History of Stuart


Founding

Stuart began as a small Quaker community by the name of Summit Grove. The first settlers arrived around 1850. The group was made up of Quakers from the states of Indiana and Ohio. The location for the town was chosen because it was the high point where the prairie and timberlands met.

Founding

Stuart began as a small Quaker community by the name of Summit Grove. The first settlers arrived around 1850. The group was made up of Quakers from the states of Indiana and Ohio. The location for the town was chosen because it was the high point where the prairie and timberlands met.

Summit Grove

Charles Stuart

Around the time of Summit Grove, a young man named Charles Stuart visited. The Vermont man was an agent for a scales company visiting the area.

Later, after serving time in the Civil War, Captain Charles Stuart made the decision to purchase land near present-day Stuart. In 1868, Captain Stuart purchased additional land in the area that became the original town of Stuart. The land set between Guthrie and Adair Counties. Around that time, the Rock Island Railroad was completed. Captain Stuart worked with railroad officials to ensure the city of Stuart would be the site of the division station as well as machine shops. Captain Stuart worked as manager and leader of the project. This plat of the town was filed on record September 29, 1870.

Throughout the early years, prominent business owners in the community invested money and land to ensure that the Rock Island Railroad would establish headquarters in Stuart. The railroad ended up writing a contract making Stuart the division headquarters forever.

Charles Stuart

Charles Stuart

Around the time of Summit Grove, a young man named Charles Stuart visited. The Vermont man was an agent for a scales company visiting the area.

Later, after serving time in the Civil War, Captain Charles Stuart made the decision to purchase land near present-day Stuart. In 1868, Captain Stuart purchased additional land in the area that became the original town of Stuart. The land set between Guthrie and Adair Counties. Around that time, the Rock Island Railroad was completed. Captain Stuart worked with railroad officials to ensure the city of Stuart would be the site of the division station as well as machine shops. Captain Stuart worked as manager and leader of the project. This plat of the town was filed on record September 29, 1870.

Throughout the early years, prominent business owners in the community invested money and land to ensure that the Rock Island Railroad would establish headquarters in Stuart. The railroad ended up writing a contract making Stuart the division headquarters forever.

1871 Stuart
Charles Stuart

1871 Stuart

Charles Stuart

Around the time of Summit Grove, a young man named Charles Stuart visited. The Vermont man was an agent for a scales company visiting the area.

Later, after serving time in the Civil War, Captain Charles Stuart made the decision to purchase land near present-day Stuart. In 1868, Captain Stuart purchased additional land in the area that became the original town of Stuart. The land set between Guthrie and Adair Counties. Around that time, the Rock Island Railroad was completed. Captain Stuart worked with railroad officials to ensure the city of Stuart would be the site of the division station as well as machine shops. Captain Stuart worked as manager and leader of the project. This plat of the town was filed on record September 29, 1870.

Throughout the early years, prominent business owners in the community invested money and land to ensure that the Rock Island Railroad would establish headquarters in Stuart. The railroad ended up writing a contract making Stuart the division headquarters forever.


Railroad Influence, Late 1800s

  • 1870s
  • 1890s
  • Through the 1870s, Stuart experienced quite a bit of growth. Various businesses started building wood framed buildings. In 1873 there was a fire causing some damage. In 1874 and 1875, planning and construction of several brick buildings began, some of which still exist. A newspaper was established in 1871, named the Stuart Locomotive.

    Construction began on railroad shops. These buildings started as wood frame, but were replaced with brick and stone over time. The engine house was continually increased over the years to eventually accommodate 38 engines. Part of the region also consisted of blacksmith, boiler, and machine shops. By 1875 there was a workforce consisting of 94 machinists/shop helpers, 45 engineers, and 45 firemen. The infamous silver engine “America” was housed for some time in the shops in Stuart. This engine was purchased at the World Exposition in Paris in 1867. This shop was the only large one on the Rock Island Line between Silvis, Illinois and Omaha, Nebraska.

