Building on the Past
Ottumwa’s history can be traced to the early 1800s when Mesquaki, Sac and Ioway Native American tribes populated the area. As westward expansion approached, these tribes moved to western reservations. When Wapello County was opened for a land rush on May 1, 1843, more than 5,000 settlers came to the county to claim land for crop, livestock and homesteading.
By 1844, Ottumwa was named the county seat of Wapello County. Named for its “rippling waters,” Ottumwa owes much of its development to the Des Moines River, which flows through the community. Agriculture was the main source of industry for the city in the beginning, but as railroad lines extended through the area, new markets, such as manufacturing and retail, opened.
The population of Ottumwa grew from 1,632 to more than 5,000 from 1860 to 1870. The population peaked at 33,871 in 1960 before settling to 25,000 in 2000. Today, Ottumwa continues to serve as the trade and economic center of Southeast Iowa. The progress and prosperity of Ottumwa will ensure that the city continues this role into the 21st century.