Skip Navigation

University of Nebraska–Lincoln

  • Virtual Nebraska Logo

Virtual Nebraska

Nebraska...Our Towns

Cedar Rapids

Boone County

An early photo of the Cedar Rapids Flour Mill along the Cedar River. Built in 1879-80 by the Cedar Rapids Improvement Company, a group of very strong-willed people, this business was used to attract people to the new town. It was successful in doing just that.
Artist's sketch of Cedar Rapids, 1884, showing the railroad spur into the mill, the race cut across the bend in the river supplying the power, and two bridges into town.
Main Street looking west in the 1940s.
The same view of Cedar Rapids in 1984.
Aerial of Cedar Rapids, 1983.

A great number of settlers were arriving in the Cedar River Valley and establishing homes by 1873. A village called "Dayton," sometimes referred to as "Sod City," emerged. With a population of about 60, it had a post office, general merchandise store, shoe shop, a blacksmith, and a school.

In 1879 a group of very strong-willed people moved into the area and began to make plans to establish their own village nearby. They acquired land from the railroad and platted a town which they called "Cedar Falls." It was soon changed to "Cedar Rapids" since there were actually no falls -- only rapids -- on that part of the Cedar River. Known as the Cedar Rapids Improvement Company, they worked diligently to get people and businesses to locate in their town.

The village was built around a flour mill that used the river for power. The post office and school were moved from Dayton in 1882, prior to the railroad's arrived in 1884. The population continued to grow and on April 19, of that year, Cedar Rapids was incorporated. By 1900 the town had a population of 559. The 1980 census lists the population at 447.

In addition to usual businesses and shops, Cedar Rapids had a brickyard, a concrete factory, a tin shop, a creamery, an opera house, a bus line, and a horse racing track.

In 1904 there were six churches: Episcopal, Methodist, Baptist, Seventh Day Adventist, Catholic, and German Lutheran. There are still three churches, all 100 or more years old: Lutheran, Methodist, and Catholic.

A school was built in 1887 from brick manufactured just west of town. In 1927 a new high school was erected and the old building was used as a grade school. This burned down in 1938 and a modern brick building was built to replace it.

In the 1960s, the Cedar Rapids Public School received state-wide publicity for student projects and innovations in curriculum. Cedar Rapids became the "girls track center" of the state, as the famed "Road Runners" were featured in articles in the "Omaha World Herald." This original track team not only produced an Olympic athlete, Carol Jean Moseke, but generated interest to the point where girl's athletics in the curriculums of all Nebraska high schools is now a reality. Cedar Rapids was also a pioneer in promoting girls basketball and sent teams to the state tournament in 1977, 1978, and 1982.

In 1971 a new gym was built. Murals painted on the walls by art students from 1973 to the present time continue to bring notoriety. The Class of 1974 established a tradition of donating blood to the local blood mobile. In 1985 land donated to the community was used to create the beautiful athletic field that includes a lighted football field, track, softball field, outdoor classroom, physical education obstacle course, and trees of all types.

A Catholic elementary school was built in 1911, and a high school was added in 1924. Shifts in population caused the high school to close in the 1930s and the elementary school in 1969. Their buildings were purchased by the public school and are presently used for grades K-6 and the hot lunch program.

The Community Club was organized in 1905 and is still going strong. The group sponsors many annual events such as a community picnic, an Easter egg hunt, "Santa Days," and a melodrama. It raises money to beautify the parks, build playground equipment, and put in a tennis court. In 1969 it helped establish a swimming pool. The Community Club was also the main organizing force in persuading doctors to come to the area. It also helped towards the building of a new medical clinic and raised money for some of the equipment for use in the clinic in 1977.

Cedar Rapids celebrated its centennial in 1984. Community Club committees produced a centennial cookbook, a history, and organized the Valentines Day dance, wild game feed, beard club, old-fashioned picnic, carnival, style show, and talent contest.

Cedar Rapids, in the beautiful Cedar Valley, is surrounded by a farming area where corn, soybeans, wheat, and hay are grown, and cattle, hogs, and sheep are raised. It is a progressive town with many new homes, over a dozen businesses on Main Street, and several home-grown businesses and shops throughout the village.

By Kim Schilousky, Village Clerk, Box 347, Cedar Rapids, NE 68627, and Marilyn Schuele.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Cedar Rapids Centennial History Book ; History of Cedar Rapids, 1902 ; and Cedar Rapids Centennial Cook Book; available at the village office.