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Oskaloosa, Iowa
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
Oskaloosa, Iowa is located in Iowa
Oskaloosa, Iowa
Oskaloosa, Iowa
Location in Iowa
Oskaloosa, Iowa is located in the United States
Oskaloosa, Iowa
Oskaloosa, Iowa
Location in the United States
Country  United States
State  Iowa
County Mahaska
Incorporated February 4, 1875
 • Total 8.04 sq mi (20.81 km2)
 • Land 8.02 sq mi (20.77 km2)
 • Water 0.01 sq mi (0.04 km2)
840 ft (256 m)
 • Total 11,558
 • Density 1,440.97/sq mi (556.38/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

Oskaloosa is a city in, and the county seat of, Mahaska County, Iowa, United States. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Oskaloosa was a national center of bituminous coal mining. The population was 11,558 in the 2020 U.S. Census, an increase from 10,938 in 2000.


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%
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 94% White, 1.5% African American, 0.3% Native American, 1.5% 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.

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.


Top Ten Companies

Employer Date Founded Type of Business Approximate Number of Employees Description of Services
Musco Lighting 1976 Sports Lighting 450 Provides permanent and temporary lighting for major sports venues around the world.
Oskaloosa Community Schools Education 375 Includes a high school, middle school, elementary school, preschool and alternative school.
Mahaska Health Partnership 1907 Healthcare Services 450 Offers surgical services, inpatient services, a birthing Center, and emergency services.
Clow Valve Company 1878 Manufacturing 350 The Oskaloosa plants include iron and brass foundries, a machine shop, assembly, finished goods warehousing, shipping and administrative offices. Their primary products include fire hydrants and a variety of valves.
Wal-Mart 1962 Retail Department Store 265
William Penn University 1873 Education 300 A private, liberal arts university.
City of Oskaloosa 1844 Municipal Government 199
Hy-Vee 1930 Retail Food Store 155 An employee-owned chain of supermarkets located in the Midwestern United States.
Cunningham Incorporated 1969 Mechanical Contractor-Commercial, Industrial 100 Sheetmetal manufacturing, HVAC, geo-thermal, plumbing-piping, architectural metal-roofing, industrial services, and duct cleaning.
Mahaska Bottling Company Soft Drinks 97 Pepsi-Cola bottling company.
  • Source: LocationOne Information Systems website and telephone survey conducted February 2010

Oskaloosa is also the headquarters of the music publisher C.L. Barnhouse Company.


Oskaloosa is the home of William Penn University, a private, liberal arts college. It was founded by members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in 1873 as Penn College. In 1933, the name was changed to William Penn College, and finally to William Penn University in 2000.

Oskaloosa was the home of the now-defunct Oskaloosa College.

The city's public system, Oskaloosa Community School District, operates a high school, middle school, elementary school, and an alternative school. Oskaloosa Elementary opened in January 2005, merging five smaller buildings scattered across the city. The building is the largest elementary school in Iowa.

Notable people

  • Eddie Anderson, football head coach at University of Iowa 1939–42, 1946–49
  • Alfred Balk, magazine editor
  • Bill S. Ballinger, author and screenwriter
  • Steve Bell, former ABC News anchor
  • Max Bennett, jazz musician
  • Charles Brookins, track and field athlete
  • Elaine Christy, harpist
  • Bernard A. Clarey, Admiral, among most decorated U.S. Navy officers; Admiral Clarey Bridge in Pearl Harbor named after him
  • Chester Conklin, comedian and actor
  • Marsena E. Cutts, politician
  • Lisa Eagen, athlete, 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics, team handball
  • Dulah Marie Evans, painter, photographer, etcher
  • Frank Friday Fletcher, Admiral, Medal of Honor recipient and namesake of the Fletcher-class destroyer
  • Cliff Knox, Major League Baseball player
  • John F. Lacey, U.S. Representative
  • Tip Lamberson, flute maker
  • Harry Hamilton Laughlin, executive
  • Patrick O'Bryant, National Basketball Association player
  • Arthur Russell, modern music composer
  • Tyler Sash, defensive back for Iowa Hawkeyes and Super Bowl champion with the NFL's New York Giants
  • John H. Stek, translator of New International Version Bible
  • Cecil W. Stoughton, Kennedy presidential photographer
  • Al Swearengen, proprietor of Gem Saloon in Deadwood, South Dakota, 1877–1899 (featured in HBO series Deadwood)
  • Ed Thomas, football coach
  • Guy Vander Linden, Iowa state representative, U.S. Marines Brigadier General
  • Thomas Eugene Watson, U.S. Marines lieutenant general
  • Clarence C. Wiley, ragtime music composer
  • Roscoe B. Woodruff, U.S. Army general of World War II
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