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Walnut, Iowa History


Any references to "today" are accurate up to May 2021.

1900 - William F. Brandt opens his dental practice in Walnut, which would endure for the next 45 years.

1900 - Walnut fields its first high school baseball team.

1900 - Oscar Lodge builds a large house on the SE corner of Summit and Central streets.  It still stands today.

1901 - Most of the town's sidewalks are converted from wood to concrete over the previous two years.

1901 - The city council passes an ordinance permitting a franchise to Musson Brothers of Atlantic for the purpose of establishing a telephone system for the city and area.

1902 - J.B. Johannsen opens and operates a Cement and Tile manufacturing plant on Pearl Street south of Walnut Street.  He later sells out to Jens Larsen of Kimballton, who runs it until his death in 1934, and then his wife Ana operates it along with their nephew Marinus Nelson until 1948.

1902 - Sam Comer's new furniture building is completed on the SW corner of Central and Highland streets.  He also does an undertaking business.  The building still stands today.

1903 - Paul Corey is born on a farm 7 1/2 miles northeast of Walnut.  The younger brother of Elizabeth Corey (Bachelor Bess), he would go on to fame as the author of historical fiction centered around farm life in Iowa.  His first and most lasting work was the "Mantz Trilogy", which was first published in 1939.

1904 - George Mickel manufactures automobiles in Walnut, with eight horsepower and capable of speeds of 30 mph.  He is the first to own and drive a car in the city.

1904 - Rural Free Delivery (RFD) of mail begins in the Walnut area, under the direction of postmaster A.E. Kincaid.

1904 - The city council approves the sale of bonds to construct an electric light plant for the city.

1905 - Walnut's school achieves State Accreditation status, which allows its graduates to attend the state university without an entrance examination.

1906 - Walnut's first and only department store is opened in a huge 75 ft x 150 ft building on the west side of Central downtown.  It was operated by Madsen Brothers and Chambliss.  The business closed in 1935, a victim of the Great Depression.  The building still stands today.

1908 - Walnut's high school plays Oakland in its first girls basketball game.  Five players play per side, with two forwards, two guards and one center who plays only in the center circle of the court.  Captains are Jennie Cissna and Alma Johanssen.  Basketball began in 1902 as an intramural sport for Walnut high school girls.  The first mention of boys basketball is 1912.

1908 - Vera Sankey of Walnut High School wins the state declamatory contest in the dramatic division, and garners top score for all divisions (1,400 contestants) becoming Walnut's first state champion of any kind.

1909 - "The Lyric" motion picture house opens in the Opera House.

1910 - The River-to-River Road is opened, which goes through Walnut on Pearl Street heading west to Avoca.  It is the first road of its kind in Iowa, spanning from Davenport to Council Bluffs.

1910 - Walnut's population is 950, per official census records.  

1911 - Walnut's Morro Lodge A.F and A.M. build their lodge just north of the German Bank.  It costs $10,000, and still stands today owned by the Walnut Creek Historical Society.

1912 - Walnut's Community Development Club is formed.  It is the forerunner to the Walnut Community Club, which recognizes 1922 as its starting point.

1912 - Central Street is finally extended south across the railroad tracks, allowing a straight shot from the road north into and out of town.

1913 - Our school house burns to the ground in January.  A new building is constructed of brick for $24,364, on the same location, and opens in October that same year.  It still stands today.

1913 - New street lights, known as electroliers, are installed, to replace the old gas-fueled lamps.  They are placed on posts on the street itself, just off the sidewalk.

1915 - Walnut's downtown streets are paved with brick.

1915 - The city council passes an ordinance permitting The Walnut Telephone Company a franchise to provide a telephone system for the city and area.  The company buys out the Musson Brothers equipment and lines by 1919.

1917 - Earl Caddock of Anita, Iowa defeats Joe Stecher of Dodge, Nebraska in Omaha for the world's professional wrestling championship.  Earl goes on to marry a Walnut girl, Grace Mickel, and live in Walnut the rest of his life.  He holds his title for 3 years, until defeated by Stecher in 1920 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.  He is Walnut's most famous citizen.

1918 - Theo Carey becomes the first of Walnut's sons to give his life during World War I, on the battlefields of France.  He was 30 years old.  Walnutites Roy Meyers, Raymond Burke, Leo Thompson, Leah Schlotfeldt, Ed Hansen, William Koos, Delbert Powell and Earl McCoy also lose their lives during WWI.

