10 Oldest Cities In Iowa

We scoured the internet to determine the towns and cities in Iowa that have been around the longest.

HomeSnacks is reader-supported. When you click through real estate links on our site, we earn an affiliate commission. Learn more.

Swipe left for slideshow. Article continues below.

You might think your town is old, but it probably isn’t the oldest in the country.

That is unless you live in St. Augustine, FL. Which looks pretty good for being 454 years old.

That’s older than America for those playing at home.

So that got us thinking, what is the oldest city in Iowa? And how old is that when you put it into perspective of St. Augustine or American Independence in 1776?

Because even if your Iowa city or town is old, it isn’t really all that old in the grand scheme of things. For example, the Pyramids in Egypt were built around 2600 BC, a cool 4100 years before St. Augustine.

And now that we have you thinking about how the time line of your existence is really kind of unimpressive on the timeline of history, let’s drop right into the analysis.

These are the 10 oldest cities and towns in the Hawkeye State according to their ‘date of foundation’:

  1. Davenport (Photos)
  2. Keokuk (Photos)
  3. Des Moines (Photos)
  4. Marshalltown (Photos)
  5. Council Bluffs (Photos)
  6. Mount Pleasant (Photos)
  7. Storm Lake (Photos)
  8. Oskaloosa (Photos)
  9. Fairfield (Photos)
  10. Orange City (Photos)

For being 182 years old, Davenport doesn’t look a day over 40. And the newest city in Iowa? That would be Urbandale — a brand spanking 1 years old.

Read on for a look at the oldest places in Iowa or feel free to check out the best places to live in Iowa or the safest.

How We Determined When A City Was Founded In Iowa… Or Is It Settled?

Surprisingly, there’s not a definitive data set that contains the dates of incorporation or settlement for cities in America. Put differently, there’s no official data set from the Census that contains when every place in America was founded.

So what did we do instead?

Use the internet’s version of official government data — Wikipedia of course!

For the majority of cities in Iowa, Wikipedia offers data on some kind of ‘date of foundation’ in the infobox. Unfortunately, because it’s Wikipedia and not a sprawling government bureaucracy, that can take the form of any of the following nomenclature (plus others):

  • Founded
  • Settled
  • Incorporated
  • Approved
  • Chartered

And then even more stuff — for example Atlanta has a ‘Terminus’ date, whatever that is.

If no ‘date of foundation’ was found in the infobox, we looked to the general text in the History section of the city for ‘Founded in XXXX’.

All in all, we were able to collect data on 77 out of 79 in Iowa with over 5,000 people. That’s good for a 97.5% completion rate.

We then ranked them from oldest to newest with Davenport turning out to be the matriarch of Iowa at the ripe old age of 182.

Here’s a look at the top ten and a snippet of their history from Wikipedia.

1. Davenport

Davenport, Iowa

Population: 102,268
Founded: 1836
Age: 182
The land was originally owned by the historic Sauk people, Meskwaki (Fox), and Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) Native American tribes. France lay claim to this territory as part of its New France and Illinois Country in the 18th century. Its traders and missionaries came to the area from Canada (Quebec), but it did not have many settlers here. After losing to Great Britain in the Seven Years’ War, France ceded its territory east of the Mississippi River to the victor, but retained lands to the west.

In 1803 France sold its holdings in North America west of the Mississippi River to the United States under the Louisiana Purchase. Lieutenant Zebulon Pike was the first United States representative to officially visit the Upper Mississippi River area. On August 27, 1805, Pike camped on the present-day site of Davenport.

2. Keokuk

Keokuk, Iowa

Population: 10,484
Founded: 1848
Age: 170
Situated between the Des Moines and Mississippi rivers, the area that became Keokuk had access to a large trading area and was an ideal location for settlers. In 1820, the US Army prohibited soldiers stationed along the Mississippi River from having wives who were Native American. Dr. Samuel C. Muir, a surgeon stationed at Fort Edwards (near present-day Warsaw, Illinois), instead resigned his commission rather than leave his Indian wife and crossed the river to resettle. He built a log cabin for them at the bottom of the bluff, and became the area’s first white settler.

