come from Cedar Rapids in recent decades including Terry Farrell (Dax in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), Ron Livingston (Office Space), and of course Ashton Kutcher and Elijah Wood. That is some serious star power that even lead to the comedy “Cedar Rapids,” based on the experience of the writers growing up in the city.

In Conclusion

Cedar Rapids has a rich history and is constantly evolving, growing, and changing. This living history helps to keep the city vibrant and promises many more great and interesting notes in future history to come.