Facts & History
About the Town of New Virginia
Written by Mrs. Leota Houlette, Town Historian
The town of New Virginia, population around 500, is in south central Iowa. It is situated on the crest of green rolling hills in Virginia Township, in the southwestern corner of Warren County, and is surrounded by a farming community. New Virginia is about 40 miles south of the capital city of Des Moines, and 20 miles southwest of Indianola, the county seat. There are paved roads leading out of town in all four directions. Highway 207 connects the town to Interstate 35, which is 3 miles west. On the east, G76 leads to Jefferson Highway 69, and R45 connects New Virginia to Highway 92 to the north, and Highway 69 to the south, near Osceola. The commendable network of good roads is important because most New Virginia residents are commuters, working in Des Moines, Indianola and Osceola. The main local employers are Natural Gas Pipeline Company of America and AEC Enterprises, INC., both of which are in the country, northwest of town. In the town proper is the Post Office, A & M Mini Mart and Gas Station, City State Bank, Barber Shop, Bart's Tire & Auto, Huston's Auto Repair, and other small businesses and services.
Children of New Virginia attend Interstate 35 Community School. The 1998-1999 school year had 265 students in High School, 236 in Middle School, and 260 in Elementary grades. There are 122 school district employees, and the average student-teacher ratio is 12.4 to 1. The goal of this forward-looking school is to produce lifelong learners by giving students all the skills necessary for success in this high-tech age. The spacious New Virginia Public Library seeks to aid in the fulfillment of that same goal.
The three churches are: The United Methodist Church founded in 1855, The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) founded in 1894, and Grace Baptist Church founded in 1959. Among the active social organizations are the Lion's Club, American Legion and Auxiliary, 4-H Club, Masons and Eastern Star, and the Virginians - a Senior Citizen group. The town has around 200 well-kept private homes, one apartment complex, and the Virginia Manor Senior Citizen apartments.
New Virginia has a climate that is healthful and pleasant for this latitude. The temperature seldom rises above 95 degrees in summer or falls below -15 degrees in winter. The prevailing winds are westerly, and the average annual rainfall is 32 inches. The average frost-free date in spring is May 10; the first frost in fall is around October 10th.
The town of New Virginia developed around a small band of pioneers; most of whom were from the State of Virginia, that part which became West Virginia in 1863. These families started coming in 1854, and chose this place as their new home because it reminded them of the area they had left back East. The lands of Iowa were not offered for sale until 1848, after the Sac and Fox Indians (former inhabitants) had been, by peaceful negotiations, removed to Kansas in 1845 and 1846. Some early family names were Proudfoot, Stickel, Keller, Sayre, Felton, VanScoy, Knotts, Read, Reed, Hylton, Edwards, Irwin, Harsh, and Forman.
The town of New Virginia was laid out in 1855 or 56 but was not recorded until 1859. The first lots were sold for $25.00. Joel Mason built and operated the first store. John Felton built the first home, a log house, in the spring of 1855, and the first sermon was soon preached in this home "without a floor as yet", by Rev. Jesse Sherwood, a circuit riding Methodist Minister from Osceola. Religion and education were basic to these pioneers' way of life, so in 1856 a one-room brick building was erected, which served as both church and schoolhouse for several years. The school opened in 1857, the same year that Iowa law authorized free schools.
A Post Office was established in 1858, in the home of John W. "Billy" Harsh, the first Postmaster. In 1881 and 1882, a narrow gauge railroad was built from Des Moines to Canesville, Missouri, passing through New Virginia on the Northwest edge of town. This was converted to Standard Gauge in 1896, and New Virginia became an important livestock shipping point. The railroad remained important to the local economy until around 1930 when automobiles, trucks, and airplanes began to take over the freight needs of the nation. A quote from the Indianola Weekly Herold in 1894 states: "New Virginia is booming. Here is the place to locate." When L.E. Shane began publishing New Virginia's first newspaper on June 20, 1895, he listed 40 businesses, everything from General Merchandise stores to DrugStore to Millinery Shop.
