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.