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Mason City, Iowa
Plaza converted from Federal Avenue in Downtown Mason City
Plaza converted from Federal Avenue in Downtown Mason City
Nickname(s): 
River City
Location of Mason City, Iowa
Location of Mason City, Iowa
Country  United States
State Iowa
County Cerro Gordo
Area
 • Total 28.09 sq mi (72.77 km2)
 • Land 27.79 sq mi (71.99 km2)
 • Water 0.30 sq mi (0.78 km2)
Elevation
1,129 ft (344 m)
Population
 (2020)
 • Total 27,338
 • Rank 16th in Iowa
 • Density 973.0/sq mi (375.68/km2)
Time zone UTC−6 (Central (CST))
 • Summer (DST) UTC−5 (CDT)
ZIP Codes
50401, 50402, 50467
Area code(s) 641
FIPS code 19-50160
GNIS feature ID 0458840
Website www.masoncity.net

Mason City is a city and the county seat of Cerro Gordo County, Iowa, United States. The population was 27,338 in the 2020 census, a decline from 29,172 in the 2000 census. The Mason City Micropolitan Statistical Area includes all of Cerro Gordo and Worth counties. It is commonly referred to as the "River City", as the city grew up centered on the Winnebago River.

History

The region around what would later be first called "Shibboleth" was a summer home to the Sioux and Winnebago natives. The first settlement was made at Shibboleth in 1853 at the confluence of the Winnebago River and Calmus Creek. The town had several names: Shibboleth, Masonic Grove, and Masonville, until the name Mason City was adopted in 1855, in honor of a founder's son, Mason Long.

In 1854, John McMillin opened the first store, and Dr. Silas Card opened the first medical practice in the area. Lizzie Thompson established the first schoolhouse in a log cabin in 1856. The United States Post Office Department started service to the town in 1857. Mason City was named as the county seat in 1858.

Musical heritage

Bandmaster 2009
Bandmaster 2009

Mason City, above all else, is known for its outstanding musical heritage, consistently producing successful performers and educators. Mason City's "favorite son" Meredith Willson grew up in Mason City, having played in the Mason City Symphonic Band as a student at Mason City High School. Willson's crowning achievement was the famous musical The Music Man, which was first a successful Broadway musical, then a popular film. Many of the characters in it were taken from people Willson knew from his childhood in Mason City. The show first opened on Broadway in 1957 and became a hit, with a three-year run at the Majestic Theatre, followed by an additional 1,375 performances at the Broadway Theatre. The Music Man garnered many awards, including 5 Tony Awards in 1958. The 1962 film version starred Robert Preston, Shirley Jones, and Buddy Hackett. It was both a critical and commercial success, being nominated for six Academy Awards (including Best Picture) and winning one (Best Musical Score).

Geography

Mason City's longitude and latitude coordinates
in decimal form are 43.148747, −93.201916.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 28.10 square miles (72.78 km2), of which 27.81 square miles (72.03 km2) is land and 0.29 square miles (0.75 km2) is water.

Demographics

Historical population
Census Pop.
1870 1,183
1880 2,510 112.2%
1890 4,007 59.6%
1900 6,747 68.4%
1910 11,230 66.4%
1920 20,065 78.7%
1930 23,304 16.1%
1940 27,080 16.2%
1950 27,980 3.3%
1960 30,642 9.5%
1970 30,379 −0.9%
1980 30,144 −0.8%
1990 29,040 −3.7%
2000 29,172 0.5%
2010 28,079 −3.7%
2020 27,338 −2.6%
Iowa Data Center

2010 census

As of the census of 2010, there were 28,079 people, 12,366 households, and 7,210 families living in the city. The population density was 1,009.7 inhabitants per square mile (389.8/km2). There were 13,352 housing units at an average density of 480.1 per square mile (185.4/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 93.8% White, 1.8% African American, 0.3% Native American, 0.9% Asian, 1.3% from other races, and 1.9% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 5.1% of the population.

