History of LeGrand
Mr. Joseph Davidson came to the LeGrand area in 1847, and settled upon one of the hills east of the Iowa River, in a beautiful grove. He lived here in a little cabin with no white neighbor for fifty miles and was the first permanent white settler in Marshall County. His brother, William Davidson came a little later and settled on a farm. The Davidsons later left for Oregon and more “elbow room”.
Mark Webb and James Allman were the first to lay out the LeGrand Village in 1852. Mr. Sanders of Iowa City had been called to survey the village of Lafayette, and did the same for LeGrand. Allman, Inman and Webb were the owners of the site and named the village after LeGrand Byington. Byington was an Iowa City lawyer who had assisted them on their way to LeGrand. In 1853 the post office was established, with James Allman as postmaster. Before the establishment of this post office, settlers traveled 45 miles to Marengo for their mail. Allman built the first store a 20 x 30-ft. wood structure made from lumber from Iowa City.
The Chicago & NorthWestern Railway was constructed on the South edge of LeGrand in 1862-1863. The first train passed through on January 12, 1863. A large grain elevator was built at the railroad station in 1870. Earlier railroad prospects through LeGrand had been considered with no luck. John A. Blair had plans for the Cedar Rapids Railroad Company to go through LeGrand but even after considerable investment by LeGrand Citizens, the plan was abandoned. Some said that this “nefarious scheme” was helped by prominent Marshalltown citizens in revenge for those who voted for Marietta to be the Marshall County seat. Mr. James Allman of LeGrand thought that LeGrand would get a slice of Tama County and Grundy County and become the county seat. He recommended that a vote for Marietta would help LeGrand since Marietta was located west of Marshalltown and less of a danger in the county seat race. Although he was quite adamant against Marshalltown, “Cobtown” as the enemies of LeGrand called it gave a decision in favor of Marshalltown and was loyal thereafter except for thirteen voters.
The LeGrand Flouring Mill was completed in 1856 by Thomas and Isaiah Schofield and was located on the Iowa River a half mile north of LeGrand and was later owned by Benedict & Hammond. It was originally 26 x 30 and about three stories high, with two runs of stone. It was the first mill in this portion of the county and was heavily used. After a series of repairs it was completely rebuilt in 1876 and was then 100 feet high. A large Leffels turbine wheel was used, two in number operating six runs of stone. There was also a large elevator with a capacity of 8,000 bushels. The mill used a “Middlings Purifier” and the grain passed through eleven different processes before reaching the buhrs. It was the largest mill in the county in the 1870s. It continued in operation until it burned in January 1916 amidst rumors of wartime sabotage.
At Quarry station and LeGrand, the LeGrand Quarry Company owned by Kirby and Howe operated limestone quarries that provided limestone for buildings and ornamental use. Underlying much of the LeGrand area is the limestone of the Kinderhook stage. This limestone had been quarried from the LeGrand and Quarry areas since the 1850s. This limestone was just the thing for building foundations and burning lime. Above the rock was good yellow clay for brick and on the bluffs of the Iowa River, trees for timber. Early quarrying was started by the LeGrand Stone Quarries and included the quarry, limekiln, brick kiln and sawmill. In 1877 the LeGrand Quarry Company was incorporated and built a stone crusher and a railroad southwest from the quarry to the main line of NorthWestern Railway. The output of the crusher was about thirty carloads a day and much of it provided ballast for the North Western railroad. The company brought about fifty Italian stonecutters from Chicago to cut the limestone. These men and their families were housed in company houses and boarding house. This settlement was known as “Little Italy”. The company also built a stone saw mill and sawed the material into building stone. Under the sixty foot ledge of yellow limestone in the East Quarry there was about eighteen feet of grayish ooloite limestone and this was used for the Marshall County Courthouse, Marshalltown Public Library, the State Historical Building in Des Moines and other buildings in central Iowa. The Marshalltown Methodist Church was built of the yellow limestone.
After the quarry was purchased by the Chicago Northwestern Railroad in 1909, one of the largest rock crushers west of the Mississippi was installed. Quarrying continued with drilling, blasting and hauling of stone to the new crusher. Quarries at Three Bridges, Devil’s Anvil and the smaller ones along the Iowa River have been abandoned but the LeGrand Quarry still produces crushed limestone for road building and use by the Cessford Company.