1919 - After 2 1/2 years of digging, a deep well for the town is completed at a depth of 2,511 feet, with water starting at 240 feet.

1920 - American Legion Post 422 is given a temporary charter.  Its first commander is Earl Thoning.  A permanent charter was not granted until 1950.  Its original charter includes only veterans of World Wars I and II.  The Legion Auxiliary is formed in 1922, with Mrs. Earl Thoning as the first president.

1920 - Caddock's Colts, a semi-professional baseball team, is organized.  Its organizer and everyday catcher is Harry Nieman, and its business manager is I.D. Redman.  The Colts would play for three seasons, and win more than 50 games.  Earl Caddock lent his name to the team for promotional purposes but did not play.

1920 - Thomas Kent, a local award-winning hog producer, opens the Farmer's Savings Bank located in a new brick building on the east side of Central St, the 2nd building north of the Opera House.  The bank goes out of business with Kent's passing in 1929.

1920 - Walnut's official population reaches an all-time high of 1,072.

1921 - The Colts defeat Manning 5-3.  The visiting team had hired Lefty Williams as pitcher for the day, who had started 3 games for the infamous Chicago Black Sox in the 1919 World Series.  About 3,000 attend the game at Kent's Park in Walnut (east end of North Street).

1922 - Walnut's high school baseball team, our best ever up to this point, participates in an invitational tournament in Ames.  It would drop baseball the next year in favor of track and field.

1923 - The American State Bank is forced to close its doors in Walnut.  It reopens as the Walnut State Bank with a new charter a few months later.  It had previously been known as the German Bank, but changed its name due to public sentiment during World War I.

1924 - Walnut farmers hold a Ku Klux Klan meeting in a pasture in the northeast part of town.  The Klan in Iowa promoted Anglo-Saxon Protestantism as the true Americanism, and didn't focus on race as much as in the South.  It was short-lived in Iowa.

1925 - The new HiWay Gardens dance hall opens NE of town.  It hosts many popular bands over the years, including Lawrence Welk in 1937.  It is destroyed by a windstorm in 1951.

1925 - Walnut opens a  public library in the back room of city hall.

1926 - The Walnut Auditorium is built just south of the school house, as a joint project of the school district and the city.  It serves as the school gymnasium, and still stands today.

1927 - C.A. "Red" Osler opens a Chevrolet dealership in Walnut.  He would go on to operate this business until his death in 1972.

1927 - Abe Baker opens Walnut Fruit and Grocery, which he operates for the next 28 years.  He would go on to prominence in Omaha in 1957, where Baker's Supermarkets is now a part of the Kroger Company with $325 million in annual sales.

1928 - Walnut's high school teams take the name Cardinals.

1929 - The former Walnut Milling Co building burns to the ground.  The fire is reported to have been started by sparks generated by a passing train.

1929 - The Walnut High School girls basketball team wins the Pottawattamie County championship, and will go on to win 5 of the next 8 annual titles.

1931 - The Exchange State Bank is forced to close its doors in Walnut, a victim of the Great Depression.  

1933 - Harry Nieman and American Legion Post 422 start a youth baseball program.  Eligible boys ages 9-17 are invited to play, and are known as the Juniors.  The Midgets start in 1946 (originally ages 9-14), the Cubs in 1950 (originally ages 9-10), and the PeeWees in 1958 (ages 6-9).

1933 - The famed Harlem Globetrotters appear in Walnut in a basketball contest with our town team.

1934 - Highway 83 is paved with blacktop for the first time ever.

1935 - Walnut fields a men's softball team for the first time, sponsored by Osler Chevrolet.

1936 - Louis Pedersen opens a tavern on the east side of the downtown block.  He would go on to operate this business continuously until 1997.

1938 - A viaduct is built over the railroad tracks on Central St.  It was a Roosevelt public works project.

1940 - The First Annual Walnut Horse Show is held, put on by the Community Club and organized by Red Osler.  The show is an annual event for many years, and Osler becomes a well-known showman in the region, being inducted into the Iowa State Fair's Horseman's Hall of Fame in 1966.  

