Origin of Ames

Ames is located at the confluence of the Skunk River and Squaw Creek in Washington and Franklin townships of Story County, almost in the geographical center of the state.  The earliest evidence of human activity in this area is documented by artifacts from the Middle Archaic Period (6,000-500 B.C.).  More common, however, is evidence from the Middle Woodland Period.

The first Euro-American settlers to arrive in Story County were the families of Dan and Mormon Ballard who settled in a grove northeast of Huxley in 1848.  Story County was not officially organized until 1853 when the U.S. government sold 200 acres of land to John Jennings where the Moose Lodge is presently located.  Other early transactions involved Otho French, Jesse Turner, Berzultra Mitchell, Joshua Grove, and Joseph Arrasmith.

1905 Dairy Wagon on Duff Avenue
Farwell T. Brown Photographic Archive

Land for an agricultural college was secured by Story County citizens in 1859.  This became Iowa Agricultural College and Experimental Farm that officially opened in 1869.  In the mid-1800s the bottom land around Ames was swampy and difficult to traverse.  Nonetheless, land was purchased from the U.S. government by Cynthia O. Duff, who deeded the land on November 26, 1864 to railroad magnate, John Insley Blair.  The first settlement was made along his Cedar Rapids and Missouri River Railroad (later the Chicago and North Western Railway).

The original town consisted of twelve blocks laid out and platted by The John I. Blair Land Company in 1865. Boundaries were the railroad on the south, Duff Avenue on the east, 8th Street on the north, and Burnett Avenue to the west. Ames was incorporated as a village in 1870 at a time when the population was slightly less than 700 residents.  (It became a city of the second class in 1893). Blair named the city in honor of Oakes Ames, a congressman from Massachusetts with railroad interests.  In 1863 Oakes Ames came to Chicago to meet Blair, who was building the Cedar Rapids and Missouri River Railroad in Iowa. They traveled on a tour of inspection, going by train as far as Marshalltown, the end of the line. Taking a stage, they traveled into our county because Blair was choosing sites for stream crossings and possible station stops. A year later, Blair would locate a station stop on the flat low lands between the Skunk and Squaw and designate it as "Ames."In 1866, the first church in Ames (Congregational) was dedicated. The speaker at the dedication, Josiah Grinnell (Grinnell College) announced he was writing to Oakes Ames to suggest that he present a bell to the church in the town that bore his name. Church records show that a formal thanks for a bell were sent in January of 1867. That bell rings yet today in the Ames, Iowa Congregational Church.

Population increased with an influx of people after the Civil War.  Many Ames families today trace their roots to the formative period between 1865 and 1870.  The outcome of competition between Ames and Nevada in 1866 was a narrow gauge railway to Des Moines (the Iowa and Minnesota Railroad completed in 1874) for Ames, and the county seat for Nevada.

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