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Appanoose County Courthouse in Centerville
Appanoose County Courthouse in Centerville
Official seal of Centerville
Location of Centerville, Iowa
Location of Centerville, Iowa
Centerville, Iowa is located in Iowa
Centerville, Iowa
Centerville, Iowa
Location in Iowa
Centerville, Iowa is located in the United States
Centerville, Iowa
Centerville, Iowa
Location in the United States
Country  United States
State  Iowa
County Appanoose
 • Total 4.87 sq mi (12.60 km2)
 • Land 4.84 sq mi (12.53 km2)
 • Water 0.03 sq mi (0.08 km2)
1,007 ft (307 m)
 • Total 5,412
 • Density 1,118.88/sq mi (432.00/km2)
Time zone UTC−6 (Central (CST))
 • Summer (DST) UTC−5 (CDT)
ZIP Code
Area code(s) 641
FIPS code 19-12315
GNIS feature ID 0455310

Centerville is a city in and the county seat of Appanoose County, Iowa, United States. The population was 5,412 in the 2020 census, a decline from 5,924 in 2000. After the turn of the 20th century Centerville had a booming coal mining industry that attracted many European immigrants. The city today remains the home of many Swedish Americans, Italian Americans, Croatian Americans, Albanian Americans and others descended from immigrants who worked in the mines.


Founded in 1846 by Jonathon Stratton under the name of "Chaldea," the city was planned around a unique two-block long city square. The name was later changed to Senterville, named after William Tandy Senter, a prominent Tennessee politician. When incorporation papers were filed in 1855, someone mistook the name for a misspelling and corrected it to Centerville.

A mining town

Map of the Centerville area from 1908, showing the railroads and shipping coal mines (shown in red) of the region. Centerville is in the lower right quadrant. Smaller mines that did not ship by rail are not shown.

The first coal mine in Centerville was opened in 1868, with its mine shaft about one-half mile from the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad depot. Horse-power was used to raise coal from the mines until 1872, when the Watson Coal Company opened a mine equipped with a steam hoist. The Centerville Block Coal Company, organized in 1894, consolidated the operation of numerous mines in the region to become the dominant mining company. In 1914, Centerville Block Coal produced over 100,000 tons of coal, ranking among the top 24 coal producers in the state. Centerville Block's largest competitor, formed around the same time, was the Scandinavian Coal Company, organized by a group of Swedish immigrants. By 1938, coal production in the Centerville region was 600,000 tons per year. The mines were in the Mystic coal bed, 125 feet below ground in Centerville but exposed at the surface in Mystic, 5 miles to the northwest.

The upper works of the Relay Mine No. 3, circa 1908.

Centerville Block Coal's Relay Mine Number 3 was located on the west side of town (Number 31 on the map). By 1908, the coal face was a mile from the base of the shaft. Mules were used to haul trains of loaded coal tubs to the main haulage way, where they were hauled by a continuous loop of cable the last half mile to the shaft. The coal seam here was about 3 feet thick, and the shaft was 107 feet deep. A centrifugal blower 12 feet in diameter provided ventilation, and compressed air was used to power mining machinery.

Local Assembly 1020 of the Knights of Labor was based in Centerville and had a membership of 150 in 1884. On April 1, 1885, 325 miners in town went on strike, protesting a 20% drop in wages reflecting a decrease in the demand for coal during the summer months. Later, the United Mine Workers of America had a very strong presence in Centerville. In 1912, UMWA Local 553 in Centerville had 1194 members, making it the second largest UMWA local in the country. The largest UMWA local was in Buxton, Iowa.

In 1910, the Scandinavian Coal Company drilled a 550-foot exploratory hole in Centerville, discovering a deposit of gypsum and anhydrite 10 feet thick near the bottom. The Centerville Gypsum Company was formed to exploit this deposit, and between 1912 and 1913, the company bored a shaft down to the gypsum. Water problems delayed the opening of the mine until 1917, and commercial production began in 1919. The mine was closed in the early 1930s.

The Sunshine mine, about 3 miles west of Centerville (number 30 on the map), was very small in 1908, with just a horse-powered hoist at the pit head. By the 1930s, this was a large mine with an attached mining camp and a mountain of mine waste 500 feet long. The Sunshine Mine Drive-In is a theater on the former mine site that opened in 2005.