A 2-story brick school building was erected in the west part of town in 1900, with classes starting in 1901. The town's first High School was on the 2nd floor, and the elementary grades occupied the 2 classrooms on the first floor. Also in 1901, New Virginia became an incorporated town, with H.C. "Cul" VanScoy as the first Mayor.
In the days of wooden store buildings, our town suffered 3 major fires - in 1894, in 1913 and in 1921. The brick buildings, which replaced the wooden ones were much more attractive as well as more fire resistant. In September 1925, classes started for the newly organized New Virginia Consolidated School, in a fine new brick building on the east edge of town. This building served the community until 1961, when New Virginia merged with Truro and St. Charles to form Interstate 35 Community School. The High School was then at Truro, the Junior High at New Virginia, and the Elementary grades were at both St. Charles and New Virginia, with Clarence O. Lundby, of New Virginia, as the Superintendent of the new school district.
New Virginia's first Fire Department was organized in 1932, with Theo Irwin as fire chief. Through the years the Fire Department has become a well-trained and well-equipped team. A Rescue Unit was added in 1975, the same year they moved into a new building, under the name of Virginia Township Fire Department.
During the Depression years of the 1930's, the average weekly wage in the U.S. was said to be $17.00. It is safe to say that many of our town's wage earners brought home less than that. The town council reduced the tax levy to meet the lower incomes of the taxpayers. Some local men worked on government WPA projects in order to feed their families. Both of our town's banks closed, and the town was without a bank until 1938, when a branch office of the Norwalk Cumming State Bank opened for business, with Floyd A. Felton as manager. When he retired in 1970, Benjamin I. Gleckler assumed the duties until his retirement in 1983. Richard Hatcher succeeded him and is still with the Bank in 1999.
Four New Virginia men have served in the Iowa State Legislature: Samuel Irwin (1834-1879) was elected to the House of Representatives in 1874, and declined re-election to a second term. Boyd F. Read (1865-1933) served one term in the House, beginning in 1928. E. Harold Felton (1890-1946) was elected to four terms, and was Speaker of the House at the time of his sudden death of a heart attack. The town of New Virginia became well known in Iowa when our local druggist-farmer, the Honorable William S. Beardsley, served as Governor of Iowa from 1948, until his death in 1954, after serving 2 terms in the Iowa Senate. When he was fatally injured in an auto accident in November 1954, his friends from all over Iowa attended his funeral at the New Virginia Methodist Church. He and Mrs. Beardsley are buried in our local cemetery.
In 1956, a water tower was built and a city water system went to operation. In 1970 a new well and filter plant, located north of town, was put into place. It served until the rural water service was turned on December 11, 1995. The town obtained city gas in August 1962, and in 1963 a sewer system was installed.
The town's first pubic library opened in 1972, with Joyce Baughman as the first Librarian. In 1996 a splendid new brick building was erected while Ladene Eshelman was Librarian, a post now held by Joan Stuart. In 1976 New Virginia proudly helped our country celebrate its' Bicentennial. Men from our community have served in each of our country's wars, and in later years women, too, have helped to keep this "the land of the free and the home of the brave."
In 1986 New Virginia and Virginia Township acquired street signs and house numbers for the first time. This was necessary for the new 911 Emergency Alarm system to begin operation in Warren County. All this information was stored in a central computer in Indianola, and we advanced in the computer age.
In July 1991 New Virginia hosted more than 9000 RAGBRAI bicyclists as they rode through town on their way across Iowa from west to east. In July 1992 we did it all over again, as RAGBRAI-XIX passed our way.
New Virginia had been without a local newspaper since 1983, so in 1991 the monthly Tri-Corner Express was welcomed when it was inaugurated by the New Virginia Development Corporation, and published under the management of Evadna Keller, Clyta Howell, and Shirley Zimmerline, and with the help of a crew of volunteers.
In 1993 our town was thankful for it's high elevation when the wettest summer on record brought disastrous floods to so much of the State of Iowa. The last 3 months of the year were abnormally dry, so we did not beat the long-standing record for the wettest year, which occurred in 1881. It was a record no one wanted to beat anyway.
