Students Can See Iola’s Changes Through Years

Bret Plumlee, Health Editor

In 1859, a group of settlers made up of people from Humboldt and Cofachique decided that they wanted to relocate the Allen County’s seat. That town would become known as Iola, named after J.F. Colborn’s wife.

By 1870, the population of Iola had increased to 1,500. The railroad had come to town, as well as a plethora of stores, including dry goods, groceries, clothing, and apothecaries. The population would remain at about 1,500 until 1895. In 1895, giant gas pools were found underneath of Iola. From 1895 to 1904, Iola would grow to more than 11,000 people.

However, by the 1910s Iola had used much of the natural gas, forcing the industries out of Iola to richer fields. With the loss of Industry, so began the decline of Iola’s population. But, Iola still built new buildings for the schools during the 20s and 30s.

After World War II, Iola continued to improve and expand its utilities, improve its water purification system, resurface and pave residential streets, and build new hospitals, National Guard Armory, business structures and homes. Manufacturers were attracted to town in the latter 1900s, shoring up the health of Iola and carrying it into today.

Following are scenes from Iola’s past and present, giving Allen Community College students an easy way to take a flashback to their new home’s history. The pairs of photographs show iconic buildings in Iola from yesteryear and their replacements today.

The historic Allen County Courthouse was built in 1904 and remained standing until 1959. It was replaced by the current courthouse (below) later that year. The clock and bell were taken from the top of the courthouse and moved to the south side of the square. They run in commemoration of the 1904 courthouse.


The Iola Catholic Church on South Jefferson Street was built in 1903, because of the rapid expansion of the area’s Catholic population. The church’s sight was originally home to the Methodist Church of Iola, but due to growth they had to expand as well. The tall steeple in the historic photo was lost in a 1986 wind storm.

The Grand Theatre on West Jackson Avenue began construction in 1903 and was opened in 1904. It was designed by architect F.M. Anderson. The theatre held around 550 people. It was also the site of the trial of Iola’s most infamous criminal, Charlie Melvin. The Theatre began showing movies in 1914 and was later closed in 1926.

Iola’s Riverside Park on South State Street has been in existence for nearly 150 years. It was originally bought from the fair board, because it was an area with magnificent oak trees and it would be the perfect area for people to relax by the river. It has been subject to many changes and upgrades since its induction to Iola. It’s also been the site of many of Iola’s sporting events.

Iola boasts the largest town square in the United States. It is two blocks long by two blocks wide. Only one other square is as big, but due to it having a street through one side, Iola claims the fame. To this day no one had disputed Iola’s claim of being home to the nation’s largest town square.