History of Palo Alto County Iowa

In 1855, near present day, West Bend, the Carter and Evans families made the first settlement in Palo Alto County along the east bank of the Des Moines River, or the Rivere de Moingona as the early French trappers knew it. The season of 1856 saw a group of Irish immigrant families— Nolan, Neary, Mahan, Laughlin, Downey, Sylvester, Jackman, Hickey, and Crowley—settle close to the Des Moines River, near the current site of Emmetsburg. In later years, these families were joined by other Irish, European, and Scandinavian homesteaders.

Over time, a town was platted which became the county seat of Palo Alto County. The community was named Emmetsburg in honor of the Irish Patriot, Robert Emmet, who was executed in 1803 by the English government in Irelandʼs fight for independence. A bronze statue of Robert Emmet, one of only four in the world, and a piece of Ireland ʼs famous Blarney Stone are on display in the Palo Alto County Courthouse Square in Emmetsburg. The Palo Alto County communities of Ayrshire, Curlew, Cylinder, Graettinger, Mallard, Osgood, Rodman, Ruthven, and West Bend sprung up quickly along the railroad lines connecting northwest Iowa with the Eastern United States.

With its distinct Irish heritage, the culture and customs of the Old Country have been preserved. In 1962, the link to Ireland was further reinforced when the Emmetsburg Mayor and the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Ireland, made a joint proclamation declaring the two as “Sister Cities.” It was during this time that a small group of descendents of those Irish pioneers marched down Main Street, Emmetsburg wearing green derbies and carrying their Coat of Arms in honor of St. Patrickʼs Day. That spontaneous event has grown to a much anticipated annual gala three-day celebration that includes a parade, crowning of royalty, a visit from a member of the Irish Parliament, and other special activities.

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Read more about the history of Emmetsburg, Iowa.