1942 - Charles Leroy Linn is the first Walnut soldier to die during World War II, in a plane crash at St. Louis.  In addition to Linn, Walnut-ites John Sharp, Orville Beckendorf, James McCloud and Everett Hoover all lose their lives in the war effort.

1944 - A B24 Bomber crashes south of Walnut, killing all seven of her crew members.  The plane was enroute from a Harvard, Nebraska airfield.  The seven crew members are memorialized 50 years later in a ceremony which also unveiled a replica of the plane.  That replica (a second version) still stands today at the corner of Hwys G30 and M47.

1945 - The Community Club purchases six acres of land for a sports park from Emil Dau at $500 per acre.  It is named Veteran's Memorial Park, and becomes the home for baseball and football games.  Lights are installed in 1948, making it a highly sought-after location for tournaments statewide.

1946 - AmVet Post #45 is formed.  It is originally composed of veterans who served in World War II.  Henry Thiessen is the first commander.  The AmVet Auxiliary is formed shortly after, with Mrs. Charley Linn as first president.

1946 - Harold Johnk, one of Walnut's best athletes to date, is named head basketball coach at Omaha University after starring as a player there.  He would resign this position two years later to join his father on the family farm in Lincoln Twp.

1947 - Eldon Bees pitches 3 consecutive complete game shutouts as Walnut wins the spring high school sectional baseball tournament.  He strikes out 21 batters.

1947 - Walnut's city council approves garbage pick-up for the town's citizens and businesses, a first for the city.

1948 - The first long distance phone call from Walnut is made by Mayor Fred Fell to his son Kenneth in Kansas City, Missouri, after the Walnut Telephone Company puts in a new dial system.

1948 - Bill Kay (pronounced Kye), a 1942 graduate of WHS, signs a contract to play professional football with the New York Giants.  He was a two-time All-American at Iowa University as a tackle, and named captain of the team in 1947.

1949 - Walnut's Independent School District provides rural bus service for the first time.

1949 - The school lunch program begins at Walnut's city school.  Meals are served in the Opera House/Legion Hall.

1949 - The first American Red Cross swimming lessons for youth are sponsored by the Women's Federated Club.  Children are transported to Atlantic and then later Avoca. 

1949 - The first American Legion District Seven Midget baseball tournament is held in Walnut.  Walnut would host the event for 23 of the next 26 years.  District Seven is composed of the 13 counties in the southwest corner of the state.  Of the 81 Legion posts in the district, only 16 teams made it to Walnut each year.  Walnut would go on to host the Inter-District Tournament as well in the 50s and 60s, and eventually it would be known as the State Tournament.

1949 - WOW-TV's signal is received in Walnut, and the first television programming begins September 1st.  Thessen Electric and Braden Furniture Store provide sales, installation and repairs of televisions in the area.  Otto Kuhr becomes the first Walnut person on television, as an early program on the state fair shows him tending C.A. Osler's horses at the fair.

1950 - Future baseball Hall-of-Famer Bob Gibson and his YMCA team from Omaha defeat the Walnut Midgets in Walnut 23-3.  That Midget team qualifies for the district 7 tournament that year, and makes it to the quarterfinals.

1951 - A new fire station is opened on Highland Street.

1951 - Stan and Ron Olsen purchase the Ford dealership in Walnut, and operate it for the next 18 years, selling out to Charles (Chub) Walter.  They would go on to prominence in the car business in Omaha.

1951 - An addition to the school is made to the north, which adds a lunchroom, shop, classrooms, and library.

1952 - Robert Larsen graduates from Walnut High School.  He would go on to fame as the founder of the Des Moines Metropolitan Opera in 1973.  He retired in 2010 after having served as conductor and stage director for well over 120 productions.  He was also a full professor and chairman of music at Simpson College, and established the G. Dewey and M. Maine Larsen Chair in Opera, an endowed professorship that endures today.

1953 - A new mainline route is established by the Rock Island RR, which bypasses Marne, Walnut, Avoca and Hancock.  The last train on the mainline runs through Walnut September 14th.  The tracks east of Walnut are immediately torn up.

1953 - The new Calvary Baptist Church basement is completed and services are held there, at the corner of Walnut and Summit streets.  The complete building is finished in 1955.

1954 - New mercury vapor street lights are installed, which provide more light, are taller, and are easier to maintain.  They are set in the sidewalk and not on the street as the old 5-globe light poles were.

