Oelwein, Iowa

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Oelwein is a city in Fayette County, Iowa, United States. The population was 6,692 at the 2000 census. The largest community in Fayette County, it is located at the junction of State Highways 3 and 150.[1]



The town of Oelwein was laid out in a corn field purchased from Gustav Oelwein on the coming of the Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Minnesota Railroad (later called the Rock Island) in 1872. Some years later the two dividing streets of Oelwein were named after his sons, Frederick and Charles.

The town of Oelwein is named after the Oelwein family, but they were not the original settlers of the land. On the contrary, it was entered by a professional man at Dubuque, who made it his business to enter land, add a good fee for his trouble, plus a high rate of interest, and then not turn it over to the man in whose name it was registered until he was able to pay the price. Oelwein's present site was entered in 1852 by J. B. Burch. The hamlet of Oelwein was instituted in 1873, and was incorporated as a town in 1888, with Dr. Pattison becoming its first mayor. The town suffered its chief setback in 1887, when nearly all of the old Main Street business district (now First Avenue SE) was destroyed by fire. In 1890 the census gave the population as 830.

By January 1892, Oelwein was chosen to become the center of the Chicago Great Western Railway; the CGW made the town the site of their locomotive and car repair shop. Clearing the land for the shops began in June 1894. The shops were completed and put into operation in May 1899. Thus, Oelwein became known as the "Shop City" and later the "Hub City" because of the rail lines coming into town and the repair shops located here.

By 1895 the population had increased to 1,928, and in 1897 Oelwein was incorporated as a city. In 1900, Oelwein had 5,142 people within the city limits, of whom 789 were foreign-born. Oelwein was one of few Iowa towns to experience an influx of Italian immigrants who were employed in the railroad industry. In 1910, the population was 6,028, and in 1940, 7,801.

In 1968, the town suffered another setback when a tornado swept through the main business district. 68 homes were destroyed, including some in F5 damage, 132 sustained major damage and 600 sustained less damage. Every business in the district suffered damage including 51 that were destroyed. Two churches, an elementary school, and the middle school were destroyed. Extensive damage was also done in nearby Maynard. Along the path, 5 people died (one in Oelwein), 156 were injured, and $21 million worth of ($18 million in Oelwein) damage was done, inflated to $130.4 million today.

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