The first inhabitants of the region now known as Black Hawk County were the Sauk and Fox (Meskwaki) tribes, who settled in eastern Iowa in the early 1700's after being displaced by other tribes further east1. European settlers to the Iowa Territory followed in the 1840's, and Scandinavians, Slovaks, Hispanic, Germans, and Greeks settled in large numbers with the granting of Iowa statehood in 1847.
The first known non-indigenous inhabitants of Cedar Falls (or what was then called “Sturgis Falls") were William Sturgis and his brother-in-law, Erasmus Adams. These settlers first came to Sturgis Falls in 1845 and were attracted to the area because of its timber, prairie for farming, and the Cedar River for its drinking, transportation, and power potential.
In 1850, John and Dempsey Overman, together with John Barrick, bought out the Sturgis family and renamed the community “Cedar Falls.”
In 1853, the Black Hawk County commissioners convened in Cedar Falls and located the seat of county government in the community.
During the 1840s and 1850s, a steamboat named the “Blackhawk” operated along the Cedar River between Cedar Rapids and Waterloo. However, the shallow depth of the Cedar River between Waterloo and Cedar Falls prevented the steamboat from serving Cedar Falls, which also caused friction between the communities. Between 1855 and 1860, Cedar Falls grew from approximately 450 persons to just over 1,500. Shortly thereafter, the area began to develop, and the following “firsts” occurred including a post office in 1850, schoolhouse in 1853, and railroad connection in 1861.
Finally in July of 1967, the State College of Iowa became known as the University of Northern Iowa.
Other prominent landmarks and community facilities were being constructed during this time including Sartori Hospital and the Cedar Falls Bible Conference.
Between 1950 and 1980, the City of Cedar Falls had one of the fastest growing municipal populations in the State of Iowa. This was spurred primarily by economic growth in the Metropolitan Area: namely John Deere and Company, Rath Packing, and Chamberlain Manufacturing all in Waterloo; a tremendous growth in UNI enrollment; and emphasis by civic leaders on quality of life factors in the community. Also during this time, and up to 1990, open enrollment of students and the Price Lab School at UNI were very important issues facing Cedar Falls.
Today, the City of Cedar Falls takes pride in its schools, its relationship with UNI, strong leadership, and development being experienced by the community. The City has a strong desire to: maintain its identity through leadership; foster growth and development; and to improve services and its quality of life amenities whenever possible.
1. Cedar Falls Historical Society (undated). "A Historical Timeline of Cedar Falls".