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Elkader History

Elkader's First 100 Years
Elkader's first permanent residents arrived in 1836 when Elisha Boardman and Horace Bronson settled on the banks of the Turkey River in Pony Hollow. Boardman established the first farm and together with other early settlers built the first schoolhouse. Timothy Davis, John Thompson and Chester Sage laid out a plan for their community which was officially platted on June 22, 1846. They named the new village Elkader after Abd el-Kader, a young Algerian hero who led his people in a resistance to French colonialism between 1830 and 1847.


Elkader - 1852
The first retail store, sawmill and gristmill were in operation by 1847, a blacksmith had arrived and Elkader was the hub of local activity. Between 1849 and 1880 Elkader was in competition with Garnavillo and Guttenberg for the prized title of county seat in Clayton County. Elkader made its first unsuccessful bid to become county seat in 1849, losing to Garnavillo. In 1856, with a population of 500, a foundry, a wagon and carriage shop, a plow shop and other new businesses, Elkader made a bid for the county seat and won. The following year Guttenberg regained the title. In 1860 another election was held for county seat. Elkader prevailed and won subsequent challenges for the title in 1864 and 1868. Elkader has remained the county seat since 1868. The present courthouse building in Elkader was constructed in 1867-68.

Elkader - late 1800s

Although the population grew slowly during the 1860's, 70's and 80's there were many important developments in the community. A newspaper began publishing. The gristmill burned to the ground in 1860. It was rebuilt and enjoyed strong sales and even shipped flour to Europe. On September 15, 1886 a train from the Milwaukee Line steamed into town for the first time and in 1888 construction on our beautiful keystone bridge had begun. Turner Hall, Elkader's first entertainment and meeting hall, was built on the site where the Elkader Opera House now stands.

Growth had increased again and by 1900 Elkader recorded over 1300 inhabitants. Four weekly newspapers including one German language paper were being printed, waterworks were installed in 1896 and the completion of the cofferdam above the bridge in 1915 brought improved electrical service to Elkader's residents. Around the turn of the century when fires destroyed the old Scott House hotel, Turner Hall and the Elkader gristmill, each was rebuilt.


Elkader - 1914

115 young men from the Elkader and the surrounding Boardman Township served in World War I. As the result of a false armistice rumor and anxiety for peace, residents celebrated the end of the war prematurely with a parade and huge bonfire. Three days later on November 11, 1918, Armistice Day was officially celebrated. Bells rang all day and citizens gathered in Elkader for a feast of roast ox, an open-air band concert and a dance in the Opera House.

The end of the war stimulated another period of growth. The 1920's brought the addition of a movie theatre, a public library, and improvements to an already well-respected school system. A gymnasium was added to the existing school structure and the Elkader Junior College opened its doors in 1929.


Elkader - early 1950s

During World War II many of our young men and women entered the military while at home citizens joined in the war effort by buying war bonds and participating in USO and Red Cross drives. After many long years of war, Elkader was finally able to celebrate victory in the fall of 1945. News came of Japan's surrender during the county fair in Elkader.

This article is based on information compiled by Ed Olson.

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