Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Ackley, Iowa

There are a fair number of places throughout the United States that carry the Ackley name. If you've done a Google search for the Ackley name or searched for Ackley in one of the newspaper websites, you've probably been a little annoyed at the number of hits you get for a town in Iowa named Ackley because it tends to get in the way of the legitimate hits for people named Ackley.

On the Map

Ackley is located slightly east and north of the center of the state of Iowa (blue marker on map below). Part of Ackley is in Hardin County and part is in Franklin County.

Ackley, Iowa (blue marker) from Google Maps

From this Google Maps satellite view, you can see that Ackley is situated in the middle of Iowa farm country. The closest "larger" city is Waterloo (population about 67,000), which is about 49 miles away):

Ackley, Iowa satellite view from Google Maps


Ackley was established along Beaver Creek in 1857. The original proprietors were William J. Ackley, Henry L. Huff, Robert P. Parriott, Abigail Parriott, A. J. Parriott, and Matilda Parriott. This group sponsored the survey and platting of the area, which was recorded in Hardin County on December 12, 1857. [3] The original proprietors were anticipating that the expansion of the railroad westward from Dubuque would bring the railroad to Ackley and spur growth of the new town. However, the financial panic of 1857, which particularly affected railroads, brought a temporary halt to the railroad building boom and Ackley did not take off. The Civil War put a further damper on progress of the railroads, and the hoped-for development of Ackley would have to wait for several more years. According to "Past and Present of Hardin County, Iowa":

"Practically speaking, Ackley, named after one of its proprietors, was but a paper town for at least eight long years." [3]

Due to the delays in the construction of the railroad, and therefore the town's development, all of the other proprietors sold their interests to William Ackley, leaving him the sole owner.  Construction finally resumed in 1865, and by June 1866 the line had pushed through Ackley and into Iowa Falls to the west [4].

Despite its supposed status as a "paper town" until 1865, Ackley continued to progress during the early years before the railroad was finally constructed. In an ad seeking contract proposals for delivering mail in 1860, the Postal Department listed Ackley as a location on a route to be run once a week out of Marietta, a town about 40 miles south of Ackley [18]. By 1861, the Dubuque and Sioux City Railroad was running daily stage coach service from Cedar Falls (the current terminus of its railroad) to Ackley and other points that the railroad had not yet reached [19].

Ackley continued to progress as the railroad brought enterprise to the city, but the progress came at a cost. According an article from 1866, "Ackley is a youthful city, and very fast. There are indisputable evidences of its approaching metropolitan character. In other words Ackley has desperadoes in and about it in numbers entirely disproportionate to its present limited population." The article goes on to discuss the harassment of a local merchant and the eventual shooting death of one of the "desperadoes" who were described as "track men" working on the construction of the railroad through Ackley to points west [20].

Cedar Falls Gazette, 23 Mar 1866
Other issues related to the presence of the railroad followed. In January 1867, the Cedar Falls Gazette reported "The station agent at Ackley, Mr. N.Y. Blake has suddenly disappeared taking with him the funds of the Telegraph, R.R., and Express company." [21] Mr. Blake was later arrested in Cedar Falls [22]. In March of the same year, the railroad depot was burned to the ground by arsonists, destroying everything in the building, including the household goods of Mr. Blake that were to be sold to try to recoup some of the money that he had stolen [23]. Despite these early setbacks, Ackley continued to build and grow, and by 1871 had about 1,400 inhabitants [24]. As will be shown below, the population has remained at about that level through the last 150 years.

The first newspaper established in Ackley was the Ackley Independent, which was published from 1872 to 1874. Since then there has always been a newspaper published in Ackley, with the Ackley World Journal having the longest run (1888-present). The Ackley World Journal exists today as an internet publication.

Who Was William J. Ackley?

William J. Ackley was a descendant of Nicholas Ackley. His line of descent from Nicholas is as follows:

He was born about 1826 in Chenango County, New York [26]. His parents were Lyman Ackley and Lydia Purple [27]. He was living with his parents in McDonough, New York in 1850 [26]. In 1860 he was living in Waterloo, Iowa [28]. In 1870, he was still living in Waterloo, and his occupation was listed as real estate dealer [29]. He was also listed in the 1870 non-population schedule as the owner of a blind, door, and sash making business in Waterloo [30]. In 1880 he was living in Dubuque, Iowa, and his occupation was given as lead miner. His mother Lydia was living with him in Dubuque [31]. He was still living in Dubuque in 1885. His occupation was listed as miner [32]. There were no children or spouse listed in any of the census records, and there are no other records suggesting he was married or had any children.

