HISTORY OF ROCK FALLS
Rock Falls is in the same county as Mason City, in fact it is older than Mason City. In 1853, a Mr. Elijah Wiltfong settled here. There are several reasons why a town is started, and there are many things which make a town grow into a big city. Before Mr. Wiltfong came here it is said that some Indians had a village about a mile up the Shell Rock river, but no white people lived here then. When Mr. Wiltfong was exploring the country, he noticed a waterfall in the river here. He thought to himself "this would be a good place to start a town, for we need water and wood to have people want to build here. With a waterfall, we could have water power to run mills to grind wheat for flour, and to run a saw for a saw mill to make lumber to build with". So he bought some land and laid out some lots for his town. Because the river was named the Shell Rock he called his town "Shell Rock Falls". This was in 1855. Later the named was changed and the Shell was dropped. A man came and put up a saw mill. Someone else built a store, a church was started in the homes and a school was begun in someone's home. Soon the government started a post office and so the town was made.
A dam in the river was built for water power for the mill, but every spring when the ice went out of the river the dam went out too. Then someone else would try to build a better dam, but the ice always took it out. Finally a 20 foot high one was built and it lasted many years. A great mill was built to grind grain It was near the bridge. Then the town was really busy. Farmers brought their grain in with oxen hitched to their wagons. In 1872, a railroad came through the town and a spur was built up to the mill so barrels of flour and oatmeal could be shipped out. Ice was also shipped to St. Louis to keep thin things cold in the summer time.
The town also started a cemetery. It is the oldest in the county. In 1882 the town was Incorporated and a mayor and councilmen have ruled the town since. Several small hotels kept people who were traveling through the town. More stores and blacksmith shops, even hat shops for the ladies. Elevators to store the grain in were built. Meat markets- and finally a bank. But some how people didn't stay long. They went further west, or to other towns nearby. The farmers had trouble with their wheat. It got rust, so they had to turn to other crops to raise. Then in 1888 the river ice made trouble again. This time it took out the 20 foot dam and some of the houses in the south part of town and swept them down river. The bridge was also taken out. Since there was no power with the dam gone, they had to turn to steam power, but some how the mill just never got on it's feet again. It was at one time the largest in the state of Iowa. Some years later the owner ordered it blown up. Now there is very little left to show that it was there. Soon people began to leave town and different stores closed. The last hotel was torn down. There was one store, The Bliem Brothers which lasted for over 50 years. And the bank, lumber yard, blacksmith and the DX filling station all kept open. In late years the Bank moved to Mason City.
When car were invented, numerous people could drive to work in other cities and so were have about 155 people who live in our town because they like it here. In fact several new homes have been built lately. The oldest business in town was the gas station, it was closed for many years and is now a beauty shop. The bank is the City Hall building. The school building is the Community Center. The County Conservation Park has brought more people out this way for camping and picnics, so that many more people now know where Rock Falls is. In the year 2005 the town will be 150 years old.
DATE FOUNDED: In late 1851 or early 1852, Elijah Wiltfong settled on the Shellrock River, at Shell Rock Falls in the northeastern part of Cerro Gordo County. By 1854 several families had settled near Shill Rock Falls including Richard Moore, H.I. Smith, Richard Morris, Marlin Brown and Robert Campbell. The village was placed in IBSS.
HOW NAMED: Rock Falls originally derived its name from a waterfall on the Shell Rock River.
NAME CHANGES: The village was known as Shell Rock Falls until the railroad depot was established as Rock Falls. Shortly afterwards, the Shell was dropped from both the village and post office names.
MAJOR INDUSTRY AT FOUNDING: A saw mill at the falls was one of the strongest industries. In time, it served first as a grist mill and then a flour mill. Ice harvested from the mill pond was a big winter Industry. In 1880, Robert Todd contracted 1,000 railroad cars to haul ice, employing 100 men and 40 horses.
POPULATION AT FOUNDING: The population of Rock Falls in 1876 was 258 people. From that high, the population fell off. In 1880, there were only 230 people in the community and in 1885, there were 175 people. In 1905, Rock Falls had only 98 residents.
POPULATION TODAY: In 2000, Rock Falls numbered 175.
NATIVE SONS: Valentine and Leonard Bliem were well known in the community for a family store that had its beginnings in pioneer days and continued as a family business until 1941. The Bliem's Brothers store first opened in 1880 as a boot and shoe store. Gradually, the operation evolved into dry goods and groceries along with a country delivery service.
LARGEST EMPLOYER TODAY: Rock Falls Grain Co., owned by Grant Cunningham of Nora Springs, employs five people.
BIGGEST EVENTS IN TOWN'S HISTORY: A flood in April 1888 caused thousands of dollars of damage to homes and businesses in Rock Falls. That spring, a heavy thunderstorm on top of several weeks of melted snow accumulating in sloughs and low lying areas caused rapid flooding. Ice flows in the river were piled up 20 feet high. During the crest of the flooding, one house was said to have been crushed like an egg shell and another swept off its foundation. When the ice gorge gave way, it swept a large 155-foot span of iron bridge away with it along with the dam. When the water receded, it left cakes of ice in the streets 10 to 15 feet high.
In 1962, the Farmers Savings Bank at Rock Falls was robbed of an estimated $700 late one morning. The bank cashier's son, John Wilkinson, was working at the bank during summer vacation from the University of Minnesota. After handing over the cash, Wilkinson and Lloyd Hansen gave chase throughout the countryside north and east of Rock Falls through Plymouth, Manly, and Nora Springs. Finally, the pair ran into the ditch and the robber pulled out of sight.
BIGGEST ANNUAL EVENT: Rock Falls Fun Days have recently been celebrated the Third weekend in August to help raise money for the Rock Falls Community Center in the old school building. Festivities traditionally include softball and volleyball tournaments, a children's carnival, dinner at the community center and a Saturday evening dance.
TOWN LANDMARK: The Wilkinson Pioneer Park on the Shell Rock River was established when Edith and Rufus Wilkinson, lifetime residents of Rock Falls, gave 19 acres to the Cerro Gordo County Conservation Board for a park. In time, the conservation board added more property to the park and improved the picnic grounds and camping areas.
COLORFUL CHARACTERS: Charles Johnson, a native of Sweden, was an early mail carrier. He was middle-aged when he began working in the Rock Falls area. One of his friends suggested it was time he got married. Gradually plans were made for Johnson, who thought of himself as being rather unsocial in his make-up," to marry a local girl. But on the appointed wedding day all the guests turned out in their finery and the bridegroom failed to show up. When friends went out looking for Johnson they found him wandering around the prairies very depressed. Apparently he had gone out that morning to show a hired man where to mow his fields, carrying his wedding clothes in a bundle. Johnson set the bundle down and couldn't find it in the tall grass. Finally, after borrowing clothes the wedding came off happily for all, if a little late.