There were 12,366 households, of which 26.8% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 43.2% were married couples living together, 10.8% had a female householder with no husband present, 4.3% had a male householder with no wife present, and 41.7% were non-families. Of all households, 35.0% were made up of individuals, and 13.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.20 and the average family size was 2.83.

The median age in the city was 40.9 years. 21.9% of residents were under the age of 18; 9.7% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 23.1% were from 25 to 44; 28.2% were from 45 to 64, and 17.1% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 48.2% male and 51.8% female.

Arts and culture

Events and festivals

In late May or early June Mason City holds an annual celebration of its musical heritage called The North Iowa Band Festival. Bands from across the midwest compete during the parade to be named the best band. The home bands, Mason City High School and Newman Catholic High School Marching Bands, do not compete but do perform in the parade.

Landmarks

Architecture and the Prairie School

Mason City is widely known for its collection of Prairie School architecture, the largest concentration of any city in Iowa. At least 32 houses and one commercial building were built in the Prairie Style between 1908 and 1922, 17 of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and eight more are contributing properties to a historic district.

The first two Prairie structures, the Dr. G.C. Stockman House (1908) and the Park Inn Hotel and City National Bank Buildings (1909–1910) were both designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The hotel and bank, a mixed-use development at the corner of State and Federal Avenues, was the first to be commissioned by local attorneys James E. E. Markley and James E. Blythe. Within a year, Wright was hired to design the Stockman House by Markley's neighbor.

Len Jus Mason City
The historic
and endangered
Len Jus Building

Both the Park Inn Hotel and Stockman House suffered from neglect and unsympathetic alterations before they were saved by community organizations. In 1989, the Stockman House was moved four blocks to prevent its demolition; it was subsequently restored and opened to the public by the River City Society for Historic Preservation. Likewise, Wright on the Park, Inc. began restoration on the Park Inn Hotel in 2005 and the former City National Bank building in 2007. The organization will reopen both buildings as a boutique hotel in August 2011. The Park Inn Hotel is last remaining of the few hotels that Wright completed during his career and is considered a prototype for Wright's Imperial Hotel.

The Rock Glen and Rock Crest National Historic district is a small enclave of single-family homes situated along the banks of Willow Creek five blocks east of downtown. It is the largest collection of prairie style homes in a natural setting in the world.

In addition to Prairie Style architecture, Mason City is home to extensive Victorian, Craftsman, and Bungalow style homes, as well as historic commercial structures dates from between 1892 and 1940, including the Brick and Tile Building at the intersection of State and Delaware Streets.

The Mason City Public Library was designed by Chicago architects Holabird and Root in 1939.

The Len Jus Building on North Federal Avenue has an extremely rare sheet-metal facade, it had been placed on the Iowa Historic Preservation Alliance's Most Endangered list because of its poor repair and indifferent ownership, but is now being rehabilitated by the new owner.

Sister city

Mason City, Iowa, and Montegrotto Terme, Italy, created a Sister City relationship in the spring of 2005. This relationship creates a bridge between the two cities that citizens can use to build new and lasting friendships and relationships.

Economy

Mason City has a very diverse employment base covering multiple sectors of the economy including Manufacturing, Health, Financial Services, Technology and Education, with no one sector or employer dominating the market.

The largest employer is MercyOne North Iowa Medical Center, formerly known as Mercy Medical Center-North Iowa, and before that as St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, is the region's largest hospital. The facility serves 14 counties across northern Iowa. In June 2019, the hospital opened a new $10.6 million behavioral center.

Other major employers include door manufacturer Graham Company, Woodhardbor Cabinetry Manufacturers, Principal Financial, Cargill Kitchen Solutions and the Kraft Foods plant that produces the nation's entire supply of refrigerated ready-to-eat Jell-O pudding snacks. Mason City is also a major production center for Portland Cement. In November 2007, Reyes Holding / Martin-Brower opened a distribution facility serving McDonald's in 5 states.

In March 2016, North Carolina based company Prestage Farms proposed to build a $240 million pork processing plant or slaughterhouse in Mason City, employing about 1,800 people. In May, the Mason City Council cast a tie vote rejecting the proposed project. Plant opponents raised environmental issues and expressed concern about possible harm to property values.

