Webster City is full of buildings, streets and parks that are named after its residents. Most of the stories behind those names are well-documented history: others are legends that have been passed down through the generations. As one might expect, many of our town’s familiar names come from its early history and founders.
Webster City, Boone River Country
Webster City’s first settler was Wilson Brewer, who built a cabin near Brewer Creek. The cabin has since been reconstructed and stands near its original site at the Bonebright Depot Complex and Museum. Brewer and William Frakes platted the town, which was originally named Newcastle, in October 1854. In 1855, Walter C. Willson purchased the Newcastle plat for $22,000.
Newcastle was originally part of Webster County. In 1855, Willson, who was then a state representative, helped to pass an act that divided Webster County into two counties, giving birth to Hamilton County. Newcastle was renamed Webster City and became the county seat.
According to the Webster City Chamber of Commerce website, there are three theories as to why the name of the town was changed to Webster City. The first theory is that the town was named after a popular stagecoach driver who often visited the local Willson House Hotel. The second theory is that the town was named after Daniel Webster, for whom the original county was named. The last theory is that the town was named Webster City because it was customary to name the town after the county in which it resided, which was originally Webster County.
Webster City is known as “Boone River Country” for the Boone River meanders along the east side of the city.
The Groves Cabin
The Jackson Groves Cabin at the Wilson Brewer Historic Park recently made its first public appearance as a museum at Heritage Day on Aug. 24. The cabin, which is attached to the original Brewer cabin, now features items that have not been on display before.
“The Jackson Groves Cabin is an integral part of our family history. He built it when he arrived here in 1856 with his family,” says fifth generation member of the family, Wil Groves. “We have a Groves reunion every five years and always visit the cabin. It’s a visible link with our ancestors, and we want the younger family members to appreciate their heritage.”
The Jane Young House, Kendall Young Library
Kendall Young settled in Webster City after his adventures as a farmer, soldier, fisherman, merchant and gold rush participant. He married Jane Underdown in 1858, and the couple lived in Irvington for a year before moving to Webster City in 1859 to open a mercantile and the city’s first bank. It was in the kitchen of the home he built in 1874, that young Teresa Treat asked her neighbor to donate to a fund to build a library in 1888. He turned her down, saying the group would never raise enough money to build a suitable library. The city was quite surprised in 1896 when Kendall Young left his estate, valued at $150,000, to the city for the express purpose of building a free library. The library opened in the Kendall Young Home on July 27, 1898. The home was moved to its present location at 623 Elm St. so construction could begin on a new building on the spot where the Young home previously stood, 1201 Willson Ave. The Kendall Young Library building was finished in 1905. The home, the Jane Young House, today is the home of the Webster City Women’s Club.
The library was dedicated in 1905 and expanded and restored in 1998 through donations to the People’s Project.
Kendall Young Park
Kendall Young Park is located north of Webster City on land given by Kendall Young. The rustic park covers 70 acres and features four shelter houses, six picnic areas, two shuffleboard courts, horseshoe pits, a wooded mountain bike course, playground equipment and a fishing area.
Fuller Hall Recreation Center
After Fred M. Fuller’s death on Feb. 2, 1932, Webster City became heir to the largest bequest made since the late Kendall Young left his fortune for the establishment of the Kendall Young library in 1896. Fred Fuller lived 64 years of his life in Webster City and gave his entire fortune to the City of Webster City for the establishment and maintenance of a community building to be known as Fuller Hall. It was to include a gym, indoor swimming pool, stage, kitchen, dining and club rooms and restrooms.
“Both Fred and Minnie Fuller were very private people and never had any children. Fred married Minnie later in his life. He died in 1932, and Minnie died in 1953,” says Kent Harfst, assistant city manager/recreation and public grounds director. After her death, Harfst says, the Fuller Trust was fully established, and construction on the facility began in 1956. It opened on Jan. 18, 1956, and has undergone renovations since.
The Twin Parks, originally named Double Parks, got their name because the two-block park is bisected by Superior Street. The Webster City business district was located around the parks in the mid-1800s.
