A Tradition of Innovation

History of Business in Marion County

The Sac and Fox nations lived on the land we today call Marion County, Iowa. They found the land fertile for hunting and fishing. By 1843, the first settlers had made their way west to Marion County and by 1845 the county was open for settlement. During the early years, settlers often made heroic journeys for supplies. The first occupation of settlers was one of farmer. Early historic accounts detail the transformation of the land which happened during the first ten years of settlement. Prairie lands were transformed to fields and forests were cut down to build homes. Marion County was one of the best timbered counties in the state.

As railroad lines made their way west, Marion County was a key stop because of one thing…”Black” gold. Coal could be found everywhere in thick veins and towns began to sprout up everywhere. Coal mines soon cropped up all around the county and more settlers came to work these mines. There are over 500 coal mines that operated in Marion County. By 1893, Marion County produced over 230,000 tons of coal. Coal was important for powering steamboats, railroad locomotives, heating homes and businesses. The old No. 5 mine at Flagler was for years recognized as one of the greatest coal mines in Iowa, employing 40 to 50 men and producing from 140 to 160 tons daily. At the turn of the century, Marion County was one of the top coal producing counties in Iowa. But by the 1920’s, new government regulations and the discovery of other energy sources closed most of the coal industry in Iowa.

As towns began during the coal era, there were small businesses for milling wood, pottery, black smiting, general stores and professionals. These small businesses worked to meet the needs of growing communities. The first banking institution was organized in 1857 called Pella Savings Institution and later reorganized as Pella National Bank. About the close of the Civil War, J.E. Neal and Larkin Wright embarked in business as brokers in Knoxville and doing business in banking. By 1871, the business was reorganized as Knoxville National Bank.

By 1914, there were 1,948 farms in Marion County with an average size of 144 acres. In the early history of the county, the area was not known as a manufacturing area. Grist mills and woolen mills were some of the early manufacturing. Another Knoxville manufacturer was Baker Barbed Wire Fence Company which operated for several years before relocating to Des Moines. In 1915, there were 300 people employed in manufacturing in Pella. The primary companies included the Pella Stacker Company, Pella Roller Mills, Pella Pipe and Tank Works, Pella Canned Goods, Buerkens wagons, Heeran Furniture Factory.

After World War I and II, industry and retail started to take hold in the area. Pella Corporation was started in 1925, Van Gorp started in 1933 and Vermeer Manufacturing was begun in 1948. The 1970’s were also a boom time with 3M and Hormel locating in Knoxville while the beginnings of Precision Pulley & Idler and Heritage Lace were happening in Pella.

Over the years, innovators in agriculture, mining and manufacturing have build quality lives and businesses in Marion County, Iowa. Continuous improvement is not just a term…it is our way of life.

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