Cresco, the county seat, is the largest of the communities in Howard County. Cresco is derived from the Latin term meaning “I Grow.” This growth has been evident since June 12, 1866, when Augustus Beadle had the land surveyed and platted. Within six months of the town’s formation, 1,000 people called Cresco home. The city population doubled by 1890 and today Cresco has a population of roughly 4,000. The original catalyst for Cresco’s growth was the emergence of the railroad.
Horace Barber had first claim to the land Cresco now rests on in 1856. This area became known as Shook’s Grove following M.L. Shook’s purchase of the land. It was not until 1866 that Augustus Beadle finally gained ownership of this land. After Beadle gained control of the property he persuaded the railroad to build through Cresco. The railroad acted as the foundation which eventually raised Cresco to a central position in the county. It even forced the 3 neighboring communities of New Oregon, Howard Center and Vernon Springs to pack up buildings and all and move to the newly established hub. Rail service through Cresco and Howard County ended in 1983 with the tracks removed the following year. All that was left was an engine, box car, flatbed and caboose purchased from the Milwaukee Road on display in Beadle Park. The train is currently under renovation and will be restored to its original grace and beauty for more generations to enjoy. Twenty-two miles of the old railroad bed has been paved as part of the Prairie Farmer Recreational Trail connecting the communities of Cresco, Ridgeway and Calmar. Now you and your family can ride your bikes or stroll along the same trail that brought the earliest settlers to Howard County.
Cresco is also known as the boyhood home of Dr. Norman Borlaug. Borlaug grew up on a farm about 12 miles southwest of Cresco. He graduated from Cresco High School in 1932. Dr. Borlaug, 1970 Nobel Peace Prize and Medal of Freedom winner, also received a Congressional Gold Medal from the President of the United States in the fall of 2007. Only five other people in the entire world have received all three honors. Dr. Borlaug has worked tirelessly around the world developing improved strains of food grains and training thousands of scientists and small land owners. His scientific and humanitarian contributions have led the way in the fight against malnutrition and starvation. He is also known as the “Father of the Green Revolution.” The Norman Borlaug Heritage Foundation, a non-profit corporation formed in 2000, is dedicated to promoting education programs and projects which reflect the lifetime achievements and philosophy of Dr. Norman Borlaug.
Cresco is home to Ellen Church, the first stewardess, and credited with starting the flight attendant industry by convincing Boeing Airlines that having nurses on board would help the airline industry convince the public that it was safe to fly. Cresco is also home to five admirals and the Iowa Wrestling Hall of Fame. Stop by the Howard County Business and Tourism or call us at 563-547-3434 for more information on the rich heritage and history of the Cresco area.