1954 - Our football team goes 7-2, the school's best record to date.  Larry Koehrsen is named to the Des Moines Register's all-state team, WHS's first such honor.

1954 - A traffic light is installed at the intersection of Pearl and Central streets.

1955 - Walnut fields a girls high school softball team for the first time.

1956 - Area schools are consolidated into the new Walnut Community School District, effectively closing all rural and township schools in the region.

1956 - The WHS girls basketball team is crowned conference champions for the first time since 1936.  They lose to Oakland in a close game in the district finals. Guard Mable Dorscher is named to the Des Moines Register's All-State First Team, Walnut's first girl all-stater and only first-teamer.

1957 - The WHS girls basketball team is district champion and qualifies for the state tournament, losing out to eventual champion Garrison in the first round.  The tournament was played without divisions - only 16 teams qualified for the tournament.

1957 - Our high school medley relay team qualifies for both the indoor and outdoor state tournaments, made up of David Drake, Bob Eslick, Max Bornholdt, and Larry Koos.

1957 - Larry Koos is crowned state champion in the 440 yard dash, class C, at the state indoor meet in Iowa City.

1957 - Walnut's Midgets make it to the championship of the district 7 tournament in Legion baseball, losing to Casey in the finals.

1958 - A new Catholic Church is built on the SW corner of North and Central streets.  It still stands today.

1958 - Walnut High School's FFA Chapter is organized for the first time.  Boys had participated in Atlantic or Harlan chapters prior to this time.  Dennis Brix is the first president of the group.

1958 - Gene Young of Walnut is crowned Class C champion in the football throw at the Iowa High School State Track and Field meet.

1958 - Iowa Power and Light Company takes over as the provider of electricity for the town, spelling the end of our municipal light plant after 54 years.

1958 - The Rock Island closes the Walnut depot permanently.  Short-line rail service to Avoca, Hancock and Harlan will be discontinued by 1967.

1959 - A new Legion Hall is opened downtown, in the former Moritz Meat Locker site on the east side of the downtown block.  It is still in use today.

1961 - A new watertower is built on west North Street, and the old Standpipe on the school grounds is taken down.

1961 - A large new addition to the school is completed, which conjoins the auditorium with the old school and adds a new wing to the south.  The cost is $273,500.

1961 - Alvin Koehrsen of Walnut is murdered in an attempted car-jacking in Council Bluffs.  Both men involved were given the death penalty.

1962 - Walnut High School changes its name and mascot from Cardinals to Warriors.

1962 - Prairie Rose Lake and State Park is dedicated by Governor Norman Erbe.  State funds of $269,000 were appropriated for the project which took three years  to complete.

1963 - New sewer lagoons are built southeast of town, at a cost of $53,000.

1964 - The Peace Haven Home for Retired Persons is completed on north Central street.  It is at the time the only retirement home in the county.  It sits on five acres of land donated by Mr. and Mrs. Oscar Petersen.

1964 - Maria Concepcion Casamitjana of Barcelona, Spain becomes Walnut's first AFS foreign exchange student, hosted by the Albert Schirm family.  This program continues at WHS for the next 45 years.

1965 - Walnut opens a new library on the west side of Central Street in the downtown block.  The Historical Room in the back is dedicated in 1966.

1965 - Interstate 80 is opened near Walnut.  Several families who moved to Walnut as part of the construction crew remain in Walnut, Robert and Izetta Dierking and Leo and Bobbi Rechtenbach to this day.

1966 - Walnut opens a new expanded post office south of the Legion Hall downtown, at the spot it had held since the 1880s.  It is still in operation today at this location.

1967 - The last piece of mail is delivered via train to Walnut.  The local train service between Walnut, Avoca, Shelby and Minden is discontinued. 

1968 - The Best Western Hotel chain opens The Colonial Motor Inn and Restaurant at the I-80 interchange.  It is still in operation today under a different name.

1969 - Roger Carroll of rural Walnut is killed in action in Vietnam.  He is awarded 9 posthumous awards for his bravery.

1969 - Roger Pierce of rural Walnut is named "Star Farmer" for the southwest district of the Iowa FFA.  Walnut would have only three other farmers win this award:  Brad Kay ('81), Darwin Holtz ('83), and Grant Stuart ('98).

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