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Siouxland history through murals, Rock Rapids

15 Jun

Every Siouxland community has a history. Rock Rapids, Iowa, is no different, except that its history can be seen as you wander around the streets of this northwest Iowa town,  presented on buildings.

Some murals are smallish and painted on small boards costing around $800.00 while others are large, covering an entire wall with costs close to $18,000.00.

But not even the largest mural compares with the smile seen on Rock Rapids Mural board member Norma Jansma’s face when she talks about them. Jansma said the mural project began in 2002 with a group of towns people wanting something depicting the history of the community. Right now there are 26 murals telling the story of this place located in Lyon County. And all but six of the murals have been privately funded.

A recorded history says the area was surveyed in 1848 by Jefferson Davis and eventually a treaty was signed with the Sioux Indians giving the white man the chance to settle the area. History states the first white man to settle in Rock Rapids was someone only known as “Old Tom”. A Mr. James Gilman surveyed the town itself in 1872, which was platted in 1874 and incorporated in 1885.

The murals depict various personalities and events that affected the town such as a well respected doctor who delivered more babies in his lifetime than the town’s number of residents, the cost of war, the town’s volunteer fire department, a soda fountain and other “pioneering” personages. Jansma said a variety of artists have painted the different murals. Some of which are painted on the buildings themselves while others are painted on boards and attached to the buildings. One was even repainted, “The Ladies of the Night”, which Jansma said turned the heads of visitors from Sioux Center. The original was attached to a building which burned down, and it was decided that even the more salient part of the town’s history should be told, and another location was found to put up the replacement.

Two more murals are planned for the near future, one during the summer of this year, 2013, and another, #28, planned for the spring of 2014. And Jansma said she hopes this history lesson will continue to remind everyone of where they have been and maybe help direct them to where they are going.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

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