Mount Vernon, Iowa
The earliest known settler to Mount Vernon arrived in 1837, and built a cabin near the present Nature Park. In 1838 settlers began to arrive in force as the land became officially for sale. Well before the public sale, squatters staked out claims to land for farming. Original claims for land were marked out by stepping 1,500 paces each way, and they were allowed squatter's rights for six months. Another six months was added if a cabin was built. The land could then be purchased from the government at $1.25 an acre. The first settlers marked the flat land around the hill, with Daniel Hahn locating near the current golf course and William Abbe to the northeast near the present school which bears his name. The traders and merchants took the land on the hill which was less desirable for farming. Originally known as Hilltop, Mount Vernon became known as Pinhook in 1847 after the wooden pins used in the stores to hang up the goods. In late 1847, the area was renamed Mount Vernon to reflect the name of Washington's home. It was not until 1869 that the town was incorporated as a city with an elected government.
Although a large Czech group arrived in the early 1850's, most of the pioneers came from the settled areas of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana, and they quickly recognized the value of the rich soil. Many farms near the town are in the hands of families who have been here a century, and some since the first land sales.
The fine brick homes and the college buildings constructed before 1870 were made from local clay and sand from the Red Cedar River, baked on the site. Even though originally constructed by workers with little skill, the city has an unusually large number of these buildings still in use. In the 1890's, a significant building boom and a series of fires resulted in the construction of most of the present business area.
In 1853 the Iowa Conference Male and Female Seminary was established—four years later to become Cornell College. Cornell is one of only two colleges in the nation to have its entire campus listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The coming of the Northwestern Railroad in 1859 gave the town access to the goods and culture of the East. In the 1920s Mount Vernon was again fortunate to be located on the national Lincoln Highway (U.S. 30), the first federal transcontinental motorway.
Historically, the town has centered around education and services. In the late 19th century many small industries and home craft shops dominated the hilltop business area, providing goods and services to the surrounding farmers. Since World War II Mount Vernon has been tied to the economy of Cedar Rapids while remaining a strong independent town in its own right. In recent years many Cedar Rapids and Iowa City professionals have been attracted to Mount Vernon by its excellent economic health, educational institutions, and cultural advantages.
Mount Vernon is located in eastern Linn County and is known for its rolling hills. Mount Vernon's carefully tended Victorian-era homes and quaint business district recall an era of days gone by.