The New Virginia Old Settler's celebration on the second weekend in July 1997 was special as it marked the 100th anniversary of the first Old Settlers observance in 1897.
Now the 20th Century has closed, and New Virginians from 1854 to 2002 have lived through interesting times. We have emerged from the horse and buggy era and are now living in the jet age. We have witnessed spectacular developments in all kinds of technology, in computers, medicine, science, travel on ground and in the air, in communications and the beginning of space travel. We hope the pioneers would be proud of the progress that has been made, and of the quality of life enjoyed by present-day residents.
Just as the people of the past have helped determine what our community is today, so we of the present are shaping its' future. May we be true to the vision of the early settlers and carry it forward, passing it on proudly to those who will come after us.
May God bless America, and New Virginia, Iowa.
An Update on the Town of New Virginia, Iowa
Compiled by Sue Stills
Now 18 years after Leota Houlette’s excellent compilation of New Virginia’s history, let us review some important occurrences and progress in the city in this year of 2020. The population of New Virginia according to the 2010 census was 489, and the 2020 census is currently underway. There are persons of all ages living here, from families with children, single persons, persons still of working age, retirees, and more elderly persons. We are all currently dealing with the worldwide pandemic of the COVID-19 coronavirus. This pandemic began affecting the United States in March 2020, causing the closure of schools, businesses, restaurants, churches, meetings of all sorts, sports games and affecting our daily lives in every way. Wearing facemasks, social distancing, handwashing and sanitizing surfaces became daily occurrences. Graduating seniors missed their special occasions. Much of America learned to “meet” digitally on Zoom. As the months went on, some areas were able to ease their restrictions, but the toll to the economy and citizens’ feelings of security was immense. At this time, schools are cautiously reopening but are still offering online learning at least part of the time to the students. Some sports games are being played without fans in the stadiums. Even with government help, some small businesses have not been able to recover.
The Iowa State Fair was cancelled this year for the first time since the years of World War II. The Warren County Fair and National Balloon Classic in Indianola were also cancelled, as well as RAGBRAI and the New Virginia Alumni Banquet. The New Virginia Old Settlers Celebration was held, however. The 2020 Summer Olympics was rescheduled for 2021. Many organizations suspended their meetings or were able to meet online via Zoom. Persons were (and still are) strongly encouraged to wear a facemask to protect themselves and others.
On a more positive note, there have been many good things that have happened in New Virginia. As can be seen from the Business Directory on this website, there are many services available to our citizens. Some businesses have been established here and have since closed, including Barb’s Antiques and Barber Shop Antiques (Barb Kimzey), The Wooden Bakery (Krystina & Andy Boyce), The Bling Thing (Shawna Isaac), Thundering Hurd Exchange, Tastie Twist (ice cream) and LuLu’s (jewelry, Betsy Haas-Reineck), among others. Nature’s Window Floral & Gift Shop, owned and operated by Anna Reed Young, was a delightful florist shop from March 1999 to May 2004. Anna opened a connecting deli, the West Street Deli, in March 2000, but it closed in May 2004. The demise of this business coincided with the opening of the Kum & Go gas station and convenience store at Interstate 35. Young Rentals was also in business May 2000 to May 2004 at the same location as the florist and deli, as well as J & B Tannery.
Beth and Steve Voltmer purchased the buildings at 508 West Street in 2000 from Jake and Barb Kimzey. The Kimzeys ran an antique business out of them for many years. The building was pretty rough when they purchased it...no running water or plumbing to speak of. They immediately renovated the upstairs into an apartment. Beth opened her business, originally named Vintage Home & Garden, in 2001. After a few years, she rebranded her business and named it Burlap & Roses, and for a while also ran Coffee Shop 508 upstairs, between tenants. Beth continues to run Burlap & Roses today. She has since moved everything out to their farm, where two vintage buildings, both moved onto the property, serve as the retail area. She added the name of their farm to the business name, so now she markets it as Burlap & Roses at Crooked Hedge Farm. She carries vintage and new home decor and furniture, as well as garden items and clothing. Beth has two "scheduled" shows a year. Both open dates coincide with the Back-Roads & By-Ways Junkin' Tour, which she founded seven years ago. The tour features unique, independently owned vintage shops, boutiques and eateries throughout Warren County.
