Click here to a full gallery of Rock Valley photos!
Rock Valley is located in the northwest corner of Sioux County, Iowa, in a valley bordering the winding Rock River. Prior “post-office” names of this area were Royal Ridge, Rock Mills and Rhodes Corner where the first store in Rock Valley was located. In the late 1860s, the Rock Valley area received its first ripple of the wave of homestead immigration. The first claim in northwest Sioux County was made by a county officer, Jack Smith, directly across the Sioux River from Fairview, South Dakota.
The first homesteads in what is now Rock Township were taken in the spring of 1868 by John and Ira Wilson, father and son. Ira Wilson, who had served in the Civil War, became a Sioux County surveyor.
The same year the Wilsons made claims, Rev. John Runyun and his sons, William and John, took claims. Rev. Runyun, a Methodist minister, probably held the first religious services in Rock Township. His son, William, a surveyor, located many of the subsequent settlers in the area.
Also in 1868, the Peter Bellesfield family settled and the Bellesfield sons, Samuel and David, both Civil War veterans, operated a ferry across the Rock River for several years. The family had charge of the post office, Irene, which was located on their farmstead. Samuel Bellesfield was a pioneer postman carrying mail to all points between LeMars, Iowa and Luverne, Minnesota. The Bellesfield home became known as the ‘The Bellesfield Halfway House” as it was midway on the stagecoach route from Sioux City to Sioux Falls.
The Wilsons, the Runyuns, and the Bellesfields were among the first residents of Sioux County. Following these 3 families were a great influx in farm settlers. Many of these early farms still remain in family possession and operation. Longtime farm family names include Verdoorn, Cogswell, Klein, Smith, Gayer, Ranschau, Wyffels, Miller, Moeller, Grossenburg, Stuckenbruk, Rozeboom, Rosgaard, Groth, Vogelzand, Bauder, Cullinan, Verburg, McNamara, Thayers, Rielly, Barry, Schmidt, and Higgins.
In 1875, J. L. Finch built a grist mill 1/2 mile north of Rock Valley on the Rock River. The flood of 1881 destroyed the mill. The mill machinery was then sold and used to build a mill about a mile west of town. Because this establishment was also damaged by high water the building and machinery were moved to the town where engines were used to power the mill. The mill ran night and day grinding grain for area farmers and making flour from wheat which was shipped here by rail from the Dakotas.
The flour, known as “Roantree’s Best,” was named for the mill manager, Roantree. Besides the mill providing nearly all the flour for the local area and neighboring areas, much flour was shipped abroad. The mill closed during the 1920s. Since then the building has been used for various businesses, and at the present time houses the Rock Valley Elevator Co., otherwise known as the Purina Building.
The town of Rock Valley was platted in 1879 by Col. Warren, a Civil War veteran, and the Chicago Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway on ground owned by Warren. He laid out extra wide streets and planted many shade trees along the streets, which he watered himself by using a horse-drawn wagon with barrels of water on it.
He built some of the early stores and homes, some of which are still being used, and freely gave building sites for churches and schools. The “Warren Building”, originally a first-class hotel, now used for several businesses, is a reminder of Mr. Warren. Dr. E.O. Plumbe, a Civil War physician and surgeon, came to town the year it was platted and built the first dwelling in town.
As soon as the town was laid out business developed. The Foppe Pioneer Store was the most widely know business in the community and the surrounding areas. The store was founded in 1882 and continued until 1955. It was considered the largest and best department store in northwest Iowa. By the early 1900’s, 13 to 14 clerks were employed full time, and part time help was hired as needed. The store also did a mail order service.
Children used to be educated in one of several country school houses. During the winter of 1879-1880 a school was moved into town (north Main St.). It was later made into a home and is still being used as a residence. It not only served a s a school but was used for early day church services and public meetings. Mrs. E. O. Plumbe was the first teacher. This was a humble beginning compared to the 4 modern schools, Rock Valley Community School, Rock Valley Christian Elementary School, Netherlands Reformed Christian School, and River Valley which presently serve the community. St. Mary’s Academy was at one time also a part of the Rock Valley educational system.
From meeting in the school house and homes, church groups became strong enough to build their houses of worship. Presently there are 12 churches to which Rock Valley people belong.
The early history of Rock Valley includes some interesting pleasure activities. “The Rock Valley”, a privately owned steamboat, made pleasure cruises from Rock Valley to Doon. “Jacobs Tours” conducted by the local railroad agent included trips to several places in the United States and abroad.
The Opera House, which was later demolished provided facilities for programs and entertainments. Another noteworthy occurrence during Rock Valley’s history was the 4th of July Celebration of 1875 which was held 1/2 mile north of Rock Valley near the Rock River.
About 600 people throughout the county and surrounding area attended this event sponsored by the Royal Grange. The day wound up with a dance in the Rock Mills, which had been just completed. This event, well over a century ago, was the first Sioux County celebration.
Rock Valley provides full-service shopping, quality health care, professional services, excellent job opportunities, and recreational opportunities. We have many local churches and quality education with both local public and private school and several colleges in the area. We are growing and continue to attract new and expanding business and industry.