Facts about Ames Iowa

downtown to campus train -the<br />
Farwell T. Brown Photographic Archive

Name and early industry

  • Ames was named in honor of Oakes Ames, a congressman from Massachusetts with railroad interests.  The name was proposed by industrialist and railroad magnate, John I. Blair, a friend and colleague of Mr. Ames. -Learn more-
  • The first business in Ames, begun in the summer of 1865, was operated out of the railroad depot.  Tradition has it that H.F. Kingsbury, station agent, express agent, and postmaster, added a small stock of groceries in the depot, thus becoming the earliest merchant in town.  N.A. Rainbolt soon joined Mr. Kingsbury and after a short time became sole owner, moving the business to the corner of Onondaga and Duff.
  • Streetcars carried passengers between downtown Ames and campus on the steam-powered Ames & College Railway (Dinkey) from 1891 to 1907, and on the Ft. Dodge, Des Moines & Southern Railroad's electric-trolley, interurban line from 1907 to 1929.  The fare remained constant at a nickel for 35 years until, in 1926, the fare was raised to seven cents.


  • While the name of our fair city has occasionally appeared in song, (Ames is one of the eight cities mentioned in Meredith Wilson's "Iowa Stubborn" from The Music Man), it is not generally known that Ames was the sole subject of a musical composition in 1922.  The Song of Ames, a tune in waltz-time, was published in Nevada with lyrics by S.A. Gill and music by F.O. Ingalls.  For the record, both men were Nevada residents.  Samuel Gill was an artist who painted a mural at the corner of Main Street and Lincoln Way.  Frank Ingalls was a well-known photographer and city band member.  Few would argue that the best part of this corny song is unquestionably the illustrated cover with local lass holding an oversized ear of corn.

Former Ames residents of note:

Herman Banning

Herman Banning's plane<br />
          -Miss Ames-

Farwell T. Brown Photographic Archive


  • Ames resident and ISU student, Herman Banning, became the first black flyer to obtain a federal pilot's license, and was the first black flyer to make a transcontinental flight.

Titanic Ties

  • Two Ames residents had connections with the sinking of the Titanic in 1912.  The casualty, Walter D. Douglas, was the son of George Douglass for whom Douglas Avenue was named.  Albert Caldwell, the survivor, claimed Ames as his home during the World War I years.  He was principal of Ames High School from 1914 to 1917.  For several summers he was booked on the Chautauqua circuits speaking about the Titanic's fateful voyage.

Notable Facts

  • For a town of its size, Ames has a large number of significant pipe organs in churches and on the Iowa State University campus.  In the pioneer period, reed organs pumped by the organists' feet provided accompaniment for singing and solo music during services.  One of the earliest pipe organs was located in ISU's Morrill Hall Chapel.  Although local movie theaters were never large enough or of the right vintage to have theatre organs, the Great Hall in the Memorial Union once possessed a Barton theatre organ of interesting provenance.
  • Corn alcohol-based auto fuel is considered "high tech" these days.  Actually, a blend of corn ethanol gasoline was first sold commercially in Ames as early as 1932.


Ames Downtown in            1907 - click to enlarge

1907 Ames Panorama

  • The world is ever changing, and that includes street names in Ames.  Until 1910, Main Street was named Onondaga after the county in New York state where pioneer Cynthia Duff once lived. Grand Avenue was formerly known as Hoggatt Street, after an early pioneer landowner, and was often humorously referred to as "Pig Alley."  Residents petitioned to have the name changed in 1909.  Lincoln Way was once Boone Street, and Ridgewood Avenue was originally Chautauqua Avenue.
  • Adams Funeral Home at 502 Douglas Avenue originally was the house which Captain Wallace Greeley and his wife Mary had built in 1882. Captain Greeley honored his wife with the gift to the city of the hospital which still bears her name after many additions and remodelings  Iowa State University fraternity, Sigma Chi, used the house until 1924 when Jay Adams purchased it for a funeral home.
  • Wooden blocks soaked in creosote were used to pave the city's main street as well as Grand Avenue in 1910.  Although quite effective in muffling the sound of horses hooves and clattering wagons, the blocks eventually buckled with moisture and were replaced with concrete paving in 1926.


1936 Blizzard in Ames

Farwell T. Brown Photographic Archive

  • Ames has appeared in the national media on several occasions.  The blizzard of 1942 brought a record 24 inches of snow within 24 hours, stranding a Life magazine reporter staying at the Sheldon-Munn Hotel.  A two-page spread of his photos taken on Main Street appeared in the January 19th issue.  The bombing of City Hall in May 1970 also made newspaper headlines across the country.  Of course the Veishea riots made national news as recently as April 2004.

Famous visitors to Ames have included:

Iowa State College

1911 view of ISU          Campus
  • Quaker congregations in the 1890s were not always supportive of their youth attending Iowa State College, a school where uniforms were worn and military training required.  Speaking to an assemblage at a local railway station before a youth left for Ames, an elder was quoted as praying:  "Oh, Lord, we would rather see this young man in his grave than to see him go to that infidel college."
  • The tango was banned from fraternity dances by the Inter-fraternity Council at Iowa State College in 1913.
  • The firm of Collegiate Manufacturing Company (427 Douglas) was the nation's leading supplier of college souvenirs (pennants, blankets, stuffed toy animals) for over six decades.  In addition, Collegiate made raincoats and ponchos for the military during World War II, and for this effort was awarded the prestigious Army/Navy E Award for excellence in helping the war effort.

Weightiest Resident


George Nichols in 1915

Farwell T. Brown Photographic Archive

If there ever were an award for weightiest resident, the prize would probably have gone to George Nichols.  "Fatty," as he was nicknamed, weighed close over 500 pounds, and was reported in 1915 to have a seven-foot waist line.  He had his own side show in midwest county and state fairs.  With his brother he operated the Nichols (later Morris) Livery at the east end of Main Street.


Ames Historical Society Collection


G. W. Nichols of 208 Des Moines Avenue in Ames, Iowa
Height - 5 feet
Weight - 612 pounds
Waist - 82 inches