The first surveyors running the township lines chose the name Ida for the new county in 1851 because the Indians had camped on a high hill west of where Ida Grove was later established. They had fires burning on top of that hill drying their strips of meat over green sapling frames so it would keep well and not spoil through the winter months. Those fires were so constant and visible all night that they suggested to the engineers the story of the vestal fires on Mount Ida in Greece. The Indians had hunted the wild animals in the nearby grove, later to become the site of the John Moorehead home. Wild animals could be black bear, catamounts, and elk.
A stagecoach trail was established through Ida County on January 24, 1855. It went from Fort Dodge, Iowa, in Sac County, through Ida County, and onto Sioux City, Iowa, in Woodbury County, with only a trail to follow. The “grove of trees” beside the home was the crossroads of at least five small stage lines.
On June 16, 1856, the Moorehead family came to live in this area, having purchased the land previously. John and Martha Moorehead had four children with them and another boy born in November of the same year. This Moorehead house, a.k.a. the Stagecoach Inn, is the remaining token of the beginning of Ida County and Ida Grove.
History marched by the front door of the Moorehead home with stagecoaches arriving daily at noon, and Dakota-bound settlers and army troops passing from Fort Dodge to Sioux City, Iowa. The new settlers going through in covered wagons, on their way to the Missouri Valley and South Dakota, needed grain, hay, and provisions. The Moorehead Family opened a general store close to their home. The home was a hotel.
The Moorehead home also was the first hospital when a doctor snowbound at the home performed surgery on frozen fingers and feet on the kitchen table. Supplies were needed at the home that first winter the Mooreheads were in Ida County when 20 people were staying in the log cabin’s one room. Supplies were purchased in Council Bluffs, and a blizzard kept the men, wagons, and oxen stuck in snowdrifts. The men came ahead on snowshoes.
The first post office in Ida County was established on July 21, 1857, and named “Ida,” at Judge Moorehead’s home, the only one in the county for many years. The postmark printed “Ida” within a circle.
The occasional circuit rider preachers would hold services in a big room of the Stagecoach Inn, and Mr. Moorehead would ride up and down the valley of the Maple River announcing the fact so others could come to their home for religious services, baptisms, and marriages. The first school was held in the front room of the Inn.
Ida County was organized in October 1858, and the population of Ida County numbered 38 people. The post office had been officially located at the Moorehead House, the Stagecoach Inn/Stop. The first election was held at the site of the first post office, “Ida” that year, but at that time, Ida Grove was the name of the home of Judge John H. Moorehead. Mrs. John Moorehead always had a name for her homes, and since it was in Ida County, she chose “Ida” for the county and “Grove,” for the trees located by her log cabin/house. The first courthouse was located in this log house home on October 15, 1860. The early settlement centered around the Moorehead home. The courthouse was moved later from the Moorehead Home to the Village of Ida, to the east a short distance.
1871 was the year the pioneers started the first town in Ida County, east of the Stagecoach Inn. It was called the Village of Ida that contained 16 blocks, and the second courthouse was located there with pioneers coming through each day and settling there opening new business places. On January 12, 1877, this second courthouse burned, together with most of the court records. The records were then kept in rented buildings for a few years. The second post office was opened in the Village of Ida on December 11, 1877.
The arrival of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad caused much excitement among the settlers in the fall of 1877. The pioneers needed the railroad transportation to ship their products for sale. The new town site was to be located south of the railroad tracks, and soon could be heard the pounding of nails for new business places and new homes. The existing cornfield soon became a new town. Many of the business buildings in the Village of Ida were hitched to a team of horses and dragged to the new town site. The train would bring in many more settlers by leaps and bounds. The railroad company chose the name for the new town. They liked Mrs. Moorehead’s name for her home, and decided to use the same name for the new town being built. The first train came puffing through on October 26, 1877, and now products could be shipped on the railroad, instead of herding the hogs to Denison, Iowa, where the train was earlier established. It took two days to walk their animals over 20 miles to Denison, and same time to go back home, walking the “higher ridges or divides.”
In 1878, the Village of Ida and the new town of Ida Grove were incorporated, and the name of Village of Ida was dropped. The official incorporation of the towns happened May 31, 1878. The new settlers enjoyed meeting with land seekers and travelers, and enjoyed telling them that Ida County was the garden spot of the world. They were enraptured with the beauty of the great rolling prairies of waving bluestem grass, the mammoth beds of wild flowers, the streams full of fish, and many singing birds flying around.
Ida County’s third courthouse was built in 1883 in the new town, Ida Grove, on Moorehead Street, on top of the hill, near the site of the south school elementary building, then called “The White School.” That courthouse is still being used in 2006, but with an addition to the building on the north side for more county offices. This courthouse dominates the skyline no matter from which direction Ida Grove is viewed.
Interesting Ida Grove Facts:
Ida Grove is home to the late governor and senator of Iowa, Harold Hughes.
Retired Iowa Supreme Court Justice Bruce Snell currently resides in Ida Grove.
This unique town is filled with castles and medieval architecture.