The editor of the New York Tribune, a man named Horace Greeley, uttered those memorable words in the 1850s. For many, the story ends there and only the phrase itself remains in the collective consciousness. To the inhabitants of Grinnell, Iowa, the phrase holds deeper meaning, as the man to whom Horace was speaking, Josiah Bushnell Grinnell, followed the advice, struck out to the west and settled near the strategic crossing of two major railroads...founding the town which is known today as Grinnell, Iowa.
Josiah was convinced the resulting traffic from two major railways would make for an ideal location for a bustling city and was deeply involved in the railways, even serving as a conductor on the underground railroad. Josiah, known as JB to his friends, encouraged businesses and citizens to move to the town and was instrumental in moving the Iowa College from Davenport, Iowa to Grinnell, where it was eventually renamed Grinnell College. Grinnell College ranked fourteenth in the top Liberal Arts Colleges in the country, according to the US News and World Report, 2007.
Despite natural disasters including an 1882 tornado which destroyed much of the Grinnell College campus and an 1889 fire which decimated local downtown businesses, the city thrived...the businesses rebuilt their stores so quickly, the resurrected section of commercial property came to be known as "The Phoenix Block". Many of the nation's elite settled in Grinnell, including Billy Robinson, who manufactured and flew one of the first radial airplane engines.
Also, one of the first auto buggy manufacturers, E. H. Spaulding, headquartered his company in Grinnell around the turn of the century. It is rumored that Henry Ford approached Spaulding to embark on a joint effort to transform Spaulding's manufacturing plant with Ford's assembly line. Spaulding reportedly told Ford that automobile manufacturing should focus on quality, not quantity and Ford put Spaulding out of business less than a decade later.
Numerous other historical and political figures have impacted
Grinnell and have roots in Grinnell. Herbie Hancock, the famous Jazz
musician, Thomas Cech, a Nobel Prize winner, Harry Hopkins, the primary
author of Roosevelt's New Deal, Robert Noyce, the inventor of the integrated
computer circuit, and John Garnag, commonly misspelled John Garang, the
leader of the Christian minority in the Sudan who rose to national
prominence as their vice president prior to his assassination. (It is
speculated Garnag's death was the catalyst which led to the strife in Darfur,
as his placement as the VP was a concession by the government to end
hostilities by Garnag's militia.)
Arguably the greatest architectural attraction in town is the Merchants National Bank, located in the town square, which was designed and constructed by the famous architect Louis Sullivan, the inspiration of Frank Lloyd Wright, one of the first architects to embrace the challenge of steel high-rises and skyscrapers, all the while keeping in line with his 'form follows function' credo, and the brilliant mind behind works such as the Wainright Building in Saint Louis, Missouri, the Guaranty Building in Buffalo, New York and the Carson, Pirie, Scott and Company Building in Chicago, Illinois.
Louis Sullivan based his designs on Grinnell's nickname, "The Jewel of the Prairie". The city underwent downtown renovations of many kinds within the last decade and incorporated Sullivan's style into their developments. Inlayed into the town square's intersections was Sullivan's symbol of Grinnell, and the streets themselves seem to mirror his subtle, three-tone vision.
Grinnell is also home to the newly-renovated Strand Theatre, winner of the Iowa Architectural Foundation 2006 Design Excellence Award. A popular gathering place for socialites and town residents in the past, The Strand underwent extensive community-supported renovations in 2004 and reopened as as a modern three-screen movieplex. Age has not dulled the luster of the theatre, which is as popular as it has ever been!