It seems that William, who was consistently referred to as W.J. Ackley in newspaper accounts, was an entrepreneur his entire adult life. Of course the first evidence of this was his involvement, at about age 31, in buying the land in Iowa in 1857 that would later become the city that bears his name. His name is mentioned in connection with many different businesses in Waterloo. In 1866, he partnered with a Mr. Hauger to build a steam sash, door, and blind factory in Waterloo [33]. In 1870, he built a new hotel in Waterloo near the railroad depot [34]. In 1872, William joined with a number of other Waterloo men (including his brother Charles T. Ackley) to start a company called Waterloo Agricultural Works to manufacture agricultural implements [35]. In the same year, he began a project to build a cracker factory on Main Street in Waterloo as well as a wagon shop and a blacksmith shop. The Waterloo Courier had words of praise for William's hard work: "All this success is the natural fruit of endeavor. Mr. A. set about the work, and refusing to look back kept steadily pressing forward; and it is in this way only that any important enterprise was ever made successful. Work -- Work, is the watchword. Take hold, hold on, and never let go, is the motto of successful men." [36] Although no solid evidence was found concerning William's lead mining business, one can infer from his occupation listed in state and federal census data [31, 32] that he likely made the move from Waterloo to Dubuque to invest in lead mining. Dubuque was a hot spot for lead and zinc mining in the 19th century, and it appears that William may have gone there to try his hand at it.

William J. Ackley died in Canton, Illinois on September 6, 1900. It was first incorrectly reported that he died penniless in the poor house in Canton and was buried in the potter's field there [37]. It turns out that the original correspondent who reported the death did not have all of the facts and jumped to some conclusions in an attempt to sensationalize his death. The Waterloo Courier printed a correction; the original report and the correction can be seen below [38].

Left - Original Obituary from Evening Times-Republican (Marshalltown, Iowa);
Right - Corrected Obituary from The Courier (Waterloo, Iowa)

Canning Industry

As mentioned above, the city of Ackley is in the middle of farm country in Iowa, so it is not surprising that the main industry for much of its existence was a canning factory on the west side of town. The factory was built in 1919 and had a successful first season of operation as reported by this article in Ackley World Journal on 25 Sep 1919 [6].

Ackley World Journal, 25 Sep 1919, p. 1

While it is difficult to keep up with all of the companies that owned the plant over the years, there is evidence that the plant was owned by Marshall Canning Company for many years. At some point Marshall Canning Company became part of Western Grocer Co. of Marshallville, Iowa, and Consolidated Foods Corporation bought Western Grocer Co. in 1946 [16]. In 1957 Consolidated Foods formed a new subsidiary unit called Monarch Foods, Canners and Processors with the merger of Consolidated Food Processors, Inc. and Monarch Finer Foods, and the plant took on the name of Monarch Foods, Canners and Processors [17]. Consolidated Foods Corporation shut down the factory in October 1958. It was closed for seven months until the people of Ackley raised $150,000 to buy the factory and reopen it under the name Ackley Food Processors, Inc. [11].

Carroll Daily Times Herald, 18 May 1959, p. 1

I couldn't determine exactly when, but at some point after 1959, the plant was bought by American National Corporation. In August 1978 the American National Corporation filed for federal bankruptcy protection, but fortunately no layoffs were planned and the factory continued to operate at capacity [12]. Stokely bought the factory from American National Corp. in late 1986 [9] and  doubled the capacity of the corn processing lines in 1989 [10]. Stokely merged with Chiquita in 1998 [8]. Chiquita closed the plant for good in mid-January, 2002 [7]. When it closed, the factory was the second largest employer in Ackley, employing about 70 people full-time [7].

Throughout the history of the canning plant and its many owners, it is clear that the people of Ackley were proud of the work done there. The plant mainly packed sweet corn, but also packed bean products and sauerkraut (see Sauerkraut Days section below). Corn packing was seasonal, and the season usually occurred in mid- to late-August. The plant normally employed about 75 full-time employees year-round, and would hire as many as 200 additional workers for the corn pack. The company also hired temporary workers to pick the corn at farms surrounding Ackley, as shown in this ad from 1948 [12].

