US GenWeb
Plymouth County


Iowa GenWeb


Up to 1856: The Yankton Nation

The area that is presently called Plymouth County was previously within the Yankton nation of the people the French traders called the Sioux. As early as 1784, French traders did business along the Missouri River. Though the Big Sioux River wasn't a major route, the Plymouth area is only 5 miles up the Big Sioux from the Missouri, so we can presume that some traders ventured into the Plymouth area. The region became a U.S. territory in 1803, but it's doubtful the local Sioux recognized this arrangrment. In 1804, Lewis and Clark travelled up the Missouri, but they didn't travel up the Big Sioux.

"Pioneer Days In Plymouth County" written by W.L. Clark

"History of the Counties of Woodbury and Plymouth, Iowa, Chicago: A.Warner and Co., 1890-91" Also, included is from the title: Northwestern Iowa: It's History and Tradition

Atchison Daily Globe, Atchinson, Kansas, January 15, 1887

1856-1868: White Settlements and Institutions

Plymouth County was established by the state government in 1851, then organized in 1853. The first white settlers arrived in 1856, and established the communities of Westfield and Melbourne in that same year. The first settlers were from Germany, Luxemburg, and Ireland.

In 1859, Melbourne was chosen as the county seat. The county's first court house and public school were constructed, and the first church was organized, in Melbourne in that same year. By 1861, there were 32 students registered in the school. The Board of Supervisors system for Plymouth County was established in 1860. Melbourne was the county seat for 13 years.

1869-1879: The Railroad and Le Mars

Le Mars was founded in 1869. The name is said to have been derived from the first names of five ladies who visited the site with a railroad official. The new railroad bypassed Melbourne. For this and other reasons, the county seat was moved to Le Mars in 1872. In the following year, funding was approved for a new court house and jail in Le Mars.

Settlers continued to flow into the county. Dutch immigrants began to arrive in 1869, and founded Orange City, just outside Plymouth County.

By 1871 there were 319 children in school - about ten times the amount of ten years earlier. Grade school was held in Le Mars as early as 1875. The first high school was built in 1877.

Although most early churches did not survive, several today can trace their origin to the 1870's and 1880's.

1880-1899: The Railroads and Anglicization

Many English moved to the region during the 1880s.

Milton L. Keizer has provided specific details to the history of Plymouth County, as regards to the naming of the City of LeMars. "A close scrutiny of my mother's Birthday Book reveals that the final name is Sarah Reynolds, not Selma as previously posted.  Special crediting given to my mother , Amy Lucille Darville (1896-1998), with capturing this bit of history in her Favorite Poets birtday book. I merely reported it. Thanks, Milt "

The date of the naming was 1870, and there were SIX wives of the most prominent Illinois Central RR executives who selected the city's name by using their initials:

L - Lucy Underhill
E - Elizabeth Persons
M - Mary Weare
A - Anna Blair
R - Rebecca Smith
S - Sarah Reynolds

The Iowa Land Company was established by the Close brothers, who had immigrated from England in the late 1870s and settled in Le Mars. This company developed and sold land it had purchased from the railroads in Northwestern Iowa and Southwestern Minnesota. Their developments attracted large numbers of English immigrants to the area, and undoubtedly made the Close brothers a fortune.

Western Union college, later known as Westmar University, was established in 1890.


The present red sandstone Court House was erected in 1900.

One of the most significant events in the county's history occurred in the 1930's, during the Great Depression. It was the Holiday Movement. In 1932 farmers attempted to raise prices by withholding their product from the market. Unfortunately, violence erupted and involved many injuries. In 1933, more violence occurred due to farm foreclosures.


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