Time-Proven Progress & Development
Spencer and Clay County is a crossroads for historical events. In 1855, the first settlers discovered this fertile northwest Iowa terrain as a suitable place to establish their homes to fulfill their dreams. The majority of early settlers made their homes in the Peterson area, which is located in the southwestern corner of the county. Clay County was organized in the fall of 1858, and was named after Lieutenant Colonel Henry Clay, Jr. — who served in the Mexican-American War.
In 1859, the first settlers made their way to flat prairie area which is now known as Spencer (named after George E. Spencer, who lived in Iowa before serving as a U.S. Senator for Alabama). In May 1860, Peterson was named the county seat. However, the rolling hills in the southern portion of Clay County made travel difficult for many. As more settlers followed this northern trek, the county seat was relocated to Spencer in 1871. In 1878, the first railroad was built through the black fertile prairie of Spencer, and the settlement grew from 300 people to a bustling town of 1,000 in less than a year.
In 1931, an unfortunate event changed the entire face of the Spencer community when a young boy dropped a burning sparkler into a box of fireworks at a local drug store, igniting a blaze that destroyed much historic architecture and many financial assets downtown. Spencer residents and business leaders quickly rallied and rebuilt the central business district. Today, Spencer has the largest, most diverse collection of 1930s’ Art Deco architecture in the Midwest.
Spencer is currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the Grand Avenue Historic Commercial District is a three-block stretch of Main Street in Spencer’s central business district between Third and Seventh Streets.
Additional structures within Clay County that are currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places include the Adams-Higgins House in Spencer; the Clay County Courthouse in Spencer; the Little Sioux River Bridge in Spencer; Kirchner-Parrish Log House near Peterson; Logan Center School Number Five in Dickens; Seymour Ross Round Barn near Gillett Grove; and Wanata State Park Picnic Shelter near Peterson.