Des Moines Tribune, August 25, 1948

Sauerkraut Days

Ackley was once considered the "sauerkraut center of the world" [15], and has been holding an annual "Sauerkraut Days" festival almost continuously since 1902 (wars and the depression interrupted the festival a few times). According to a long-time local resident, the celebration began is 1902 as a way for the community to pay back local farmers for their business. The local canning plant supplied the sauerkraut for the festival every year from 1919 until its closing in 2002 [13]. Here is an article announcing the celebration in 1903 [14]:

Davenport Morning Star, 27 Aug 1903
In its heyday the celebration attracted thousands of visitors. An article from the Quad-City Times of Davenport, Iowa claims that Ackley drew 12,000 visitors to the 11th annual festival in 1913 [25].

Quad-City Times, 1 Sep 1913

Ackley Sauerkraut Days 1947, The Des Moines Register, August 10, 1947
Ackley continues to hold Sauerkraut Days every year. This year's event is scheduled for June 11-14, 2020.

Present Day Ackley

The population of Ackley in the 2010 Census was 1,589 [1]. The population has remained remarkably steady throughout Ackley's existence; according to census figures for 1880-2010, the number of people living there has only varied between 1244 and 1900 [5].

Source: State Library of Iowa, State Date Center

Ackley is part of the Ackley Geneva Wellsburg Steamboat Rock (AGWSR) Community School District, which serves the communities of Ackley, Geneva, Wellsburg, and Steamboat Rock and the counties of Butler, Franklin, Grundy, and Hardin. The district covers 265 square miles, and Ackley is pretty much at the geographic center. The district serves a total of about 650 students and operates schools at three locations -- an elementary school in Ackley, an elementary and middle school in Wellsburg, and a high school in Ackley.  

Ackley has many businesses typical of a small community. Although the canning factory has been closed for many years, there are several businesses dedicated to supporting agriculture in the area.

I had an opportunity to stop in Ackley last summer during a road trip. We cruised around town a little bit and took some pictures of some of the buildings and other landmarks. It was a bit odd seeing our name on pretty much every building in town. We found the people we met to be very friendly, and we learned that there were many Ackleys before us that visited to see their name plastered all over town.

Ackley has an impressive Veterans Memorial honoring Ackley veterans from all wars

Ackley Super Foods

Ackley Fire Department

Painting at the Veterans Memorial

Ackley Police Department

Ackley World Journal is now an internet publication

Ackley Hardware

Ackley water tower

My wife at Sky Kone. Unfortunately it was not open when we visited.

Me with "Raging Thunder" the bull in front of Triple T Specialty Meats in Ackley
Ackley Municipal Building

Discussion Questions

  • Has anyone visited Ackley? What was memorable about your visit?

Link of the Day

Here is the link to the website for the City of Ackley:


Quote of the Day

"Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there."

-- Will Rogers


1. United States Census Bureau, American Fact Finder, https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/community_facts.xhtml, accessed 10 Aug 2017.

2. Gannett, Henry, The Origin of Certain Place Names in the United States, (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1905), p. 16.

3. Moir, William J., Past and Present of Hardin County, Iowa, (Indianapolis, Indiana: B. F. Bowen & Company, 1911), p. 284.

4. An Illinois Central Photo Album Website, Dubuque & Sioux City Railroad,  http://www.tdf23.info/html/Railroads/DubuqueAndSiouxCityRailroad.htm, accessed 13 Aug 2017.

5. State Library of Iowa, State Date Center, https://www.iowadatacenter.org/archive/2011/02/citypop.pdf, accessed 11 Apr 2020.

6. "Finished the Pack" Ackley World Journal (Ackley, Iowa), September 25, 1919, p. 1.

7. Miller, Jessica. "Chiquita to close, cut 70 jobs in Ackley." The Courier (Waterloo, Iowa). Nov. 13, 2001. https://wcfcourier.com/chiquita-to-close-cut-jobs-in-ackley/article_ea0eeaac-e6ee-5540-9548-dcb832c5b1aa.html (accessed 12 Apr 2020).

8. Wilde, Matthew and Ann McGlynn. "Stokely plans merger with Chiquita subsidiary." The Courier (Waterloo, Iowa). Oct. 1, 1997. https://www.newspapers.com/image/355769225/?terms=ackley%2Bstokely%2Bchiquita (accessed 12 Apr 2020).

