A Brief History of Ireton

Ireton is located in the northwest corner of Reading Township in Sioux County in far northwest Iowa.  The town lies near the junction of Reading, Washington, Eagle and Center Townships and serves as a commercial, religious and educational center for them.

Prior to 1869, the area was a vast “sea of grass” that served as part of the hunting grounds for the Sioux Indian tribe.  The tall prairie grasses and flowering plants reached deep into Iowa’s rich, black soil.  Trees were found only along rivers and creeks.

The first settlers in Reading and Washington Townships established homesteads in 1870 (after homesteading attempts in the 1860’s failed, permanent settlement in Center and Eagle Townships was delayed until about 1880).  Over the next twelve years, the pioneers built homes, established rural schools, held church services with “circuit rider” preachers and tilled the land — while enduring the challenges of prairie fires, lightning strikes, blizzards, grasshopper swarms and a smallpox epidemic.  In 1879, they built the Pleasant Hill Methodist Church in the southeast corner of Section 7 — now the location of Pleasant Hill Cemetery.  But they still had to travel more than 10 miles to Le Mars, Orange City or Calliope to sell their grain and livestock or buy supplies.

Imagine their excitement when, in the spring of 1882, the Toledo & Northwestern Railroad announced that it would be building a rail line across the southern portion of Sioux County and that a water stop called “Ireton” would be located in section 7.  The railroad platted the town’s original 12 blocks and in June, Timothy O’Brien and his wife opened the first business in Ireton, a general merchandise store.  In October 1882, area residents gathered on what would become “schoolhouse hill” to watch as the first train connected them with the outside world. By December, Ireton had a railroad depot, grain elevator, lumber yard, hotel, several general merchandise stores, a hardware store, drug store, doctor and several dwellings.  In November, 1883, M.D. Burket wrote a letter to the newspaper in his old hometown describing Ireton at one year of age.

Schools were quickly established in the new town and Ireton High School graduated its first class in 1890.  The town became “official” in the summer of 1890 when Articles of Incorporation were filed.  By 1910, the population was 638 and remained relatively stable over the next century.

Much of Ireton’s history is “unremarkable”.  Although we’ve experienced tornados and windstorms, fires and other natural disasters, none of it was devastating.  Crime has been nearly non-existent.  Our greatest challenges have been ones brought by national and global concerns — sending sons and daughters to war; the effect of the Great Depression; mechanization of farming and the resulting declines in rural population; and high interest rates in the 1980’s.

In celebration of Ireton’s Centennial in 1982, the Ireton Area Historical Society (IAHS) published Ireton, A Proud Heritage: 1882-1982.  New copies of the book are no longer available for sale; however, used copies may sometimes be found on e-Bay (or other auction sites) or at local auctions.  If you are interested in only a few pages, feel free to contact the IAHS for scans.

Since the Centennial, the town has continued to progress.  A community swimming pool was added in 1989.  The City Park, Ballpark and North Park have undergone several renovations.  The IAHS has opened the Historical House, Kemper School and the old City Hall as museums.  West Sioux Community School District’s Ireton Center and the Ireton Christian School both underwent extensive remodeling and additions.  The Ireton Community Foundation originated in 1998 and a Community Center was dedicated in 1999.  A new daycare and preschool were opened at the West Sioux-Ireton Center and Kids of the Kingdom preschool at Ireton Christian School.  The town’s water supply was improved in 2005 through a contract with Southern Sioux Rural Water System.  We celebrated Ireton’s 125th birthday in 2007.  Several years later, the city of Ireton added a new housing development, the Westview Addition.  In 2012, the Veteran’s Memorial was dedicated and a new Walking Trail was opened.  The Book Exchange and Parkview Campground were both established in 2013.

The IAHS is looking forward to “what comes next”!