    The brick train depot was constructed in 1879 with material leftover from a demolished depot in Rock Island, Illinois. This building is still standing in Stuart and can be found right on Front Street, near City Hall. This depot contained a “ladies’ and gentleman’s waiting room, station or ticket office, and a spacious baggage room.”

    Growth in Stuart continued over the years. There were rumors that the shops may move elsewhere, but they were quickly put to rest. New construction took place for incoming businesses. The people of Stuart no longer had to travel to Des Moines for their commodities, along people to stay and grow the community. Various new businesses started: banks, hotels, boarding houses, coal dealers, jewelers, cigar factory, saloons, a brewery, drug stores, hardware stores, etc.

  • By 1893 the population of Stuart had grown to 2,500 people. Improvements were constantly being made to the railroad shops. Unfortunately, the the United States panic of 1893 led to the closing of banks and led to 56 railroads going into receivership. It wasn’t until 1896 that prosperity was returned. In that period of depression, the Rock Island Railroad made decisions that had an impact on Stuart. Men were discharged from shops and the Rock Island Railroad was dissatisfied with the Stuart location. At this time, the railroad had built a north-south line from Kansas City to Minneapolis, passing through Des Moines. If that railroad had any engine troubles, they had to tow the engines 40 miles to be repaired.

    In 1896, the decision was made to move the division station from Stuart to Valley Junction. This decision led to the formation of the Improvement Club. The club worked to try to attract other business opportunities to develop local resources and bring new business to Stuart.

    The railroad didn’t leave Stuart on the date that was projected. However, on September 24, 1897, the Rock Island Railroad declared that “railroad shops at Stuart will be cleaned out by Sturday night.” A total of 400 people left Stuart within a week, followed by removal of all machinery and railroad buildings. The local newspaper renamed itself to The Stuart Herald, still in operation to this day.

Railroad Influence, Late 1800s

Depot
  • 1870s
  • 1890s
  • Through the 1870s, Stuart experienced quite a bit of growth. Various businesses started building wood framed buildings. In 1873 there was a fire causing some damage. In 1874 and 1875, planning and construction of several brick buildings began, some of which still exist. A newspaper was established in 1871, named the Stuart Locomotive.

    Construction began on railroad shops. These buildings started as wood frame, but were replaced with brick and stone over time. The engine house was continually increased over the years to eventually accommodate 38 engines. Part of the region also consisted of blacksmith, boiler, and machine shops. By 1875 there was a workforce consisting of 94 machinists/shop helpers, 45 engineers, and 45 firemen. The infamous silver engine “America” was housed for some time in the shops in Stuart. This engine was purchased at the World Exposition in Paris in 1867. This shop was the only large one on the Rock Island Line between Silvis, Illinois and Omaha, Nebraska.

    The brick train depot was constructed in 1879 with material leftover from a demolished depot in Rock Island, Illinois. This building is still standing in Stuart and can be found right on Front Street, near City Hall. This depot contained a “ladies’ and gentleman’s waiting room, station or ticket office, and a spacious baggage room.”

    Growth in Stuart continued over the years. There were rumors that the shops may move elsewhere, but they were quickly put to rest. New construction took place for incoming businesses. The people of Stuart no longer had to travel to Des Moines for their commodities, along people to stay and grow the community. Various new businesses started: banks, hotels, boarding houses, coal dealers, jewelers, cigar factory, saloons, a brewery, drug stores, hardware stores, etc.

  • By 1893 the population of Stuart had grown to 2,500 people. Improvements were constantly being made to the railroad shops. Unfortunately, the the United States panic of 1893 led to the closing of banks and led to 56 railroads going into receivership. It wasn’t until 1896 that prosperity was returned. In that period of depression, the Rock Island Railroad made decisions that had an impact on Stuart. Men were discharged from shops and the Rock Island Railroad was dissatisfied with the Stuart location. At this time, the railroad had built a north-south line from Kansas City to Minneapolis, passing through Des Moines. If that railroad had any engine troubles, they had to tow the engines 40 miles to be repaired.

