Keokuk, Iowa: Wikis


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Keokuk, Iowa
—  City  —
Main Street, Keokuk
Location of Keokuk, Iowa
Coordinates: 40°24′9″N 91°23′40″W / 40.4025°N 91.39444°W / 40.4025; -91.39444Coordinates: 40°24′9″N 91°23′40″W / 40.4025°N 91.39444°W / 40.4025; -91.39444
Country  United States
State  Iowa
County Lee
 - Total 10.6 sq mi (27.4 km2)
 - Land 9.2 sq mi (23.7 km2)
 - Water 1.4 sq mi (3.7 km2)
Elevation 571 ft (174 m)
Population (2000)
 - Total 11,427
 Density 1,247.5/sq mi (481.7/km2)
Time zone Central (CST) (UTC-6)
 - Summer (DST) CDT (UTC-5)
ZIP code 52632
Area code(s) 319
FIPS code 19-40845
GNIS feature ID 0458054
Keokuk Iowa bottom, with the Mississippi River, its lock, dam, power plant, rail bridge and highway bridge.

Keokuk (pronounced /ˈkiːəkʌk/) is a city in the southeastern part of the U.S. state of Iowa and one of the county seats of Lee County. The other county seat is Fort Madison. The population was 11,427 at the 2000 census. The city is named after Sauk Chief Keokuk, who is buried in Rand Park. It is located in the extreme southeast corner of Iowa where the Des Moines River meets with the Mississippi. It is located at the junction of U.S. Routes 61, 136 and 218. Just across the rivers are the small towns of Hamilton and Warsaw, Illinois, and Alexandria, Missouri.

Keokuk along with the city of Fort Madison, are principal cities of the Fort Madison–Keokuk Micropolitan Statistical Area, which includes all of Lee County, Iowa and Clark County, Missouri.



Keokuk is located at 40°24′9″N 91°23′40″W / 40.4025°N 91.39444°W / 40.4025; -91.39444 (40.402525, -91.394372)[1]. According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 10.6 square miles (27.4 km²), of which, 9.2 square miles (23.7 km²) of it is land and 1.4 square miles (3.7 km²) of it (13.42%) is water. The lowest point in the state of Iowa is located on the Mississippi River in Keokuk, where it flows out of Iowa and into Missouri and Illinois. The confluence is located about a mile west of downtown.


Situated between the Des Moines and Mississippi rivers, the area that became Keokuk was an ideal location for settlers. In 1820, an order was sent up and down the Mississippi River prohibiting soldiers to have Native American wives. Dr. Samuel C. Muir, a surgeon stationed at Fort Edwards (near present day Warsaw, Illinois), was so fond of his wife he resigned his position and crossed the river. He built a log cabin at the bottom of the bluff, thus making him the area’s first white settler.

As river traffic on the Mississippi increased, more whites began to settle. Around 1827, Jacob Aster established a post of the American Fur Company at the foot of the bluff. Five building were built to house workers and the business. This area became known as the “Rat Row.”

One of the earliest descriptions of Keokuk was made by Caleb Atwater in 1829:

The village is a small one containing twenty families perhaps. The American Fur Company have a store here and there is a tavern. Many Indians were fishing and their lights on the rapids in a dark night were darting about appearing and disappearing like so many fire flies; the constant roaring of the waters, on the rapids the occasional Indian yell, the lights of their fires on the shore, and the boisterous mirth of the people at the doggery attracted my attention occasionally while we were lying here. Fish were caught here in abundance.[2]

The settlement was part of the land designated as a Half-Breed Tract by the United States Government. Native Americans considered the settlement a neutral ground.[3]

Centering around the riverboat traffic, the settlement continued to grow. The village became known as Keokuk shortly after the Blackhawk War. The reason the settlement is named after the Sauk chief is unknown. Keokuk was incorporated on December 13, 1847.

In 1853 the Mormon pioneers were outfitted for their journey west in Keokuk, with over 2,000 of them passing through the city.[4]

Keokuk was the longtime home of Orion Clemens, brother of Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. Sam's visits to his brother's home led him to write of the beauty of Keokuk and southeastern Iowa in Life on the Mississippi.[5]

Keokuk began to boom during the Civil War. It became the embarking point for the troops heading to fight in southern battles. Injured soldiers were returned to Keokuk so several hospitals were established and a national cemetery was designated for those who did not survive.

After the war was over, Keokuk continued its expansion. A medical college was established and a major league baseball team, the Keokuk Westerns, was hosted in 1875.

A hydroelectric dam on the Mississippi River was completed in 1913 and the population of Keokuk reached 15,106 by 1930. [6]

In recent years, Keokuk has become less centered around the Mississippi River and more dependent on factories. The town celebrated 150 years in 1997.

Notable Residents

Samuel Clemens, writer, better known as Mark Twain

Annie Turner Wittenmyer, social reformer and relief worker

Samuel Freeman Miller, Supreme Court justice

Howard Hughes, American aviator, engineer, industrialist, film producer, film director, and philanthropist

Ramo Stott, stock car driver

Bud Fowler, first professional African American baseball player

Samuel Curtis, American military officer

Elsa Maxwell, writer

Palmer Pyle, NFL player

Mike Pyle, NFL player

Conrad Nagel, actor

James Vandenberg, second string quarterback for the Iowa Hawkeyes

Lipman, Samuel, and Marcus Younker, founders of Younkers department store

Bill Logan, leading scorer for Iowa's 1956 national runner-up basketball team


As of the census[7] of 2000, there are 11,427 people, 4,773 households, and 3,021 families residing in the city. The population density is 1,247.5 people per square mile (481.7/km²). There are 5,327 housing units at an average density of 581.6/sq mi (224.5/km²). The racial makeup of the city is 92.87% White, 3.90% African American, 0.27% Native American, 0.52% Asian, 0.01% Pacific Islander, 0.45% from other races, and 1.99% from two or more races. 1.09% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There are 4,773 households out of which 29.9% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 46.8% are married couples living together, 13.2% have a female householder with no husband present, and 36.7% are non-families. 32.4% of all households are made up of individuals and 16.2% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.35 and the average family size is 2.97.

