Humboldt, Iowa

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Humboldt, Iowa
Streetside in Humboldt
Streetside in Humboldt
Location of Humboldt, Iowa
Location of Humboldt, Iowa
Coordinates: 42°43′25″N 94°13′17″W / 42.72361°N 94.22139°W / 42.72361; -94.22139Coordinates: 42°43′25″N 94°13′17″W / 42.72361°N 94.22139°W / 42.72361; -94.22139
Country United States
State Iowa
 • MayorDan Scholl
 • Total4.80 sq mi (12.43 km2)
 • Land4.64 sq mi (12.02 km2)
 • Water0.16 sq mi (0.41 km2)
1,083 ft (330 m)
 • Total4,690
 • Estimate 
 • Density1,011/sq mi (390.3/km2)
Time zoneUTC-6 (Central (CST))
 • Summer (DST)UTC-5 (CDT)
ZIP code
Area code(s)515
FIPS code19-37560
GNIS feature ID0457717

Humboldt is a city in Humboldt County, Iowa, United States. The population was 4,690 at the 2010 census, gaining 238 people over the 2000 total.


Frank A. Gotch Park (just south of present-day Humboldt and Dakota City) was a location of prehistoric and some Dakota Indian villages near where the two forks of the Des Moines River meet. During westward expansion in the 1800s, this area is thought to be the location of a fort/trading post called Fort Confederation. According to Federal records in 1825, permission was granted to build the fort to trade with the Ihanktonwan Dakota (Yankton Sioux) Indians. Information about the exact details of the fort are unclear, such as if American or French Canadian or Metis traders built it, bringing up many questions about this fort.[4][5]

The marshland that inspired Taft still exists today. It was the former river bed for the Des Moines River.

The founder of modern Humboldt, Stephen Harris Taft, laid out the plans for Springvale, the original name of the town, in 1863. It was named Springvale because of the several natural springs found near the Des Moines River. Taft had very big plans for the community, and expected many intellectuals from the East to move to his new community.

Taft had five goals for his idyllic community.[6]

  • The town shall be surrounded and full of trees and forests.
  • The town shall be free of the sale of intoxicants.
  • The town shall be founded upon a saw mill and grist mill on the Des Moines River
  • The town shall have the moral fortitude of a solid church and good schools, and that it shall become a town of thinkers and beauty.
  • The town shall grow with a college of university importance, and have a church that will not dissent into factions.

Taft undertook the great task of turning empty, blooming prairie into the community of his dreams. He brought out a group of settlers (including a doctor) in 1863, and they lived together in the few houses that had been built. The grist mill was built, known now as the Corydon Brown House.[7] The first few years were spent laying out the town. Taft wanted very wide boulevards throughout the town, and the community is still known for its streets.[8] Taft also edited the Humboldt County True Democrat through the offices of the Fort Dodge Sentinel in Fort Dodge.[6]

Springvale was renamed Humboldt (after the German explorer and naturalist Alexander von Humboldt)[9] in hope of a merger between Springvale and Dakota City (the county seat of Humboldt County), but no merger took place.[10] This is the first of two major shortcomings that would stunt Humboldt's growth and keep it from reaching Taft's goals.

A meeting in 1866 occurred that formed the Springvale Collegiate Association, led by Taft. After the flood in 1867 that destroyed the town's dam, the issue became popular again in 1869. The association was renamed to Humboldt Collegiate Association in accordance with the town's name change. It was reported that "great enthusiasm" was the feeling in the room, however when the question was posed to the county's voters on October 12, 1869, the measure to appropriate swampland for a Northern Iowa College was defeated.[6] Taft was not defeated, however, and looked East for funding. After almost missing a payment deadline that would've sunk the college for good, Taft broke ground on June 17, 1870. He ended his address by saying "Hundreds are here present today. Tens of thousands shall gather here a hundred years hence to commemorate the birth of the institution and rejoice in the blessings it shall have conferred."[6]

Humboldt College opened its doors on September 13, 1872. The first three years were designed as preparatory work intended to supplement the pupils' public education that ended around eighth grade. The subsequent four years were college work. June 1879 brought the first graduation class of three families. They would be the only students to ever receive a degree from the institution.[6] At this time, Taft and the college were in financial trouble. An endowment fund capable of supporting Taft's vision seemed impossible to create, and following turbulent financial times in the East, the college closed in 1916. The building was razed in 1926, following unsuccessful attempts to rent the structure. Without the college, Taft's dreams of Humboldt becoming an intellectual center of knowledge in the West could not be realized.

