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Villisca – A Brief History

Our city began as a small settlement called The Forks, positioned between the Middle and West Nodaway River. The first plat of the town was laid out in 1858 by D. N. Smith of the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy (C.B.&Q.) Railroad. He named the town Villisca, which he said meant “pretty place” or “pleasant view” in the language of the area’s original Native American inhabitants.Our city began as a small settlement called The Forks, positioned between the Middle and West Nodaway River. The first plat of the town was laid out in 1858 by D. N. Smith of the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy (C.B.&Q.) Railroad. He named the town Villisca, which he said meant “pretty place” or “pleasant view” in the language of the area’s original Native American inhabitants.The town flourished and by the early 1900s 2,500 people called it home.  Several hotels, restaurants, stores, theaters, and manufacturers complemented an economy based largely on agriculture.  More than two dozen passenger and freight trains stopped at the depot each day, sustained the town’s growth, and promised a bright future.

Tragedy struck on June 10, 1912 when townspeople discovered the Josiah Moore family of six and the two visiting Stillinger girls had been murdered while they slept.  The still-unsolved crime became known as the Villisca Axe Murders and the resulting investigation and trials split the community over the guilt or innocence of a local suspect. While the town is not proud of this dark chapter in our past, we acknowledge ongoing interest in historical inquiry and discourage sensationalizing the crime.

The community has a proud military history beginning with the construction in 1912 of Iowa’s only publicly funded and longest operating Armory on the north side of the town square.  Villisca’s Company F has represented the community, the state, and the country in the 1916 expedition into Mexico, World War One, World War Two, Korea, and Vietnam.   Villisca is the site of a Pulitzer Prize winning photo depicting Lt. Col. Robert Moore greeting his family at the depot after returning from service in Africa.  The photo appears in the July 26, 1943 issue of Life Magazine.

Like all communities, Villisca’s history has been a combination of happiness and sadness, success and failure, and tragedy and triumph.  Our story is unique and understanding the history of our community and its people is an essential part of our journey into the future.

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Our Mission

The Villisca Historical Society, Inc. shall collect, preserve, interpret and display artifacts, photographs and documents to shed light on the natural, civil and political history of the City of Villisca, Iowa.  It will develop programs and services to promote public awareness, scholarly research, and appreciation of Villisca’s unique history.  This society will foster excellence and leadership, historical inquiry, believing that an understanding of the past illuminates the present and gives vision to the future.

From the VHSI President

Mary Hansen
Mary Hansen, Villisca Historical Society, Inc.

In October 2006 Villisca Historical Society, Inc. received word from the Internal Revenue service of approval for 501c.3. nonprofit status. Villisca Historical Society, Inc. is a fully recognized public charity. Contributions received are fully tax- deductible.  We can apply for public grant monies as a recognized public entity.  We can legitimately receive important documents and artifacts that represent Villisca’s unique history.  A full-fledged campaign drive for new memberships is currently underway.

Thanks to the many who responded to our plea for start-up memberships so that we could complete the elaborate process of applying for the 501C3 status  We may proceed to seek acquisitions and a building for housing our displays and carrying out programs.  Many have toured the wonderful Montgomery County Historical Society building with its displays. Villisca can have a similar facility; that is our dream. Currently displays may be seen at various locations in Villisca, including City Hall and the Meeting Room downstairs in the Public Library.

Our mission statement is: The Villisca Historical Society, Inc. shall collect, preserve, interpret and display artifacts, photographs and documents to shed light on the natural, civil and political history of the city of Villisca, Iowa.  It will develop programs and services to promote public awareness, scholarly research and appreciation of Villisca’s unique history. This society will foster excellence in leadership and historical inquiry, believing that an understanding of the past illuminates the present and gives vision for the future.  It is good to be OFFICIAL!

VHSI Board Members

Mary Hansen, President
Linda Moore, Vice President
Elinor Brown, Treasurer
Linda Artlip Weinstein, Newsletter
linda.artlip@comcast.net

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