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Oskaloosa, Iowa
The Mahaska County Courthouse in Oskaloosa is listed on the National Register of Historic Places
The Mahaska County Courthouse in Oskaloosa is listed on the National Register of Historic Places
"Note the Difference"
Location of Oskaloosa, Iowa
Location of Oskaloosa, Iowa
Country  United States
State  Iowa
County Mahaska
Incorporated February 4, 1875
 • Total 7.45 sq mi (19.30 km2)
 • Land 7.43 sq mi (19.24 km2)
 • Water 0.02 sq mi (0.05 km2)
840 ft (256 m)
 • Total 11,463
 • Estimate 
 • Density 1,542.8/sq mi (595.7/km2)
Time zone UTC-6 (Central (CST))
 • Summer (DST) UTC-5 (CDT)
ZIP code
Area code(s) 641
FIPS code 19-59925
GNIS feature ID 0459908
Website Official City of Oskaloosa website

Oskaloosa is a city in and the county seat of Mahaska County, Iowa, United States. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, it was a national center of bituminous coal mining. The population was 11,463 in the 2010 census, an increase from 10,938 in the 2000 census.


Oskaloosa, Iowa (1864)
East side of public square, 1864
The Sam Smith coal mine in 1895, located in what is now the 1300 block of High Avenue West.
Theodore Roosevelt campaigns in the Oskaloosa city square in the fall of 1912.

Oskaloosa derives its name from Ouscaloosa who, according to town lore, was a Creek princess who married Seminole chief Osceola. A local tradition was that her name meant "last of the beautiful." (This interpretation of "last of the beautiful" is not correct. "Oskaloosa" in the Mvskoke-Creek language means "black rain," from the Mvskoke words "oske" (rain) and "lvste" (black). "loosa" is an English corruption of the Mvskoke word "lvste". See for example the Wikipedia entry for Tuskaloosa, eponym of the town of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. In addition the Mvskoke word "Ouscaloosa" means "Black Water"). The first European-American settlers arrived in 1835, led by Nathan Boone, youngest son of frontiersman Daniel Boone. Acting on instructions from Stephen W. Kearny, he selected this as the first site of Fort Des Moines, located on a high ridge between the Skunk and Des Moines rivers. The ridge was originally called the Narrows.

The town was formally platted in 1844 when William Canfield moved his trading post from the Des Moines River to Oskaloosa. The town was designated by the legislature as the county seat in the same year.

In the 1880s, more than one million tons of bituminous coal was mined in the area from 38 mines. The first mine in the area was opened shortly after 1853 by Robert Seevers, who drove a drift into a 4-foot coalbed in an exposed creek bank east of town. Initially, coal was mined entirely for local consumption, but with the arrival of the railroads, coal from the region was shipped widely. By 1887, the report of the state mine inspector listed 11 coal mines in and around Oskaloosa. By 1895 the coal output of Mahaska County surpassed that of all other Iowa counties, and production had reached more than one million tons per year. In 1911, coal mining was reported to be the primary industry in the region. In 1914, the Carbon Block Coal Company of Centerville produced more than 100,000 tons of coal, ranking among the top 24 coal producers in the state.

Several major coal-mining camps were located in the Oskaloosa area. Muchakinock was about 5 miles south of town, on the banks of the Muchakinock Creek. Lost Creek was a mining camp about 8 miles southeast of town. On January 24, 1902, there was a mine explosion in the Lost Creek No. 2 mine. This was one of only two major mine disasters in Iowa between 1888 and 1913. A miner setting shots to blast coal from the coal face re-used a hole left over from a previous failed shot, and the result was a coal dust explosion that detonated barrels of gunpowder stored in the mine. 20 men died on the site and 14 more were badly injured. The explosion sparked a statewide miner's strike. As a result, in April 1903, the legislature enacted a law to regulate blasting in coal mines.


According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 7.45 square miles (19.30 km2), of which, 7.43 square miles (19.24 km2) is land and 0.02 square miles (0.05 km2) is water.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1850 625
1860 4,393 602.9%
1870 3,204 −27.1%
1880 4,598 43.5%
1890 6,558 42.6%
1900 9,212 40.5%
1910 9,466 2.8%
1920 9,427 −0.4%
1930 10,123 7.4%
1940 11,024 8.9%
1950 11,124 0.9%
1960 11,053 −0.6%
1970 11,224 1.5%
1980 10,989 −2.1%
1990 10,632 −3.2%
2000 10,938 2.9%
2010 11,463 4.8%
Est. 2015 11,607 1.3%
U.S. Decennial Census

2010 census

As of the census of 2010, there were 11,463 people, 4,715 households, and 2,842 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,542.8 inhabitants per square mile (595.7/km2). There were 5,144 housing units at an average density of 692.3 per square mile (267.3/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 93.3% White, 2.0% African American, 0.3% Native American, 1.7% Asian, 0.9% from other races, and 1.8% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.4% of the population.