Steve Voltmer retired in 2016, and he and Beth embarked on their "second act" and started renovating homes. They don't have an official business name. They are working on their third property, the second one in New Virginia.
In December 2001, Mike McCuddin opened a branch of Martial Arts America Taekwondo school in the old New Virginia School building. Martial Arts America is based in Ankeny, Iowa. In December 2003, Mike and Jami opened Step One Wellness at 412 West Street. They purchased an empty lot and erected a new building. The business consisted of Taekwondo, massage therapy and a fitness center. In 2009, the Iowa Black Belt Academy was established with branches in Osceola, Indianola and Pleasantville. That same year, a remodel was completed on a second building at 502 West Street, the new home to the fitness center. In 2012, a remodel was completed on the original location at 412 West Street and became home to Taekwondo, massage therapy and Shear Serenity (hair) Salon. In January 2015, Jami moved her massage therapy to St. Charles. In 2016, Step One Wellness and Iowa Black Belt Academy went out of business, and the building at 502 West Street was sold.
DSI Fabrication established its business on West Street in July of 2018. The company’s focus is custom metalworking and fabrication. The over 50 years of experience of the technicians enable the company to produce projects that will meet their customers’ needs and expectations.
Jesus’ Right Hand is on West Street and is a faith-based, non-profit, outreach organization whose goal is to encourage individuals to be overcomers in whatever challenges they may be experiencing. They were established in February 1986 and have been helping persons in need through prayer, love, scripture and encouragement since then. They have a fresh food giveaway on Mondays, offering food donated from Trader Joe’s. They also have a food pantry, a clothing closet and a library. At Thanksgiving and Christmas, they provide families with food packages, as well as Christmas toys and gifts. They are totally dependent upon donations and have a group of devoted volunteers.
A unique business, west of New Virginia, is the Bare Bison farm where there are 50 American bisons grazing on the hillsides. The owners also have such a farm in Van Meter, and they sell bison meat products in many places in Iowa, South Dakota and elsewhere. Their plan is to also have an air/bnb on the New Virginia site which can provide simple lodging to travelers, but no breakfast. Not far from the bison farm is a large red building where fireworks were sold for the first time this year. Wade Peterson has this business, Iowa Fireworks Farm.
The New Virginia Congregate Meal Site, under the auspices of Aging Resources of Central Iowa, began on April 2, 2001. The Meal Site was located in the Lions Hall and provided a nutritious noonday meal for patrons over 60 years of age. A meal could also be home-delivered for those patrons who needed that service. In addition to a meal, the Meal Site also provided patrons with an opportunity for social interaction. Many, many people took advantage of this service, and many community members volunteered their time during the 19 years that the site operated. The COVID-19 epidemic was a factor in the closure of the Meal Site, although this service is still available in other towns.
The monthly Tri-Corner-Express newspaper that was begun in 1990 by the New Virginia Area Development Corporation was bought by the City in March 2014, and the paper is still in operation today, covering news in New Virginia, St. Charles and Truro.
A small town needs a gas station, and New Virginia’s was operated by Wade Felton from 1926 to 1981. Merrill McCuddin next operated the station, A & M, from 1981 to 1996, and his daughter Melody Hills did so until 2013. The town was very pleased when Bill Cox bought the property and opened Bill’s 1st Stop on February 1, 2016. The station provided gas, as well as a convenience store, ice cream and a large menu of freshly made food. All were sad when the place closed in June 2019.
Drifters Restaurant and Lounge on West Street offered food, alcohol, pool and music from March 2008 until mid-2012. The Depot Restaurant & Catering, owned and operated by Mike Spurling in that same location, opened in February 2013.
