History of Forest City

In this section:

Forest City Economic Development
145 S. Clark Street
PO Box 306
Forest City, IA 50436
Office: (641) 585-5560

In 1855, Pennsylvania native Robert Clark embarked from Mason City, Iowa and headed Northwest. He took root near a river in a forested area with a giant prairie to the West. This settlement was known as Puckerbrush, Big Brush, or Hill City in the beginning. But, Clark settled on the name Forest City, for the town was literally carved out of the forest. During these years Clark served as the town’s first postmaster and as Winnebago County’s first county judge. He was also elected treasurer of Winnebago in 1866 which he served until his death in 1876. Forest City was incorporated on June 14, 1878.

Robert Clark

By the next year, the construction of a railroad line running from Minneapolis to St. Louis had been completed and opened a window of opportunity for the community. The railway brought the ability to transport goods in and out, provided an easier method to travel long distances and telegraph lines. Trains also brought in a wealth of new immigrants to make a life in Forest City.

Forest City in the Early 1900s

Heading into the 20th Century, Forest City thrived. New schools, banks and churches were built to accommodate the needs of a growing population. A new courthouse was constructed in 1896, which still remains at the center of town today. Two large first-class hotels came into existence in 1900 and 1901. The Summit Hotel and The Waldorf Hotel were the results of a rivalry between towns folk. Known as the "The Great Hotel War of Forest City," an agreement for the Summit to purchase the Waldorf building. The Waldorf sat vacant for two years until a group of churchmen headed by Rev. C.S. Salveson purchased the building and formed Waldorf College. Now known as Waldorf University, the college opened up education opportunities for the locals and nearby communities. 

Waldorf University

In 1920, the citizens of Forest City came together to preserve the remains of the Wisconsin Glacial Drift. The State of Iowa acquired the land and dedicated Pilot Knob State Park in 1924. In 1934, Civilian Conservation Corps Company 1757 built several structures, including the observation tower.

In 1958, John. K Hanson and Elliot Cooper worked together to establish Forest City’s most notable business. They took control of a struggling travel trailer factory out of California and moved its operations to Iowa. The company was originally renamed after the county it was relocated to, Winnebago. It is now located in both Winnebago & Hancock County. Winnebago Industries over the decades has become one of the leading manufacturers in the RV industries and the largest employer in Forest City. 

Winnebago Industries

In more recent times, the Forest City Community Schools transformed a physics project into the construction of a wind turbine. Constructed in 1998, the windmill has continued to generate green energy for the school district and the community.

Photos Courtesy of the Winnebago Historical Society.