9. Pryweller, Joseph. "Iowa vegetable-canning company sold to Stokely." The Des Moines Register. Dec. 3, 1986. https://www.newspapers.com/image/128591702/?terms=ackley%2Bstokely (accessed 12 Apr 2020).

10. Mackenzie, Coral. "Stokely to expand its corn-making facilities." The Courier (Waterloo, Iowa). Oct. 11, 1987. https://www.newspapers.com/image/359133237/?terms=ackley%2Bstokely (Accessed 12 Apr 2020).

11. "Community Effort Restores Key Industry Lost at Ackley." Carroll Daily Times Herald (Carroll, Iowa). May 18, 1959. https://www.newspapers.com/image/380795/?terms=ackley%2Bfood%2Bprocessors (accessed 12 Apr 2020).

12. "Wanted Immediately." The Des Moines Register. August 25, 1948, p. 19. 

13. Thompson, Jeff. "Strike up the band for Sauerkraut Days." The Des Moines Register. June 29, 2003, p. 18.

14. "Celebrate Sauerkraut Day." Davenport Morning Star (Davenport, Iowa). August 27, 1903, p. 2.

15. "Ackley...will hold its annual celebration", Postville Herald (Postville, Iowa). August 14, 1930.

16. Shannon, Ed. "Food Shopping." Albert Lea Tribune (Albert Lea, Iowa). November 27, 2010. https://www.albertleatribune.com/2010/11/food-shopping/ (Accessed 13 Apr 2020).

17. "Monarch Foods, Canners and Processors Formed by Merger." Ackley World Journal (Ackley, Iowa). October 17, 1957. https://ackley.advantage-preservation.com/viewer/?k=consolidated%20foods&t=1552&i=t&d=01011919-12311958&m=between&ord=k1&fn=124331287&df=1&dt=10 (Accessed 13 Apr 2020).

18. "Mail Contracts." Quad-City Times (Davenport, Iowa). July 6, 1860, p. 4.

19. "Dubuque and Sioux City Railroad. Time Table No. 7." Cedar Falls Gazette (Cedar Falls, Iowa). August 2, 1861, p. 4.

20. "Tragedy in Ackley." Cedar Falls Gazette (Cedar Falls, Iowa). March 23, 1866, p. 2.

21. "An Absconder from Ackley." Cedar Falls Gazette (Cedar Falls, Iowa). January 18, 1867, p. 3.

22. "Telegrams." The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Illinois). February 2, 1867, p. 1.

23. "Burning of Ackley Depot." Cedar Falls Gazette (Cedar Falls, Iowa). March 15, 1867, p. 3.

24. "On the Wing." Cedar Falls Gazette (Cedar Falls, Iowa). July 21, 1871, p. 3.

25. "12,000 People at Sauerkraut Fete." Quad-City Times (Davenport, Iowa). September 1, 1913, p. 2.

26. 1850 U.S. Census, McDonough, Chenango County, NY; page 1, line 116A; NARA Microfilm M653, Roll 487.

27. Ackley, Allen C., "Ackley Family Genealogy", www.ackleygenealogy.com

28. 1860 U.S. Census, Waterloo, Blackhawk County, IA; page

29. 1870 U.S. Census, Waterloo, Blackhawk County, IA; page

30. 1870 U.S. Census Non-Population Schedules, Waterloo, Blackhawk County, IA; page

31. 1880 U.S. Census, Dubuque, Dubuque County, IA; page

32. 1885 Iowa State Census, Ancestry.com. Iowa, State Census Collection, 1836-1925 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2007.

33. "Waterloo in 1866!" The Courier (Waterloo, Iowa). November 29, 1866, p. 2.

34. "Iowa Items." Cedar Falls Gazette (Cedar Falls, Iowa). April 22, 1870, p. 1.

35. "Waterloo Agricultural Works." The Courier (Waterloo, Iowa). August 22, 1872, p. 3.

36. "Begun." The Courier (Waterloo, Iowa). April 18, 1872, p. 3.

37. "Died in the Poor House." Evening Times-Republican (Marshalltown, Iowa). September 10, 1900. p. 3.

38. "No Truth in Report." The Courier (Waterloo, Iowa). September 13, 1900. p. 5.

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