Many great things are happening in Oelwein. The Northeast Iowa community is easy to locate at the intersection of Highways 3 and 150. This city of 6,451 offers a surprising number of services and activities for its size including daily newspaper, radio station, over 350 businesses, 12 city parks, fishing lake, twin-screen movie theatre, performing arts center, wellness center, sports complex, bowling alley, and more.
The Oelwein Community School district offers students many opportunities for growth and achievement, including a new Regional Academy for Math and Science. Our motto shows the value placed on a quality education program that aims to provide success for every student. Over 98% of Oelwein students graduate and over 87% go on the post-secondary education. Both public and private schools consistently rank high in science, academics, sports, music and other disciplines and have received many state and several national awards. 27% of high school students take post-secondary classes at the NICC classrooms right next door. 80% of juniors take the ACT with the group average score exceeding Iowa composite scores and well above national scores. Over 80% of students participate in extra-curricular activities. Oelwein, Hazleton, Stanley, and the surrounding rural areas make up the local school district.
The local fully-accredited hospital offers emergency services, ambulance, surgery, labs, etc. Physicians, dentists, chiropractors, and therapists meet the health needs of the community. A dozen churches offer worship services.
Oelwein is proud of the downtown area and the shopping and services it provides. The shopping district offers florists, gift shops, clothing, consignment stores, antique shops, financial services, home improvement, construction, automotive and more! The numerous and varied retail and service outlets are sure to have what you are looking for!
Recreation and entertainment include a twin-screen movie theater, two museums, Performing Arts Center, Wellness Center, bowling alley, and much more.
Lovely Walter P. Chrysler Park, located along Hwy. 150 near downtown is one of twelve Oelwein city parks. The park is named for the famed automaker Walter P. Chrysler who once lived in Oelwein working as a supervisor at the Chicago Great Western Railroad. Other parks include a 55-acre lake, campgrounds, an aquatic center, skatepark, paved hiking/biking trails, two downtown parks and a Sports Complex.
Visitors will notice several locations around town where the blue recycling bins are located. Oelwein's award-winning recycling program, along with Fayette County Recycling Center, has been collecting cardboard, paper, food cans, glass containers, plastic, and newspapers for several years to help keep our streets clean and save our landfills. Look for the Recycling page on the City of Oelwein website for details.
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.
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.