Several New Virginia families have hosted exchange students from other countries in the years 2006-2019. The students have stayed for varying lengths of time and attended Interstate-35 school while they were here. The students have been from: Indonesia, Serbia, Russia, Montenegro, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, Georgia, Germany, Belgium, Czech Republic, Mongolia, Turkey and China. We hope that these young people benefitted from our small-town way of life, as we have benefitted from knowing them.
The Interstate-35 Community School in Truro began multiple building improvement projects in 2017. The projects included a Career and Technical Education (CTE)/maintenance building, fine arts center, auditorium, expanded cafeteria/commons, bus shed, and air conditioning.
Arriving in New Virginia from the South, we can see The Old Fire Station with a facelift of white paint with red accents, red lights and a red roof. The old fire station dates to around 1932 and was used until 1954. Mike and Becky Taylor are the owners of this building now.
Many other changes have been seen around town, and changes are still occurring. A recent renovation occurred in the old hardware store at the corner of West & Grand Streets where Tag & Joanie Mousel remodeled the ground floor space as their residence, with an apartment upstairs. Four homes have burned down, one with a fatality, since 1999. The most recent fire, on October 27, 2020, destroyed the longstanding building that housed the Reed Implement business years ago and Bart’s Tire & Auto until Bart moved his business west, near Interstate-35, in February 2018. Homes have been “brought in,” homes have been built, and some have been remodeled. After the devastating hailstorm on May 15, 2020, nearly every roof in town and outside of the town limits had to be replaced. There are two homes in town that were built by Habitat for Humanity.
In 2015, the New Virginia United Methodist Church proposed planting a vegetable garden with the goal to share the produce with anyone who wanted it. The garden has thrived each year since then. All summer long, the table full of produce has provided for those wanting it. Some local citizens have also provided produce for the table.
The Non-Food Necessities Pantry was a project voted on by the United Methodist Women in September 2017. The Pantry provides items such as personal toiletry items and household paper goods to households in need of such items. It has quickly grown from serving four households that first October to serving 12-19 per month in 2020. In three years, they have served 75 different households with 238 family members. In 2017, they were able to have ten items available each month. Thanks to grants and generous donations from friends in New Virginia, Medora, Truro, St. Charles, Indianola and Leon, they have increased that number to 20 items. Each family can pick the 10-12 items that best fit their needs. The Pantry is open the second Wednesday of each month from 10:00 – 11:00 in the morning and 6:00 –7:00 in the evening.
The New Virginia Public Library is still vital in our town. Although the COVID-19 restrictions impacted its services in the spring and summer, the Library is now open for close to the number of hours as before. Weekly storytimes for children had been held, as well as movie time, cribbage, Teen Night, Book Club, Warren County Health Checks, a Summer Reading Program that always had good participation, availability of computers, special programs, and of course, books, books, books. Occasional book and bake sales helped with expenses, and the Board has held a Soup Supper on Presidential election nights for a number of years. Many local residents have filled the display case in the hallway with their collections, including penguins, snowmen, key chains, giraffes, teapots, small boxes, seashells, cardinals, old fashioned salt cellars, thimbles, coffee mugs, Hummels, Monopoly games and nativity sets.
The Boy Scout Troop 119 has boys from New Virginia, St. Charles, Truro and Osceola. There have been several projects planned and executed by Scouts working toward their Eagle Scout rank that can be seen around these towns. Here is a listing from 2010 through 2020: 2010 Travis Thornburgh – Replacement of Basketball Hoops, New Virginia; 2011 Brian Spurling – Shelving for New Virginia Fire Station; 2011 Steven Spurling – Care Packages for Iowa Soldiers, performed in New Virginia; 2013 Forest Beeler – Cemetery Restoration, West of Truro; 2014 Michael Snell – Painting Imes Covered Bridge, St. Charles; 2016 Trevor Thornburgh – Community Electronic Message Board, New Virginia; 2016 Matthew Snell – Road Sign Replacement, St. Charles; 2016 Connor Jenkins – St. Charles City Park Restoration; 2017 Dominic Cresta – Flagpole in New Virginia Lions Park; 2017 Timber Kent – Soccer Field at East Lake Park, Osceola; 2018 Cameron Danks – Park Benches, St. Charles; 2018 Joseph Van Buren – Clarke County Dock Restoration, Osceola; 2018 Zachary Smith – Basketball Court, Osceola; 2019 Jarrett Day – Operation SCDR, St. Charles; 2020 Nick Hauge – Flag Box, New Virginia.