    In 1896, the decision was made to move the division station from Stuart to Valley Junction. This decision led to the formation of the Improvement Club. The club worked to try to attract other business opportunities to develop local resources and bring new business to Stuart.

    The railroad didn’t leave Stuart on the date that was projected. However, on September 24, 1897, the Rock Island Railroad declared that “railroad shops at Stuart will be cleaned out by Sturday night.” A total of 400 people left Stuart within a week, followed by removal of all machinery and railroad buildings. The local newspaper renamed itself to The Stuart Herald, still in operation to this day.

Railroad Workers

Railroad Influence, Late 1800s

  • 1870s
  • 1890s
  • Through the 1870s, Stuart experienced quite a bit of growth. Various businesses started building wood framed buildings. In 1873 there was a fire causing some damage. In 1874 and 1875, planning and construction of several brick buildings began, some of which still exist. A newspaper was established in 1871, named the Stuart Locomotive.

    Construction began on railroad shops. These buildings started as wood frame, but were replaced with brick and stone over time. The engine house was continually increased over the years to eventually accommodate 38 engines. Part of the region also consisted of blacksmith, boiler, and machine shops. By 1875 there was a workforce consisting of 94 machinists/shop helpers, 45 engineers, and 45 firemen. The infamous silver engine “America” was housed for some time in the shops in Stuart. This engine was purchased at the World Exposition in Paris in 1867. This shop was the only large one on the Rock Island Line between Silvis, Illinois and Omaha, Nebraska.

    The brick train depot was constructed in 1879 with material leftover from a demolished depot in Rock Island, Illinois. This building is still standing in Stuart and can be found right on Front Street, near City Hall. This depot contained a “ladies’ and gentleman’s waiting room, station or ticket office, and a spacious baggage room.”

    Growth in Stuart continued over the years. There were rumors that the shops may move elsewhere, but they were quickly put to rest. New construction took place for incoming businesses. The people of Stuart no longer had to travel to Des Moines for their commodities, along people to stay and grow the community. Various new businesses started: banks, hotels, boarding houses, coal dealers, jewelers, cigar factory, saloons, a brewery, drug stores, hardware stores, etc.

  • By 1893 the population of Stuart had grown to 2,500 people. Improvements were constantly being made to the railroad shops. Unfortunately, the the United States panic of 1893 led to the closing of banks and led to 56 railroads going into receivership. It wasn’t until 1896 that prosperity was returned. In that period of depression, the Rock Island Railroad made decisions that had an impact on Stuart. Men were discharged from shops and the Rock Island Railroad was dissatisfied with the Stuart location. At this time, the railroad had built a north-south line from Kansas City to Minneapolis, passing through Des Moines. If that railroad had any engine troubles, they had to tow the engines 40 miles to be repaired.

    In 1896, the decision was made to move the division station from Stuart to Valley Junction. This decision led to the formation of the Improvement Club. The club worked to try to attract other business opportunities to develop local resources and bring new business to Stuart.

    The railroad didn’t leave Stuart on the date that was projected. However, on September 24, 1897, the Rock Island Railroad declared that “railroad shops at Stuart will be cleaned out by Sturday night.” A total of 400 people left Stuart within a week, followed by removal of all machinery and railroad buildings. The local newspaper renamed itself to The Stuart Herald, still in operation to this day.

Depot

Railroad Workers

Bonnie and Clyde

One of the more popular things to happen to Stuart is the robbing of the First National Bank on April 16, 1934 by the infamous crime couple Bonnie and Clyde. The building still exists, currently the home to a hair salon. A sign above the doorway on the exterior mentions the place as the location of the crime. The building is at the intersection of 2nd and Division Streets.

