Iowa City history: Iowa Indians and construction of the capitol building

Iowa Indians Iowa City

Iowa City is one of the smartest—and healthiest—towns in the nation. Learn about this, plus interesting facts about the native Iowa Indians. (photo: Nick Rondinone/Iowa City Press-Citizen)

DealChicken spends a lot of time hunting and pecking around Iowa City to find the best deals in town. It's no wonder that along the way, he's managed to learn some interesting facts about Iowa’s favorite formal capital. From the native Iowa Indians to whimsical Moffitt houses, compare your local knowledge to DealChicken's for a battle of the wits!

Iowans are smart people! 61 percent of adults in Iowa City hold a bachelor’s degree or higher—the national average is only 27 percent. Iowa City is tied with Stamford, Connecticut for the U.S. metropolitan area with the highest percentage of degree-holding citizens. It was also voted number ten on the Top 50 Smart Places to Live by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine.

What’s in a name? Settling on the current spelling after all these variations must have been difficult: the state and city therein were named after the Iowa River, which was named after the Iowa Indians who lived in the territory. The tribal name of "Ayuxwa" was spelled by the French as "Ayoua" and then by the English as "Ioway." American settlers dropped the “y.” The state is the only one beginning with two vowels. Phew!

Have you noticed the tiny houses around Iowa City, some with concave roofs and large, tapering chimneys? It may be a Moffitt house. There are between 100 and 200 of these homes in Iowa City, designed from favorite magazine photos, imagination and whimsy by Howard Francis Moffitt. No two Moffitt houses are identical, and all were built between 1924 and 1943. There are many homes in Iowa City that look like Moffitt homes, but no one can be sure, since his building records do not exist. Described as "Mystical dwellings that look as if Germanic elves constructed houses for Irish pixies," Moffitt houses borrow from the English Cottage and American Craftsman styles of architecture, with heavy usage of recycled materials.

In 1918, the head of the University of Iowa Department of Literature had a curious side job: raising chickens. Irving King started a hatchery as a hobby on the south side of Jackson Avenue, and eventually the hatchery occupied several structures from Sheridan Avenue to Ralston Creek between the alley and Rundell Street. King found a like-minded partner in the poultry business in poet Ralph Littrell, who became the hatchery owner and operator. Farmers came to buy live chickens, locals bought dressed chickens and eggs, and school teachers brought their classes to see the chicks. Littrell's hatchery closed in 1986, and was the last one standing in the area.

Iowa City was selected as the territorial capital in 1839, and then was officially named the capital city in 1841. Construction on the capitol building had begun the year before, and the building was completed in 1842. Iowa City held the title of capital for just 15 years, until Des Moines was crowned as the head of the state in 1857 because of its central location.

Did we mention that there are a lot of smart folks here? The internationally acclaimed Writer’s Workshop at the University of Iowa has seen the likes of Kurt Vonnegut, John Irving, T.C. Boyle and Flannery O’Connor, and the university itself is recognized as one of the nation's top public colleges. The school also includes one of the largest university-owned teaching hospitals in the nation. Is it something in the water?

Nearby, Coralville Reservoir's Sugar Bottom recreation area was named one of the top 50 mountain biking trails in the country, and Lake MacBride State Park is a great place for nature lovers. Fishing year round, camping, cross country ski trails, and kayak and boat rentals can all be found within a (figurative) stone’s throw of downtown Iowa City—no wonder Men’s Health magazine named the town one of the nation’s healthiest!

Already know about the Iowa Indians and other city history? Check out the trivia of two cities—Twin Cities that is.