The Girl Scouts and 4-H Clubs are also active and have also performed many activities that benefitted our communities. The Lions Club, American Legion, Eastern Star, the Saddle Club, Masons and other organizations and clubs are active in New Virginia.
The New Virginia community has been enjoying the Lions Park for over 100 years. The playground equipment there had been updated in the 1970’s and 1990’s. In 2017, a group was formed with a goal to upgrade the equipment and revitalize the Park. The New Virginia Playground Committee had the following goals: 1) new playground equipment to include playsets suitable for ages 2-5 and 5-12, monkey bars, a handicap accessible swing, new swing sets, balancing beam; 2) handicap accessible shelter house and picnic tables; 3) new trash bins and grills; 4) new landscaping. The committee held many fundraising events, as well as receiving three grants, from the Warren County Philanthropic Partnership, Alliant Energy and Prairie Meadows. Many individuals and organizations also contributed. As of March 2020, most of the Committee’s goals have been accomplished. Further work at the Park is on hold due to the COVID-19 crisis.
The Keep Iowa Beautiful Hometown Pride Program was developed in 2012 through the Warren County Economic Development Corporation. This program provides long-term technical and support assistance to rural communities to implement their community planning efforts through Community Coaching. In November 2017, Lorin Ditzler was hired as the coach for New Virginia, and a Hometown Pride Committee was set up. At their first meeting in January 2018, they discussed the following goals or projects for our town: new sidewalks; walking/bike trail around town or extend the trail from Martensdale to New Virginia; new street signs; welcome signs on east and north sides of town; new playground equipment in Lions Park (New Virginia Playground Committee had already begun work on this). A community vision social on April 2, 2018 obtained input from many residents. A Clean-Up day was held on July 7, 2018 that involved sweeping, weed pulling, tree and bush trimming, window washing and painting the fire hydrants. Spring clean-up help was given to some residents.
The New Virginia Area Development Corporation began discussion about new street signs in 2015, since some of the original 1986 signs were damaged or missing. After receiving a grant from the Warren County Philanthropic Partnership and matching funding from the City of New Virginia, the signs were installed in August 2018. The Hometown Pride Committee’s project of installing two new entrance/welcome signs, on the east and north sides of town, was accomplished by August 2019, thanks to John Bortell, John Allsup, Virginia Boosters 4-H Club, New Virginia Area Development Corporation, the City of New Virginia and many donors.
Renovating some of the West Street business buildings was also a goal of the Hometown Pride Committee. The Hen House has been a community gathering place for decades, and in 2019-2020, a renovation project was completed, upgrading the electricals, floor, bathroom and roof. Prior to this, the front windows and door were replaced, and the building front was painted. A Prairie Meadows grant aided the project.
A mural of flowers and “Welcome to New Virginia” on the north side of the building at Dunn and West Streets was designed and painted by Ally Frame in August 2020. The Warren County Economic Development Corporation awarded a grant for this. The Hometown Pride Committee submitted the request for the grant. Future projects include: another mural painted on another building; banners/city slogans on the light poles; a disc golf course at Gerry Allen Memorial Park; continued fundraising.
Some very special sights around town are the metal benches and tables with small plaques on them, commemorating special persons. There are about 26 benches and four tables on West Street, at the Library and in the three parks, Old Settlers Park, Lions Park and Gerry Allen Memorial Park.
Our small town demonstrates that progress can continue to be made when its citizens work together and take pride in their safe and friendly community.