First National Bank
First National Bank

Bonnie and Clyde

One of the more popular things to happen to Stuart is the robbing of the First National Bank on April 16, 1934 by the infamous crime couple Bonnie and Clyde. The building still exists, currently the home to a hair salon. A sign above the doorway on the exterior mentions the place as the location of the crime. The building is at the intersection of 2nd and Division Streets.


1960s to Now

  • 1960s
  • 1990s to Today
  • During the 1960s Interstate 80 was built across Iowa, going right past Stuart. This led to Stuart becoming the largest town between West Des Moines and Council Bluffs along the Interstate. This led to a greater ability for Stuart residents to commute to work in Des Moines, opening access to jobs that had previously been more difficult to commute to.

  • Throughout the time from the 60s to the 90s the area near the Interstate expanded. Restaurants and gasoline stations were constructed. In the 1990s there was an increase in new construction. In this time Stuart saw three new fast food establishments, joining the two already there. Two new motels were added (bringing the Stuart total to four).

    Stuart has seen quite a bit of development in recent years. A new City Hall and Library was constructed at 119 E Front Street. Work was done to renovate the exteriors of many buildings in the downtown area. This facade project brought a historic, yet still fresh, appearance to many local businesses. Currently, Division and 2nd Streets are being replaced in the downtown area to bring a new, high-quality street and sidewalk area to the downtown.

    For more about current and future development projects, view the SEED page (Stuart Enterprise for Economic Development).

1960s to Now

  • 1960s
  • 1990s to Today
  • During the 1960s Interstate 80 was built across Iowa, going right past Stuart. This led to Stuart becoming the largest town between West Des Moines and Council Bluffs along the Interstate. This led to a greater ability for Stuart residents to commute to work in Des Moines, opening access to jobs that had previously been more difficult to commute to.

  • Throughout the time from the 60s to the 90s the area near the Interstate expanded. Restaurants and gasoline stations were constructed. In the 1990s there was an increase in new construction. In this time Stuart saw three new fast food establishments, joining the two already there. Two new motels were added (bringing the Stuart total to four).

    Stuart has seen quite a bit of development in recent years. A new City Hall and Library was constructed at 119 E Front Street. Work was done to renovate the exteriors of many buildings in the downtown area. This facade project brought a historic, yet still fresh, appearance to many local businesses. Currently, Division and 2nd Streets are being replaced in the downtown area to bring a new, high-quality street and sidewalk area to the downtown.

    For more about current and future development projects, view the SEED page (Stuart Enterprise for Economic Development).

Wind Turbine

**Much of the above information and historic photos come from the Stuart Centennial Book**


Historic Places

Four buildings in Stuart are on the National Register of Historic Places

Rock Island Railroad Depot
Rock Island Railroad Depot

The Rock Island Depot

The Depot underwent a restoration project beginning the summer of 2002. The depot was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. The depot can be found on Front Street near the Stuart water tower.


Saints Center
Saints Center

Saints Center for Culture and the Arts

This ornate, Byzantine style church was burned down by an arsonist in 1995. The church was originally built in 1908-1910. The church was added to the Register soon after the fire. A restoration process was undergone and the church now serves as a community cultural location. The church can be viewed at 320 N Fremont Street. To learn more about the Saints Center or book the venue for an event, visit their website here.


Masonic Temple
Masonic Temple

The Masonic Temple

The Masonic Temple is a historic building housing the town clock. The building was added to the Register in 1996. Initial construction of the building took place in 1894. Jacob Bates donated and paid for installation of the clock. Public funds helped to build the tower above the Masonic Temple, making the tower visible all over the town. The exterior has been restored and the interior renovated with apartments, offices, and retail outlets. The building is located at 111 NW 2nd Street.


Hotel Stuart
Stuart Hotel

Hotel Stuart

This historic hotel in Stuart was added to the National Registry in 2013. The hotel recently underwent a restoration project and can be viewed at 203 E Front Street, across the street from the Rock Island Railroad Depot.