Iowa City to celebrate 175th birthday


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This weekend, Iowa City will celebrate its dodransbicentennial, or in simpler terms, its 175th birthday.

Iowa City’s origin takes a different path from that of most cities or towns in Iowa; it was an artificial creation to have a permanent place for the Iowa government.

In its early days in 1839, Clinton Street was simply a row of log cabins for the first settlers of Iowa City, according to a State Historical Society in 1893. That row of log cabins has grown into a UNESCO City of Literature, home to a Big Ten university, and a place that about 70,000 or 80,000 people call home.

This weekend, the city, Public Library, Downtown District, and the Friends of Historic Preservation will celebrate the 175th anniversary with a weekend full of events, ranging from historic walks of Iowa City, horse-drawn carriage rides, and fireworks.

“It’s a big milestone for any community,” Mayor Matt Hayek said. “It’s not a centennial or bicentennial, but nevertheless, it’s an important milestone.”

To celebrate, the Iowa City Public Library has hosted exhibits with local Iowa City artifacts and photos from the past.

Kara Logsden, a community and access services coordinator for the library, said the birthday year really shows the tremendous local history of Iowa City.

“When it’s [Iowa City’s] birthday, it’s an opportunity to look back and reflect on the past and look forward to a bright future,” she said.

The pamphlet also notes even before housing lots had been sold in Iowa City, a bar had been established; the “lean-back hall.”

People flocked to Iowa City, with a few hundred lots — available for an average price of about $176 — being sold the first few days. Those lots sold even before a railroad track from Chicago had been finished, according to the Historical Society pamphlet.

George Etre, the president of the Downtown District and owner of several downtown restaurants, said he thinks the transformation of Iowa City over time has been surprising.

“The amazing thing is the sustainability of downtown,” he said. “It’s always evolving and expanding.”

Etre said the celebration comes at a great time for Iowa City, and while the summer months are full of life downtown, a winter celebration keeps downtown busy.

City Clerk Marian Karr, who helped organize the celebration events, said she was pleased with the time of year that was dedicated to recognize Iowa City’s 175 years.

“The winter fireworks offer a different experience,” she said. “Having a little bit of snow makes the fireworks just a little more special.”

Karr said the fireworks will be shot off from the top of the Chauncey Swan parking ramp, allowing everyone downtown to enjoy the show.

She noted that the celebration allows Iowa City to celebrate its roots.

Former City Councilor Irvin Pfab, who has been in Iowa City since 1965, said the change the city has been through shows the success it has had, particularly the development of downtown.

“I cannot believe how much the city has grown and changed over the years; they’ve just been leapfrog changes,” he said.

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