The town of Oelwein was laid out in a corn field purchased from G.A. Oelwein on the coming of the Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Minnesota Railroad (later called the Rock Island) in 1872. Some years later the two dividing streets of Oelwein were named after his sons, Frederick and Charles.
Photo courtesy of Community Link
At the same time Otsego, one of the promising villages of Fayette County, died out. Otsego had been the trading point until the Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Minnesota Railroad was established at Oelwein and from this time on, Otsego's business was gradually absorbed by Oelwein and some buildings were removed. With the establishment of the railroad station on the Oelwein farm, Dr. I. Pattison, acting as Postmaster at Otsego, and being a farsighted gentleman and a man of action as well, got busy at once, loaded his post office into a cart and moved it to the new town of Oelwein. He thereupon notified the authorities of the post office transfer.
It is interesting to note that while the town of Oelwein is named after the Oelwein family, the Oelwein's were not the original settlers of the land. On the contrary, it was entered by a professional man at Dubuque who made it his business to enter land, add a good fee for his trouble, plus a high rate of interest, and then not turn it over to the man in whose name it was registered until he was able to pay the price. Oelwein's present site was entered in 1852 by J.B Burch. Mr. Burch built the cabin in 1852 that still stands in downtown Oelwein, in Orville Christophel Park, just north of the present Hotel Mealey. The hamlet of Oelwein was instituted in 1873; incorporated as a town in 1888 with Dr. Pattison becoming its first mayor. The town suffered its chief setback in 1887, when nearly all of the old Main Street business district (now First Avenue SE) was destroyed by fire. The 1890 population was 830 according to the census.
In January of 1892 the Chicago Great Western Railway Company took over the bankrupt Chicago, St. Paul, and Kansas City Line. The CGWRR and the master mechanic then built a small railroad car repair shop in Oelwein.
Clearing the land for the shops began in June 1894. By 1895 the population had increased to 1,928, and in 1897 Oelwein was incorporated as a city. The shops were completed and began operating in May of 1899. Oelwein became known as the "Hub City" because of the rail lines coming into town and the repair shops located here.
In 1900, 5,000 people resided within the city limits.
In 1968, the town suffered another setback when a tornado swept through the main business district and destroyed the junior high school, a grade school, two churches, many homes and businesses.
Oelwein remained a "railroad town" until the 1980s when most of the railroad business was moved. Transco Railway Products, Inc. exists in Oelwein today, employing about 70 people who repair railroad cars. Employees donated their time to refurbish a caboose and an engine that are displayed near the Hub City Heritage Museum, 26 2nd Avenue SW, the museum of railroad memorabilia.
Today Oelwein's population numbers 6,692 within its city limits with several hundred more living on the outskirts.
Photo of Oelwein's Coliseum.