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Iowa History Daily: November 22 - John Heery's Woods

Iowa History Daily: On November 22, 1850, John Heery showed up in Dubuque to file a claim on a stretch of woods along the Shellrock River in Butler County. Today’s Heery Woods State Park, the site stands as a great example of Iowa’s land change over time.

John Heery, the first American settler to arrive in Butler County, claimed lands on both sides of the Shellrock River in 1850. Working to develop not just the land by the local economy, Heery built a grain elevator during the 1880s and found a successful life after relocating from Milton, Wisconsin. The Heery family held onto the lands surrounding the Shellrock until well after John’s death, but decided to sell 380 acres to the state at a cost of $5,786.70 for the formation of a new state park in 1935.

During the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration provided workers to build a low-head dam on the Shellrock at the park site, as well as the labor for construction of an English country-cottage inspired building, picnic areas, and trails. By the late 1930s, local newspapers were packed with notices of pleasant picnics, family reunions, and other events at the park.

In the early 1970s, locals started to advocate for a shift in management responsibilities related to the park, and in December of 1973 newspapers alerted readers to a potential transfer of improvement and maintenance responsibilities from the Iowa Conservation Commission to the Butler County Board of Conservation. The new arrangement allowed for Heery Woods State Park to blossom into one of Iowa’s most beloved state parks under local control. #IowaOTD #IowaHistroyDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar


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