3. Des Moines

Des Moines, Iowa

Source: Public domain

Population: 214,778
Founded: 1851
Age: 167
Des Moines traces its origins to May 1843, when Captain James Allen supervised the construction of a fort on the site where the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers merge. Allen wanted to use the name Fort Raccoon; however, the U.S. War Department preferred Fort Des Moines. The fort was built to control the Sauk and Meskwaki Indians, whom the government had moved to the area from their traditional lands in eastern Iowa. The fort was abandoned in 1846 after the Sauk and Meskwaki were removed from the state and shifted to the Indian Territory.

The Sauk and Meskwaki did not fare well in Des Moines. The illegal whiskey trade, combined with the destruction of traditional lifeways, led to severe problems for their society. One newspaper reported:

4. Marshalltown

Marshalltown, Iowa

Population: 27,440
Founded: 1851
Age: 167
Henry Anson was the first European settler in what is now called Marshalltown. In April 1851, Anson found what he described as “the prettiest place in Iowa.” On a high point between the Iowa River and Linn Creek, Anson built a log cabin. A plaque at 112 West Main Street marks the site of the cabin. In 1853 Anson named the town Marshall, after Marshall, Michigan, a former residence of his.

5. Council Bluffs

Council Bluffs, Iowa

Population: 62,317
Founded: 1853
Age: 165
The first Council Bluff name (singular) was actually on the Nebraska side of the river at Fort Atkinson (Nebraska) about 20 miles northwest of the current Council Bluffs. It was named by Lewis and Clark for a bluff where they met with the Otoe tribe on August 2, 1804.

6. Mount Pleasant

Mount Pleasant, Iowa

Population: 8,467
Founded: 1856
Age: 162
Mount Pleasant was first incorporated as a town by European Americans in 1842, and again in 1851.

7. Storm Lake

Storm Lake, Iowa

Population: 10,738
Founded: 1873
Age: 145
Storm Lake was incorporated in 1873. The city of Storm Lake is named from the lake where it is said a trapper experienced a severe storm.

8. Oskaloosa

Oskaloosa, Iowa

Source: Public domain

Population: 11,531
Founded: 1875
Age: 143
Oskaloosa derives its name from Ouscaloosa who, according to town lore, was a Creek princess who married Seminole chief Osceola. A local tradition was that her name meant ‘last of the beautiful.’ (This interpretation of ‘last of the beautiful’ is not correct. ‘Oskaloosa’ in the Mvskoke-Creek language means ‘black rain,’ from the Mvskoke words ‘oske’ (rain) and ‘lvste’ (black). ‘loosa’ is an English corruption of the Mvskoke word ‘lvste’. See for example the Wikipedia entry for Tuskaloosa, eponym of the town of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. In addition the Mvskoke word ‘Ouscaloosa’ means ‘Black Water’). The first European-American settlers arrived in 1835, led by Nathan Boone, youngest son of frontiersman Daniel Boone. Acting on instructions from Stephen W. Kearny, he selected this as the first site of Fort Des Moines, located on a high ridge between the Skunk and Des Moines rivers. The ridge was originally called the Narrows.

9. Fairfield

Fairfield, Iowa

Population: 10,125
Founded: 1875
Age: 143
The area now known as Jefferson County was first settled in 1836, and became Jefferson County in 1839, with the new community of Fairfield as the county seat. The name was suggested by Nancy Bonnifield, one of the settlers, because it aptly described the fair fields of the area. But also author Susan Welty suggests it was a play of words on her own name (bonny field). By 1840, Fairfield had a population of 110 and grew to 650 in 1847. The city was the site of the first and second Iowa State Fairs.