There were 4,715 households of which 29.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 44.0% were married couples living together, 12.2% had a female householder with no husband present, 4.1% had a male householder with no wife present, and 39.7% were non-families. 33.3% of all households were made up of individuals and 15.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.30 and the average family size was 2.92.

The median age in the city was 35.8 years. 23.4% of residents were under the age of 18; 13.1% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 23.3% were from 25 to 44; 23.2% were from 45 to 64; and 17.1% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 48.8% male and 51.2% female.

2000 census

As of the census of 2000, there were 10,938 people, 4,603 households, and 2,863 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,593.8 people per square mile (615.6/km²). There were 4,945 housing units at an average density of 720.5 per square mile (278.3/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 95.86% White, 1.16% African American, 0.25% Native American, 1.32% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 0.41% from other races, and 0.97% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.26% of the population.

There were 4,603 households out of which 29.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 49.2% were married couples living together, 10.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 37.8% were non-families. 32.8% of all households were made up of individuals and 15.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.28 and the average family size was 2.89.

Population spread: 24.1% under the age of 18, 11.2% from 18 to 24, 26.2% from 25 to 44, 19.9% from 45 to 64, and 18.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females there were 94.9 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 91.3 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $34,490, and the median income for a family was $42,138. Males had a median income of $33,830 versus $23,698 for females. The per capita income for the city was $18,721. About 10.6% of families and 13.7% of the population were below the poverty line, including 18.0% of those under age 18 and 11.6% of those age 65 or over.

Arts and culture

Rocket Slide in Edmundson Park, Oskaloosa, Iowa
A rare example of Cold War playground equipment at Edmundson Park in Oskaloosa

Annual events

The Southern Iowa Fair is one of the largest traditional county fairs in Iowa and is held each July.

Art on the Square is held each June on the city square. This event features local and regional artists.

Sweet Corn Serenade is held each August on the city square. A concert by the municipal band is the highlight of the corn-on-the-cob and pork burger feast.

Each December, the Lighted Christmas Parade travels through the downtown area on two consecutive nights. The floats in the parade are adorned with lights for the after-dark event.


In the city's town square is a bronze statue of Chief Mahaska, the 19th-century leader of a Native American tribe called the Ioway; he was memorialized by the name of Mahaska County. Restored in the 21st century, the statue was completed in 1907 by an Iowa-born sculptor named Sherry Edmundson Fry (1879–1966). At the time it was commissioned, Fry was living in Paris. He returned to Iowa the following summer to make preparatory drawings of Meskwaki at the nearby Settlement at Tama, Iowa, and to collect Indian artifacts and other reference materials. Returning to Paris, he began on a clay scale model, which he first showed at the Paris Salon in 1907. A year later, Fry exhibited the final full-sized sculpture, for which he won the Prix de Rome. Soon after, it was shipped to the US, and arrived in Oskaloosa by railroad in September. The formal dedication of the statue was held on May 12, 1909, and attended by a crowd of about 12,000 people.

Oskaloosa boasts two private homes designed in 1948–51 by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Typical of his Usonian homes, these are the Carroll Alsop House at 1907 A Street and the Jack Lamberson House at 511 North Park Avenue.

Oskaloosa hosted the Iowa State Fair in 1858 and 1859, prior to the Civil War.

In 1934, Oskaloosa became the first city in the United States to fingerprint all of its citizens, including children.

Representation in other media

The city is mentioned in country and western singer Johnny Cash's song "I've Been Everywhere."

Municipal Band and historic bandstand

The first settlers in the area brought along their instruments and a deep love of music. Residents organized a town band in 1864. In 1880 the band was called the K. T. Band (for Knight Templars). About 1882 the city erected a double-deck bandstand in the center of the city park. The band had started playing in the city park when it was just a field. A brick walk through the park was constructed with money raised from a local talent minstrel show. In 1886 the K. T. Band went to St. Louis for their national conclave and was a tremendous hit. That marked the beginning of the band's prominence in the Midwest.

Charles L. Barnhouse developed the band "atmosphere" from the time he came to Oskaloosa in 1891. He exerted a creative influence to build up a musical organization that would become the pride of the city. His band garnered statewide acclaim, becoming the official band of the Iowa State Fair for four years. In 1904 the band played at the annual National Encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic in Louisville, Kentucky. En route, it played by invitation at the World's Fair in Saint Louis, Missouri. In the ensuing years the band became popular throughout Iowa and other states.

In 1907 and 1908 Oskaloosa had two bands playing concerts – the Iowa Brigade Band and LaRue's Band. The merchants on High Avenue West employed their own band to compete with the Iowa Brigade Band in the park on Saturday evenings.

In 1911 the citizens decided to beautify the city and voted to fund improvements for the city park. The citizens recommended a new bandstand be erected in the center of the park. The old double-deck frame bandstand was moved to one side to be used while the new bandstand was being built. The first concert in the new bandstand was played on June 1, 1912, and the bandstand was dedicated on July 25, 1912.

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