The post-coal era

Centerville experienced its peak population in the early 1900s as the popularity of coal peaked. After that point, as usage dwindled, the coal industry that had been the community's life blood collapsed. In the 1950s and 1960s a civic movement to promote new industries began. This effort culminated in the building of Rathbun Dam, near the city of Rathbun, Iowa, forming Rathbun Lake, known as "Iowa's Ocean", that was dedicated on July 31, 1971 by President Richard M. Nixon.

Today the city is supported by several small industrial plants, mostly in the area of plastic products. In June 2006 the Centerville Daily Iowegian reported that the city's largest employer, a Rubbermaid plant, that opened in Centerville in 1985, would shut down in September 2006 displacing 500 workers. In 2007, the former Rubbermaid building was purchased by Lee Container Corp. of Homerville, Georgia, and is planned to be re-opened in 2008. Lee Container is a manufacturer of H.D.P.E. blow molded containers for crop protection-, lubricant-, pet care-, beverage-, specialty- and household products. The city (and county) is also served by several other manufacturing operations, including Curwood, a Bemis Company, a major supplier of flexible packaging and pressure-sensitive materials used by leading food, consumer products, manufacturing, and other companies worldwide. The Barker Company, of Keosauqua, Iowa that manufactures many lines of refrigerated, non-refrigerated and hot display cases for the supermarket, convenience store and food service industries located a manufacturing plant in Centerville in 1998. However, despite these businesses, unemployment rates in the area remain at higher than average levels in the state. Both the city of Centerville and Appanoose County have a very high poverty rate and low quality of life because of this and other factors.

As county seat, Centerville had a thriving retail sector, serving people from smaller communities and farms in the area as well as local residents. Many shops were located around the Courthouse Square Historic District, which has hundreds of parking spaces between the shops' sidewalks and the courthouse lawn—in effect, six-lane wide streeting around the Appanoose County Courthouse provides four lanes of public parking. In the latter decades of the 20th century, Centerville, like many other small American communities, experienced a change in its retail economy as many long-established locally owned shops closed, due in large part to loss of business to large nationally owned retailers. Although many of the former stores have been replaced by specialty gift shops and antique stores, catering to tourists as well as locals, many businesses and stores have closed and not re-opened.

On May 19, 1999, the Lake Center Mall, that was built on 1974, was destroyed by an act of arson, starting in the Dollar General Store. The entire site was remodeled onto a Strip Mall where Cinema 4 Theatres and a Pizza Ranch located there in the mid 2000s. The Pizza Ranch has since closed.

In 1984, the Appanoose County Community Railroad was formed out of discarded pieces of the Norfolk Southern (formerly Wabash/Norfolk and Western), Burlington Northern (formerly Chicago, Burlington and Quincy), and Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific lines to maintain a rail link to the outside world. It runs to A connection with the BNSF Railroad in Albia. Forming the railroad helped to bring Rubbermaid to the city The Southern Iowa Railroad was an electric interurban that used to connect Centerville to Moravia with a branch to Mystic. The railroad disbanded in 1967 without the bother of state or federal permission.

Since the 1990s, Centerville has focused on quality-of-life issues in an attempt to attract and keep young families in the area. A new emphasis on the arts, culture and local history has emerged, culminating in the Townscape project to beautify the Courthouse Square Historic District. However, a great deal of effort has also been expended in securing the town a reputation as a retirement center. To that end, many retirement homes and assisted-living facilities have been refurbished or newly constructed. An example of this is the former Continental Hotel, located on the Centerville square.


According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 4.89 square miles (12.67 km2), of which 4.86 square miles (12.59 km2) is land and 0.03 square miles (0.08 km2) is water.


Historical population
Year Pop. ±%
1850 1,137 —    
1860 509 −55.2%
1870 1,037 +103.7%
1880 2,475 +138.7%
1890 3,668 +48.2%
1900 5,256 +43.3%
1910 6,936 +32.0%
1920 8,486 +22.3%
1930 8,147 −4.0%
1940 8,413 +3.3%
1950 7,625 −9.4%
1960 6,629 −13.1%
1970 6,531 −1.5%
1980 6,558 +0.4%
1990 5,936 −9.5%
2000 5,924 −0.2%
2010 5,528 −6.7%
2020 5,412 −2.1%
Iowa Data Center
Source: U.S. Decennial Census
The population of Centerville, Iowa from US census data

2010 census

As of the census of 2010, there were 5,528 people, 2,491 households, and 1,411 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,137.4 inhabitants per square mile (439.2/km2). There were 2,838 housing units at an average density of 584.0 per square mile (225.5/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 96.5% White, 0.9% African American, 0.4% Native American, 0.3% Asian, 0.3% from other races, and 1.5% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.9% of the population.