The Liberty Fountain was built in John Brown Park in 1918 by Paul Dobberstein, best known for the nearby Grotto of the Redemption

In July 1955, when contacts between Americans and Soviets were rare, Humboldt hosted a delegation of Soviet officials (and national and international reporters) for an overnight glimpse of rural American life.[11]

On March 27, 1972, ABC-TV broadcast a half-hour documentary on Humboldt entitled "A Small Town in Iowa." The program was written and produced by Andy Rooney and narrated by Harry Reasoner, a Humboldt native.[12] The show portrayed Humboldt as a kind of paradise that struggled to keep its most talented youth from leaving for larger cities, and asked, "what is it about paradise that's turning the bright kids off?"[13] The answer, according to Reasoner and Rooney, was that "what seems to be missing is more a shortcoming of ours, than of the small town. It is that those of us with ego and ambition are not usually happy performing in front of an audience the size a small town provides."[12]

The First National Bank of Humboldt and its shareholders were the primary victims of what the Des Moines Register described as “one of the most spectacular white-collar crimes in state history.”[14] In 1982 Humboldt native Gary Vance Lewellyn, then a Des Moines stockbroker, attempted to pump up the value of the stock of a high-tech company by singlehandedly creating phony market demand for it.[15] To carry out the scheme, he illegally obtained access to bonds of the First National Bank of Humboldt valued at $16.7 million, and secretly pledged the Bank's bonds as security for his personal orders of the company's stock through Wall Street investment firms.[16] When Lewellyn missed margin calls on his stock purchases, the firms obtained the bonds.[17] Suspicious federal regulators closed the Humboldt Bank when it could not account for its missing bonds (and considered, but rejected, the idea of liquidating it).[15] Its accountholders were protected by federal insurance but the shares in the bank became worthless. For his crime, Lewellyn was sentenced to twenty years in prison,[18] but served only five years.[14] Lewellyn died in 2012.[19]


Humboldt is located at 42°43′25″N 94°13′17″W / 42.72361°N 94.22139°W / 42.72361; -94.22139 (42.723631, -94.221520).[20] According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 4.80 square miles (12.43 km2), of which 4.64 square miles (12.02 km2) is land and 0.16 square miles (0.41 km2) is water.[1]

Humboldt County is located entirely within the Des Moines Lobe of the Western Corn Belt Plains ecoregion, as defined by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). One of the flattest regions in Iowa, the Des Moines Lobe ecoregion is a distinctive area naturally defined by Wisconsin glaciation but modified by humans for extensive agriculture. In general, the land is level to gently rolling with some areas of relief defined by glacial features like moraines, hummocky knobs, and kettles, and outwash deposits. The lobe does not have any loess deposits like the Loess Hills to the west.

The stream network is poorly developed and widely spaced, with major rivers carving valleys that are relatively deep and steep-sided. Almost all of the natural lakes of Iowa are found in the northern part of this region (the Iowa Great Lakes). Most of the region has been converted from wet prairie to agricultural use with substantial surface water drainage. Only a small fraction of the wetlands remain, and many natural lakes have been drained as a result of agricultural drainage projects via drainage tiles or ditches.[21]


Humboldt, like almost all of Iowa, has a humid continental climate (Köppen Dfa). Humboldt experiences all four seasons characterized by cold winters, wet springs, hot summers, and short autumns. Wide temperature ranges are common within this climate zone.[22]

Climate data for Humboldt, Iowa
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 63
Average high °F (°C) 25
Average low °F (°C) 7
Record low °F (°C) −42
Average precipitation inches (mm) 0.88
Source: The Weather Channel[23]


Historical populations
Source:"U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2020-03-29. and Iowa Data Center
U.S. Decennial Census[24]

2010 census[edit]

As of the census[2] of 2010, there were 4,690 people, 2,091 households, and 1,250 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,010.8 inhabitants per square mile (390.3/km2). There were 2,246 housing units at an average density of 484.1 per square mile (186.9/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 94.9% White, 0.6% African American, 0.1% Native American, 0.4% Asian, 3.0% from other races, and 0.9% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 5.0% of the population.

There were 2,091 households of which 24.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 48.2% were married couples living together, 7.9% had a female householder with no husband present, 3.7% had a male householder with no wife present, and 40.2% were non-families. 35.8% of all households were made up of individuals and 17.9% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.18 and the average family size was 2.80.

The median age in the city was 45.3 years. 22.4% of residents were under the age of 18; 7.3% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 19.9% were from 25 to 44; 26% were from 45 to 64; and 24.5% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 47.7% male and 52.3% female.

2000 census[edit]

As of the census[25] of 2000, there were 4,452 people, 1,965 households, and 1,202 families residing in the city. The population density was 957.7 people per square mile (369.7/km²). There were 2,090 housing units at an average density of 449.6 per square mile (173.5/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 98.41% White, 0.20% African American, 0.04% Native American, 0.25% Asian, 0.65% from other races, and 0.45% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.50% of the population.

There were 1,965 households out of which 24.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 52.3% were married couples living together, 6.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 38.8% were non-families. 35.9% of all households were made up of individuals and 21.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.18 and the average family size was 2.84.