Population spread: 25.4% under the age of 18, 8.6% from 18 to 24, 25.5% from 25 to 44, 22.9% from 45 to 64, and 17.7% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 38 years. For every 100 females there are 88.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 83.9 males.

The median income for a household in the city is $31,586, and the median income for a family is $39,574. Males have a median income of $31,213 versus $21,420 for females. The per capita income for the city is $17,144. 11.9% of the population and 8.1% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 15.7% of those under the age of 18 and 13.4% of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line.




The Mississippi River lock and dam along with the hydroelectric power plant were built in 1913 and still utilize most of the original equipment. When it began operation in August, 1913, it was the largest single powerhouse electric generating plant in the world.[8] It is part of the Keokuk Lock & Dam, both of which are visible from a park at the foot of the commercial district. The old lock, built in 1913 became too small for newer, larger barges and was replaced in 1957 with a 1200' x 110' lock. It also was the longest dam in the world, had the longest transmission line, and the highest voltage in the world. The Chief Engineer was Hugh L. Cooper.

The Grand Theatre was designed by Merle F. Baker and was constructed on the foundation of the Keokuk Opera House (Circa 1880) which burned in 1923. It was patterned after theaters in Chicago and was praised as one of the finest theaters in the country at the time. Presently, The Grand Theatre is owned by the city of Keokuk and is used as a performing arts center. The theatre has housed many historically important performers over the years, including both John Philip Sousa and Maynard Ferguson.

The tap water produced for the city at the Keokuk Waterworks Plant has been awarded the "Best Tasting Water In Iowa" by the Iowa Water Council.

Keokuk is also home to the Keokuk National Cemetery, the Keokuk Veteran's Memorial, the Miller House Museum, the annual American Civil War reenactment, and the George M. Verity River Museum.


The Keokuk Community School District has four elementary schools (George Washington, Torrence, Hawthorne, and Wells Carey), Keokuk Middle School, and Keokuk High School. The middle school was damaged by a fire in 2001[9] and replaced by a new school on a lot next to the high school.

Private education is provided by Keokuk Catholic Schools and Keokuk Christian Academy.

Keokuk is also home to a campus of Southeastern Community College (Iowa).

A few miles north of Keokuk is the Galland School, a replica of the first schoolhouse constructed in Iowa.


Each summer Keokuk is home to "Rollin' on the River," a local blues festival that attracts hundreds to Victory Park.

A community concert band exists in the form of the Irish themed McNamara's Band. The band has been around for many decades and regularly performs throughout the area.

Once a month the jazz big band, "Craig Bullis and Friends," performs at the local Hawkeye restaurant. The band is made up of area jazz musicians, as well as both collegiate level students and Professors of Music. The band has featured such guest artists as Reggie Watkins, former lead trombone and music arranger for Maynard Ferguson and Big Bop Nouveau.


Keokuk is home to the Great River Players, a thespian troupe that strives "to provide quality amateur theatrical productions for the tri-state area by encouraging members of the surrounding communities to express their creative abilities in all aspects of live theatre." The troupe performs a season of three shows, usually two plays and one musical.

Pop culture references

The town's name has been mentioned in a variety of ways on television, including: an episode of The Simpsons where Krusty the Klown mentioned Keokuk, along with Walla Walla, Cucamonga, and Seattle as funny named places; an episode of Nickelodeon's All Grown Up in which a class project involved family trees with ancestors originating in Keokuk; an episode of M*A*S*H in a story line involving Radar O'Reilly; an episode of the New Zoo Revue in which Freddy the Frog was blurting out random answers for a trivia contest; in a Dennis the Menace cartoon; and as part of a joke on Johnny Carson's The Tonight Show. Keokuk has also been mentioned on the game show "Jeopardy" under the category of starting and ending in K. It was described as "A small town in southeast Iowa".[citation needed]

Keokuk was also mentioned in a W. C. Fields film, as well as in the lyrics to Iowa Stubborn from Meredith Willson's 1957 musical, The Music Man. In the operetta Mlle. Modiste it is referred to a number of times as the hometown of Mr. and Mrs. Hiram Bent, the latter of which sings a song extolling the virtues of The Keokuk Culture Club.

See also

Further reading

For a depiction of Keokuk during its early boom years see: Michael A. Ross, “Cases of Shattered Dreams: Justice Samuel Freeman Miller and the Rise and Fall of a Mississippi River Town,” Annals of Iowa, 57 (Summer 1998): 201-239.

  1. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2000 and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2005-05-03. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  2. ^ Caleb Atwater (1831) Remarks made on a tour to Prairie du Chien: thence to Washington City, in 1829. p. 58-59. Issac Whiting, Columbus.
  3. ^ Sloat, Jerry. “Lee County, Iowa”. p. 44
  4. ^ Jenson, Andrew. Encyclopedia History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints p. 398
  5. ^ Life on the Mississppi. Mark Twain. Ch. 57
  6. ^ Jensen. Encyclopedic History, p. 398
  7. ^ "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  8. ^ Shaw, Albert (October 1913), "Dedicating the Great Keokuk Dam", The American Review of Reviews (New York: The Review of Reviews Company) XLVIII (No. 4): 407,,M1 
  9. ^ Radio Iowa: Fire damages Keokuk school, arson could be cause

External links


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