The Kantor-Mollenhoff Plaza
The Kantor-Mollenhoff Plaza in West Twin Parks bears the name of two Pulitzer Prize-winning authors who hail from Webster City: MacKinlay Kantor and Clark Mollenhoff. Kantor was born in 1904 and won the Pulitzer Prize for literature with the novel, “Andersonville,” in 1956. He wrote more than 40 novels throughout his career. Mollenhoff graduated from Webster City High School and Webster City Junior College. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1958 for national reporting, and wrote 10 books throughout his career.Both men were honored in 1976 with a dedication of the Kantor-Mollenhoff Plaza in West Twin Parks. Webster City is the only community in the nation that has produced two Pulitzer Prize winners.
Funk Street, Mercy Hospital, Hamilton County Public Hospital and Hospital Hill
Funk Street is named after Jacob M. Funk, who gave land to the city on which the first hospital, Mercy Hospital, was built. It opened its doors to the public in 1903. Funk donated three acres of land at the southwest corner of Ohio and Des Moines streets and arranged for the construction of a $25,000 hospital there. It opened its doors in 1903, and was located just to the east of the recently-razed Hamilton Hospital. A new county hospital was built on the property to the west in 1930. The old building was torn down in 1946. The new county hospital, Hamilton County Public Hospital, was at the top of a hill on the south side of the property. That’s how the popular winter sledding destination — Hospital Hill — got its name.
Red Bull Division Drive
As the new Van Diest Medical Center was being built, county supervisors wanted a historically relevant name for the north-south street that would run in front of the hospital and curve around parallel to Highway 20. Red Bull Division Drive was suggested in tribute to the Red Bull Division, Company E, of the 34th Infantry. Many of the county’s veterans were in that division, and even some of the county’s young soldiers today are members of the 34th Infantry.
The sister streets, Inkpaduta Avenue, and White Fox Road
Local historian Nancy Kayser shares a story on how some other streets were named.
“I think the streets Mary, Nancy Kathy and Betsy Lanes were named after the daughters of developer John Evans. They were delightful girls; I got to meet them.”
Bill Greenley, who lives on Inkpaduta Avenue, says that street is probably named after the Native American chief Wahpekute Dakota Chief Inkpaduta and his band of warriors who descended on the homesteads near Spirit Lake in northwestern Iowa and committed murder and mayhem in the spring of 1857.
Dan Ryherd told the story of the naming of White Fox Road on a Webster City Community Theatre cemetery tour a few years back.
“On one of the cemetery tours I played Peter Lyon,” he says. “He lived northeast of Webster City near Lyon Creek, out near where the old county home was located. One day he was out hunting and shot a white fox along the banks of White Fox Creek. Thus that creek also got its name.”
According to the publication, “Webster City, Past and Present” by the late Ed Nass, the Strohmeyer brothers financed a shoe factory in the northeast part of Webster City by purchasing a large plot of ground and dividing it into small lots which were sold at a lottery auction. The factory was built in 1893 on Oak Street near the Illinois Central tracks. The two-story brick structure produced about 400 pairs of shoes per day until it went bankrupt in 1902. The region in the northeast part of town is still referred to as “Shoetown,” in remembrance of this business.
Blueberry Hill is north of Webster City, running north off of 210th Street.
“It was a popular parking spot for young couples, and I believe was named by teens after the Fats Domino song, ‘Blueberry Hill’ was released,” says resident Kolleen Taylor. “If you remember, the line, ‘I found my thrill on Blueberry Hill,’ indicates some hanky-panky at that sight.
“Both my father and grandfather assisted hundreds of young couples who made that trip to Blueberry Hill with the intention of some personal private time together; in some cases, both parties were not willing, and were taken home after my dad or grandpa were awakened in the middle of the night. In other cases, they had gotten stuck (mud in spring; snow in winter), or gone into the ditch and were asking for help to get out. And on occasion, if a family member went by that location and noticed a car parked there, they might stop and inquire if there were problems. I’m afraid their inquiries were not always appreciated!”