Age spread: 21.8% under the age of 18, 6.7% from 18 to 24, 22.9% from 25 to 44, 22.0% from 45 to 64, and 26.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 44 years. For every 100 females, there were 86.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 82.1 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $39,338, and the median income for a family was $49,526. Males had a median income of $32,438 versus $22,586 for females. The per capita income for the city was $19,656. About 4.4% of families and 7.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 15.0% of those under age 18 and 4.0% of those age 65 or over.


The Humboldt Community School District operates public schools.[26] The city is served by Mease Elementary (Dakota City), Taft Elementary School, Humboldt Middle School, and Humboldt High School.

Notable people[edit]


  1. ^ a b "US Gazetteer files 2010". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on July 2, 2012. Retrieved 2012-05-11.
  2. ^ a b "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2012-05-11.
  3. ^ "Population and Housing Unit Estimates". Retrieved September 28, 2019.
  4. ^ Frontier Forts of Iowa: Indians, Traders, and Soldiers, 1682-1862 (book) by William E. Whittaker
  5. ^ "News, Sports, Jobs - Messenger News". Archived from the original on 2016-03-05. Retrieved 13 October 2018.
  6. ^ a b c d e "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-07-26. Retrieved 2010-08-10.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. ^ "Dr. Daniel P. Russell and his Family." Humboldt County Historical Association. Dr. Russell. Archived 2011-07-26 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved August 10, 2010.
  8. ^ "Humboldt History." City of Humboldt.City of Humboldt Iowa. Archived 2007-09-19 at the Wayback Machine August 2007. Retrieved August 10, 2010.
  9. ^ Helferich, Gerard (2004). Humboldt's Cosmos. Penguin Group, 345-46. ISBN 1-59240-106-6.
  10. ^ "Humboldt History." City of Humboldt.City of Humboldt Iowa. Archived 2007-09-19 at the Wayback Machine August 2007. Accessed 2007-08-24.
  11. ^ "Good for the Corn," Time, August 8, 1955, and "Russians Learning Wonders of America," Long Beach Press-Telegram, 1955-7-26, p. A-4 (retrieved from
  12. ^ a b Linda Johnson, "Why are people leaving Utopia? Utopia is Humboldt, Ia., the residents of which were filmed for an ABC documentary last January, March 26, 1972," Des Moines Register, 1972-03-26, at 3-TV.
  13. ^ Editorial, "Paradise is Humboldt, Ia.," Des Moines Register, 1972-03-29, at 6.
  14. ^ a b Mariam Rosen, “Hot Product: World-class Embezzler Gary Lewellyn Rebounds With a Fast-Selling Treatment for A.D.D.,”, Dallas Observer, June 27, 1996
  15. ^ a b "Catch Me If You Can: A Stockbroker’s Get-Rich-Quick Scheme Goes Sour," Time, April 26, 1982
  16. ^ Federal Deposit Ins. Corp. v. First Interstate Bank of Des Moines, N.A., 885 F.2d 423, 428-29 (8th Cir. 1989); Federal Deposit Ins. Corp. v. National Ass'n of Securities Dealers, Inc., 582 F.Supp. 72, 73 (S.D. Ia. 1984).
  17. ^ In re Lewellyn & Co., Inc., 929 F.2d 424, 426 (8th Cir. 1991).
  18. ^ ”Lewellyn Gets 20-Year Term,” The New York Times, November 18, 1982
  19. ^ "1980s Iowa bank embezzler Gary Lewellyn dead at 63", Des Moines Register, July 5, 2012
  20. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2011-02-12. Retrieved 2011-04-23.
  21. ^  This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Geological Survey document: Chapman, S.S., Omernik, J.M., Griffith, G.E.; et al. "Ecoregions of Iowa and Missouri" (PDF).CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) (color poster with map, descriptive text, summary tables, and photographs)
  22. ^ Steven Ackerman; John Knox (2006). Meteorology: Understanding the Atmosphere. Cengage Learning. p. 419. ISBN 978-1-305-14730-0.
  23. ^ "Humboldt, Iowa Monthly Weather". The Weather Channel. TWC Product and Technology LLC. 2020. Retrieved April 11, 2020.
  24. ^ "Census of Population and Housing". Retrieved June 4, 2015.
  25. ^ "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  26. ^ "Humboldt." Iowa Department of Education. Retrieved on September 15, 2018.
  27. ^ "George Bauman, 91, Newspaper Publisher". The New York Times. April 16, 2003. Retrieved 2010-12-19.
  28. ^ "Justice Jerry Larson surpassed Justice Garfield's 28-year tenure in 2006". Retrieved 13 October 2018.[permanent dead link]
  29. ^ "Sees Fighting Chance for Smith in Iowa and the Defeat of Gov. Hammill," The Davenport Democrat and Leader, 1928-11-1, and Iowa State Register 1933-34.

External links[edit]