In 1848 when Pottawattamie County, Iowa, was organized, the area was thinly populated, there was no railroad, and the Indians made what is now Council Bluffs their home. Layton Township, site of the town of Walnut, was the last portion of the county to attract the land agent and settler, possibly because of the distance to markets. It was nearly all gently rolling prairie, and land sold for $5-$10 per acre.
The Rock Island Railroad came in 1868 and built Walnut Creek Station. The town grew up around the railroad, and the name was shortened to Walnut. Within ten years the population had grown to 1,000. Settlers were drawn by the rich and fertile farmland and with the rapid settlement of Walnut Creek Station land agents and merchants of all kinds came to enjoy the prosperity. The area in 1871 was described by an early pioneer settler in Walnut Memoirs by Roma Arndt: "The Depot was the only building, outside of a few shanties. The wildflowers grew in profusion and were very beautiful. Wild strawberries were picked by the tubsful…"
The late 19th and early 20th century was a boom time for Walnut. These were the days when the flourmill was shipping a 100 barrels of flour daily and the downtown business district boasted stores brimming with furniture, millinery, clothing, hardware, a pharmacy and soda fountain, an assembler and seller of Ford Model T automobiles, and sundry dry goods. But over the years, with the departure of the railroad from Walnut and the general population shift from small rural towns to the cities, commercial activity in Walnut declined until many downtown buildings were unused, boarded up, and some were literally falling down.
Exactly when or how "Iowa’s Antique City" was born is the subject of almost as many explanations as there are residents in Walnut. Olive Fergusen in her beautiful Victorian home operated the first antique shop in town on Pacific Street. Mary Campbell, who formerly owned The Walnut Bureau newspaper, opened Walnut’s first downtown antique shop at the corner of Central (now Antique City Drive) and Pearl streets many years before Walnut came to be known as "Iowa’s Antique City."
Some of the factors which led to the Governor's designation of Walnut as "Iowa's Antique City" were the former Dyer's Auction Gallery, where owner Cal Dyer conducted auctions of fabulous, investment quality antique furnishings which attracted buyers from across the country to little Walnut, Iowa. Trucks and trailers from New York to California, from Florida to Oregon, and from Michigan to Texas were common sights on the streets of Walnut during Cal's big auctions.
Promotion efforts by Eldon Ranney, and his wife Marilyn who owned and operated the Victorian Rose antique shop for several years, were instrumental in developing the Walnut you see today. They were also responsible in the establishment of the Walnut Merchants Association, an organization of the local merchants to advertise and promote "Iowa's Antique City" and the formation of the Walnut Area Development Association (WADA) to promote growth and development of the city.
Certainly not to be overlooked are the efforts of local organizations such as the Walnut Optimist Club who built and operate the Walnut Visitors Center and Gift shop, and AMVETS Post #45 which is responsible for the largest annual event on Walnut's calendar, The Annual AMVETS Antique Show and Walk, which draws in excess of 40,000 people to Walnut over Father's Day Weekend in June each year. The Walnut Creek HISTORICAL Society, The Walnut Questers, and so many other people and organizations played major roles in reviving Walnut from a shrinking rural town of empty storefronts to one of Western Iowa's "must see" stops for visitors from throughout Iowa, Nebraska, and Missouri, and from across the country.
Walnut experienced five large fires throughout its history. Click on the following links for additional information about the fires:
Baked! Sixteen Buildings: $40,000 Worth of Property - February 10, 1881
Blazes! A $45,000 Fire - August 18, 1887
A $10,000 Blaze! - December 1, 1887
Another Conflagration - September 9, 1892
16 Buildings in Ashes - June 26, 1896
The Walnut Creek Historical Society is now on Facebook! Click the link below to see their page.
Walnut Creek Historical Society Facebook page