10. Orange City

Orange City, Iowa

Source: Public domain

Population: 6,123
Founded: 1884
Age: 134

Oh How Time Flies For The Oldest Towns And Cities In Iowa

So there you have it, a look at some of the oldest places to live in Iowa. If we missed your city’s ‘date of foundation’, let us know in the comments. Or feel free to take a look at the table of the oldest places in Iowa.

And now, let’s raise our glasses, to the next 100 years of existence for these cities and towns in the Hawkeye State.

And for those wondering, here are the newest additions to Iowa:

  1. Urbandale (Founded in 2017)
  2. Ankeny (Founded in 2017)
  3. Johnston (Founded in 2017)
  • These Are The 10 Best Places To Retire In Iowa
  • 10 Cheapest Places To Live In Iowa
  • These Are The 10 Best Counties To Live In Iowa
  • Detailed List Of The Oldest Cities In Iowa

    City Rank Age Year Founded
    Davenport 1 182 1836
    Keokuk 2 170 1848
    Des Moines 3 167 1851
    Marshalltown 4 167 1851
    Council Bluffs 5 165 1853
    Mount Pleasant 6 162 1856
    Storm Lake 7 145 1873
    Oskaloosa 8 143 1875
    Fairfield 9 143 1875
    Orange City 10 134 1884
    West Des Moines 11 125 1893
    Decorah 12 113 1905
    Creston 13 113 1905
    Perry 14 113 1905
    Webster City 15 113 1905
    Clear Lake 16 113 1905
    Charles City 17 113 1905
    Washington 18 113 1905
    Knoxville 19 113 1905
    Atlantic 20 113 1905
    Nevada 21 113 1905
    Oelwein 22 113 1905
    Eldridge 23 113 1905
    Estherville 24 113 1905
    Denison 25 113 1905
    Dubuque 26 113 1905
    Red Oak 27 113 1905
    Algona 28 113 1905
    Anamosa 29 113 1905
    Clarinda 30 113 1905
    Centerville 31 113 1905
    De Witt 32 113 1905
    Glenwood 33 113 1905
    Asbury 34 113 1905
    Iowa Falls 35 113 1905
    Vinton 36 113 1905
    Winterset 37 113 1905
    Cherokee 38 113 1905
    Manchester 39 113 1905
    Bondurant 40 113 1905
    Independence 41 113 1905
    Maquoketa 42 113 1905
    Cedar Rapids 43 113 1905
    Pleasant Hill 44 113 1905
    Cedar Falls 45 113 1905
    Marion 46 113 1905
    Bettendorf 47 113 1905
    Ames 48 113 1905
    Mason City 49 113 1905
    Clinton 50 113 1905
    Burlington 51 113 1905
    Ottumwa 52 113 1905
    Fort Dodge 53 113 1905
    Muscatine 54 113 1905
    Coralville 55 113 1905
    Clive 56 113 1905
    Grinnell 57 113 1905
    Waukee 58 113 1905
    North Liberty 59 113 1905
    Indianola 60 113 1905
    Le Mars 61 113 1905
    Shenandoah 62 113 1905
    Carroll 63 113 1905
    Pella 64 113 1905
    Grimes 65 113 1905
    Altoona 66 113 1905
    Sioux City 67 113 1905
    Spencer 68 113 1905
    Waterloo 69 113 1905
    Boone 70 113 1905
    Newton 71 113 1905
    Iowa City 72 113 1905
    Harlan 73 113 1905
    Hiawatha 74 68 1950
    Johnston 75 49 1969
    Ankeny 76 15 2003
    Urbandale 77 1 2017

    About Chris Kolmar

    Chris Kolmar has been in the real estate business for almost ten years now. He originally worked for Movoto Real Estate as the director of marketing before founding HomeSnacks.

    He believes the key to finding the right place to live comes down to looking at the data, reading about things to do, and, most importantly, checking it out yourself before you move.

    If you've been looking for a place to live in the past several years, you've probably stumbled upon his writing already.

    You can find out more about him on LinkedIn or his website.