Education

Primary and secondary schools

Mason City Community School District operates the following schools: Harding Elementary School, Hoover Elementary School, Jefferson Elementary School, Roosevelt Elementary School, Lincoln Intermediate School (5–6), John Adams Junior High School (7–8), Mason City High School, (9–12), Mason City Alternative High School, Madison Early Childhood Center. Past schools include Lincoln, Washington, Grant and Garfield elementary schools, and Monroe and Roosevelt junior high schools.

Newman Catholic Elementary/Middle School, Newman Catholic High School, and North Iowa Christian School. Mason City is also the home of the Worldwide College of Auctioning founded in 1933 by the well-known auctioneer Col. Joe Reisch and subsequently owned/operated for many years by Col. Gordon E. Taylor.

Postsecondary education

Mason City is home to several institutions of higher education, including the North Iowa Area Community College (formerly Mason City Junior College), a branch of Buena Vista University which is located on the NIACC campus, and Purdue University Global formerly known as Kaplan University. Purdue University to acquire Mason City Kaplan campus Hamilton College, a business school, has operated in the city since 1900.

Sports

Mason City has some history of minor league and amateur sports teams despite its relatively small size.

The North Iowa Bulls are a junior ice hockey team that first began play in the 2011 as member of the North American 3 Hockey League (NA3HL). The Bulls won the league championship in 2013, 2014, 2016, and 2021, while also winning the Tier III National Championship in 2013 and 2015. The Bulls moved up to the Tier II North American Hockey League (NAHL) and rebranded the Tier III team as the Mason City Toros in 2021. The North Iowa Outlaws junior hockey team previously played in the NAHL from 2005 until 2010, when they relocated to Onalaska, Wisconsin, to become the Coulee Region Chill. The North Iowa Huskies played in the United States Hockey League from 1983 to 1999 and then moved the Cedar Rapids.

Mason City was home to minor league baseball. The Mason City Cementmakers (1912) and Mason City Claydiggers (1915-1917) played as members of the Iowa State League (1912) and Central Association (1915–1917). The teams played at Hanford Park.

The Mason City Bats of the short-lived Great Central League played baseball here in 1994.

College Football Hall of Fame coach Barry Alvarez led Mason City High School to the 1978 Class 4A state football championship with a 15–13 victory over Dubuque Hempstead.

River City Rugby Football Club was established in Mason City in 1972. The Club competes in two separate two-month seasons, April and May, and September and October. The Club celebrated its 40th anniversary in June 2012. Over 250 players have played for the Club since it first began. The Club competes against teams from Iowa, Minnesota, and Nebraska in the Midwest Division 3.

Infrastructure

Surface transportation

The majority of Mason City is served by Iowa Highway 122 and U.S. Route 65. U.S. Route 18 now bypasses the city to the south. Interstate 35 (eight miles to the west) serves the city as well.

Rail service

Mason City is home to the Iowa Traction Railway. The IATR is one of the last surviving electric interurban railroads in the U. S., and the only one that still uses electric locomotives to haul freight in regular service.

Mason City also is served by the Canadian Pacific Railway and Union Pacific Railroad. The Canadian Pacific track is part of its US subsidiary the Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern Railroad ( former I&M Rail Link and Milwaukee Road trackage. The Union Pacific's track was inherited from the Chicago and North Western Transportation Company when it bought it in the 1990s. Much of the trackage is composed of the old Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific Railroad's (aka Rock Island Railroad )

While the Iowa Northern Railway does not operate in the city of Mason City, it does serve other communities in the Mason City micropolitan statistical area. The Iowa Northern has facilities in Manly, Iowa.

Airports

The city also hosts Mason City Municipal Airport, (MCW) with commercial service by United Airlines. It is the airport from which early rock and roll stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson) took off on the night of February 3, 1959, after a concert at the Surf Ballroom in nearby Clear Lake, Iowa, en route to Fargo, N.D. The plane crashed a few miles west of the airport in an historic event later referred to as the Day the Music Died. Holly, Valens, Richardson and pilot Roger Peterson all died in the accident.

Notable people

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