In the years after initial settlement, LeGrand continued to grow and prosper and was incorporated in 1891. According to the state censuses, LeGrand’s population in 1900 was 408, the highest population until the late 1960s. The population was 338 in 1920, 320 in 1920 and 382 in 1930. LeGrand township also showed the highest population in 1900 with 1,712; the second most populous township after Marshall.
The twentieth century brought many changes to LeGrand. Businesses continued to flourish through the 1930s and 1940s, but began to decline after that. During the early twentieth century LeGrand had a milliner’s shop (hats and accessories), post office, newspaper, cheese factory, drug & hardware store, general store, meat market, restaurant, mattress factory, livery stable, lumber yard, butcher’s shop, hotel, barber shop, produce store, implement dealer, doctor’s offices, roller skating rink, band shell and telephone office. Many of these businesses were located around the town square. The square was located where the parking lots for the bank, bar, post office and LeGrand sanitation are now located. The Town Square had two pumps, a water trough and the band shell. For many years LeGrand had a city band that performed concerts at the band shell and also provided music for special events
"It’s like having a 3000 mile long Main Street' said one resident, when US 30 was routed through the center of LeGrand in 1954. The Lincoln Highway that began in 1913 as the “Coast to Coast Rock Highway” made its way to Marshall County in 1924 and Marshall County paving began on March 25, 1925. On June 12, 1926 the pavement was completed to the Tama County Line and is noted by a concrete marker on the Old Lincoln Highway southeast of LeGrand. The Lincoln Highway passed out of Tama an Thirteenth Street, over the CNW and through the Meskwaki Settlement to Montour and over to what is now Highway 146, turned north and then went west on what is now US 30. Although not directly on the Lincoln Highway, the 1924 Lincoln Highway Guidebook showed LeGrand to have a population of 400 with one hotel, bank, garage and newspaper. Local speed limit was 10mph and there was a Commercial Club and a fine camping site. "Devil's Anvil", a huge rocky promontory was shown to be one mile east. Immense quarries and the largest stone crushing plant in the United States were listed as attractions as was the 'Iowa River bluffs and valley between Tama and Marshalltown which afford some beautiful views".
In 1924 owing to the confusion of highway organizations and the many numbered or named roads and trails in Iowa, the highways were renumbered and the Lincoln Highway, which was also called State No. 6, was changed to U.S. 30. New markers were placed on the roads in 1926 and the familiar black and white shields have guided motorists ever since. In LeGrand two grade crossings of the Chicago North Western Railroad on the old route caused the newly designated U.S. 30 to be turned aside and it now left LeGrand with only a connecting spur. In June 1950, the Iowa Highway Commission began detailed surveys to relocate some twelve miles of U.S. 30 and the town of LeGrand was exactly astride the long straight stretch of the new relocation. Four years later, a new overpass replaced the CNW grade crossing west of town and a LeGrand's main Street became a forty-five foot wide paved highway with curb and storm sewer. A coast to coast main street over 3000 miles long.
With changing economic conditions and easier, quicker access to larger cities, many of the businesses around the Town Square began to disappear. But more specialized businesses and those involved with the automobile or farming developed. According to “The Continuing History of Marshall County” over 45 businesses are listed for LeGrand from 1950-1995. Although the motel, service stations, restaurants and cafes catered to the travelers, LeGrand had no real tourist attraction until the early 1950s when F.W. Stice opened the “Doll Museum”. The doll museum was an outgrowth of Fred Stice’s woodcarving hobby. Carving realistic and often humorous figures, many from America’s past resulted in the opening of a museum near Montour in the early 1940s. With the relocation of Hwy 30 around Montour in the early 1950s, Stice moved his museum to Highway 30 in LeGrand next to the LeGrand motel. Stice made the carvings and apparel for some of the creations, his daughter Mildred Heiring made costumes and dolls and his son painted backdrops for the miniature scenes. The Iowa Development Commission designated the museum as a point of interest on tourist maps. With the death of Stice in 1978 at the age of 93, his wife and daughter continued with the museum until its closing in the 1980s.