There were 2,491 households, of which 27.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 38.4% were married couples living together, 13.9% had a female householder with no husband present, 4.3% had a male householder with no wife present, and 43.4% were non-families. 37.9% of all households were made up of individuals, and 17.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.17 and the average family size was 2.84.

The median age in the city was 41.8 years. 22.6% of residents were under the age of 18; 9% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 22.2% were from 25 to 44; 26.1% were from 45 to 64; and 20.2% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 46.6% male and 53.4% female.


Centerville Iowa East Entrance Sign
Centerville Iowa east entrance sign

Pancake Day

Since 1949 the city has conducted an annual Pancake Day festival. For the first five years the celebration was held the first Thursday in October until 1954 when it was moved to the last Thursday in September. In 1965 the celebration was moved to the last Saturday in September. Pancake Day is a time for local businesses and organizations to cook up pancakes which they provide for free to their customers to show thanks for their continued patronage. The event that is held in the Courthouse Square Historic District features a morning kiddie parade, a larger afternoon parade with a unique double loop parade route, a beauty queen contest and free entertainment.

Pancake Day has been attended by many well-known celebrities including Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver; J. C. Penney; Philip W. Pillsbury; former Governor of New York, W. Averell Harriman; Muriel Humphrey; Rocky Marciano; and Centerville Native Simon Estes. Entertainers have included Thomas Ian Nicholas, Barbara Mandrell, and Minnie Pearl.

Croatian Fest

Croatian Fest has been held in Centerville on the last Saturday in July since 1987 to celebrate the area's Croatian Heritage. It is celebrated with colorful ethnic costumes, music, dancing and entertainment, as well as home-cooked ethnic food. The event includes an afternoon Polka Mass celebrated at Saint Mary's Catholic Church.

Croatian Fest was held in the Courthouse Square Historic District through 2004. From 2005-2008 the event was held at the Knights of Columbus Hall. It has not yet been held since the 2008 event, and there are no plans currently for it to be held again.


Largest Employers

According to data from Iowa Workforce Development, the largest employers in Centerville include:

Employer Size Class
Barker Co. Ltd 250-499
Lee Container 100-249
Mercy One Centerville Medical Center 100-249
Centerville Community School District (and affiliated schools) 100-249
Walmart Supercenter 100-249
Hy-Vee 100-249
Fareway 100-249
C&C Machining 50-99
Knight Rifles 50-99


The school district serving Centerville is the Centerville Community School District. It consists of Centerville High School, Howar Middle, Lakeview Elementary, Central Ward Elementary all located in Centerville. Central Ward Elementary closed in 2020 when classes were moved to Lakeview Elememtary.

The first Centerville High School graduate—and the one and only graduate from the Class of 1876—was Jennie Drake, the daughter of former Governor of Iowa Francis M. Drake. The first African-American graduate was Joseph Edwin Herriford, a graduate from the Class of 1885.

Centerville is the home of the Centerville Campus of Indian Hills Community College, a two-year community college, that was established in 1930 as Centerville Junior College, later known as Centerville Community College. On October 1, 1970 the college became the Centerville Campus of Indian Hills Community College when it merged as an Iowa Area XV Community College, which has its main campus located in Ottumwa, Iowa, known as the Ottumwa Campus of Indian Hills Community College. In 1970 the present Centerville Campus of Indian Hills Community College was built on North First Street in Centerville, Iowa.



Iowa Highway 2 runs east–west through Centerville and Iowa Highway 5 runs north–south.

Iowa Southern Railway (ISRY), formerly Appanoose County Community Railroad, is operated by Progressive Rail, Inc. with class one connections with BNSF, CP, and NS.

Centerville Municipal Airport is located on the southwest edge of Centerville.


Alliant Energy provides electric power and gas. Windstream Holdings, Mediacom, and Natel offer cable television, landline telephone, and internet service. Rathbun Regional Water Association provides drinking water and related services. Centerville Municipal Water is an independent entity that provides water and sewer services. Multiple privately owned trash haulers offer trash removal. Recycling services are available at the Rathbun Area Solid Waste Commission (RASWC).

Notable people

Images for kids

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Centerville (Iowa) para niños

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