Island Park

Once a home to hobos, bootleggers


"A Beautiful View in Island Park"

Picture taken by Roseanna Zehner

Island Park in Rock Rapids is one of the largest and most scenic city parks in northwest Iowa. It's a great place to go for a picnic in the shade, to fish, for a leisurely stroll, for children to play and for families to camp. But in the beginning, it was neither an island nor a park. Records show that in 1846 the tract of land was granted to the State of Iowa by the U.S. Government to aid in construction of railroads. The site was conveyed to the Des Moines Valley Railroad Co. in 1869 and later to an English investor, then to Augustus Frank and finally, in 1887, to the Cedar Rapids-Iowa Falls and Northwestern Railroad Co.

In 1889, the railroad was granted permission to build a canal to prevent ice from destroying the railroad bridge during spring thaw. Thus, the island was formed.

The island formed by the canal became a curious spot for residents, so the railroad built a wooden stairway from the bridge down to the island.

In those early days, the island was a "jungle" of trees inhabited by hoboes and two bootleggers. According to legend (or foggy memories), each of the bootleggers had a small shack from which they dispensed their wares. These shacks were not visible from the bank of the river because of the dense growth of brush and trees. But the patrons could follow the paths from the river to the shacks. There were two small plank bridges which patrons could cross without getting their feet wet.

It was in the summer of 1909 that the town of Rock Rapids bought the property. A clean-up day was celebrated with most of the town's able-bodied men doing the work of trimming, cutting, hauling and burning. The women served the noon meal on temporary tables in the shade of the great trees.

That was the official beginning. Later came these developments:

  • The construction of the big dam in the north part of the park, the stepping stones below which have thrilled youngsters for decades and the low concrete bridge below the dam
  • Two bridges cross the canal creek.
  • Roads and shelter houses.
  • Mini-zoo.
  • Playground areas.
  • Camping facilities

The original river swimming hole was located in what is now the north part of the park and where the big dam is located in the bend of the river. In 1927, after the smaller dam was built in the south end of the park, a new swimming hole was developed. There was even a bathhouse. When the dam went out one spring, the old swimming hole went, too.

Since then the dam has been repaired but the old swimming hole was silted in and, besides, there's now a modern pool/aquatic center on the edge of the park.

There were weekly band concerts during the park's glory days. The stone and concrete band stand remains as a reminder of those musical times.

There have been some changes from the old days, but Island Park remains a beckoning spot for those seeking beauty and repose.


Source: West Lyon Herald
With permission of Jodie Hoogendoorn