Waterloo (IA)

Waterloo, Iowa

Waterloo is the county seat of Black Hawk County, Iowa, United States. As of the 2000 census, the city had a total population of 68,747. It belongs to the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Metropolitan Statistical Area, and is the larger of the two cities, by population.


Waterloo was originally known as "Prairie Rapids Crossing". The town was established near two Meskwaki Native American villages alongside the Cedar River. It was first settled in 1845 when George and Mary Hanna and their children arrived on the east bank of the Red Cedar River (now just called the Cedar River). They were followed by the Virden and Mullan families in 1846. Evidence of these earliest families can still be found in the street names Hanna Blvd., Mullan Avenue and Virden Creek.

The name "Waterloo" supplanted the original name, "Prairie Rapids Crossing" shortly after Charles Mullan petitioned for a post office in the town. Since the signed petition did not include the name of the proposed post office location, Mullan was charged with selecting the name when he submitted the petition. Tradition has it that as he flipped through a list of other post offices in the United States, he came upon the name "Waterloo." The name struck his fancy, and on December 29, 1851, a post office was established under that name. The town was later called the same, and Mullan served as the first postmaster from December 29, 1851 until August 11, 1854.

There were two extended periods of rapid growth over the next 115 years. From 1895 to 1915, the population increased from 8,490 to 33,097 a 290% increase. From 1925 to 1960, population increased from 36,771 to 71,755. The 1895 to 1915 period was a time of the rapid growth in manufacturing, rail transportation and wholesale operations. It was during this period the Waterloo Gasoline Traction Engine Company moved to Waterloo and was shortly after Rath Packing Company had relocated from Dubuque. Another major employer Waterloo throughout the first two-thirds of the 20th Century was the Illinois Central Railroad. Among the others was the less-successful brass era automobile company Maytag-Mason.

Waterloo suffered particularly hard in the agricultural recession of the 1980s, due to the major employers at the time being heavily rooted in agriculture. In particular, John Deere, the area's largest employer, cut 10,000 jobs, and the Rath meatpacking plant closed altogether, losing 2500 jobs. It is estimated Waterloo lost 14% of its population during this time. Today the city enjoys a broader industrial base, as city leaders have sought to diversify the industrial and commercial mix. Deere remains a strong presence in the city, but employs only roughly one-third the number of jobs it did at its peak.

Flood of 2008

June 2008 saw the worst flooding in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area ever, including the Great Flood of 1993. The flood control system constructed in the 1970s-1990s largely functioned as designed. For those areas not protected by the system, the Cedar River poured out of its banks and into parking lots, backyards and across the rich Iowa farmland surrounding the city. Although much damage was done, the larger, downstream city of Cedar Rapids was much harder hit.

An area of the west side of the downtown and an area near the former Rath Packing facility were impacted not directly by water coming from the river but were the result of storm runoff draining towards the river but then being trapped on the backside of the flood levy system. These areas did not have lift stations or alternate pumping capacity sufficient to force this water to the river side of the control system. Areas where lift stations had been constructed (Virden Creek and East 7th Street ) to pump this storm runoff into the swollen river remained largely dry (the east and north sides of downtown). Several areas experienced water seeping into basements due to high water table levels.

Below, according to the National Weather Service are the ten highest crests of the Cedar River recorded at East 7th Street in downtown Waterloo:

Historical Crests
(1) 25.39 ft on 06/11/2008
(2) 21.86 ft on 03/29/1961
(3) 21.67 ft on 04/08/1965
(4) 20.78 ft on 07/23/1999
(5) 20.60 ft on 06/02/1993
(6) 20.54 ft on 04/02/1993
(7) 20.15 ft on 06/29/1969
(8) 20.00 ft on 03/16/1929
(9) 19.50 ft on 04/02/1933
(10) 19.26 ft on 03/31/1962

It should be noted that crests reported in the 1960s and prior were before completion of major flood control projects and therefore may not be directly comparable.


Although located in the Midwest, which is historically and predominantly white, Waterloo and its industries have attracted a diverse population. In the late 1800s, thousands of German, Greek, and Croatian immigrants came to Waterloo to farm or take jobs in the local factories.

African-Americans were first drawn to Waterloo by Illinois Central Railroad's repair shop at the Waterloo rail yard on East Fourth Street. In 1910, fewer than 20 African-Americans lived in Waterloo, but by 1920, nearly 1,000 residents were African-American, 3% of the city's population at the time. The biggest migration of African-American people into the community was 1911-1912 when a national railroad strike shut down the repair shop, and Illinois Central Railroad recruited and transported African-American workers from Mississippi.

In the 1990s, Bosnian war refugees were resettled in Waterloo by the federal government, and during the same decade a new IBP packing plant attracted hundreds of Hispanics. It is estimated that 5,000 Bosnians came to Waterloo, although not all stayed, and over 2,000 Latinos live in Waterloo. Both the Bosnians and the Latinos have been an influence on Waterloo's changing economics as they open their own businesses.

This diversity of races has generally worked well, but Waterloo has experienced its share of racial tension and hostility. Early on, African-Americans settled on only the "East" side (geographically and more accurately north-northeast, but the term has become locally fixed), while Caucasians populated both the "East" and the "West" sides. Over many decades, the "East" side stagnated and the "West" side became more prosperous. In the 1980s, the racial tensions took a backseat to the economic problems. While not gone, the racial tensions are a fraction of their peak in the late 1960s.

Geography and climate

Waterloo is located at (42.492436, -92.346161).

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 62.0 square miles (160.6 km²), of which, 60.7 square miles (157.3 km²) of it is land and 1.3 square miles (3.3 km²) of it (2.06%) is water.


Waterloo is located at the north end of Interstate 380. U.S. Highways 20, 63, and 218 and Iowa Highway 21, also run through the metropolitan area. The Avenue of the Saints runs through Waterloo.

Northwest Airlines provides non-stop air service to and from Minneapolis/St. Paul from the Waterloo Regional Airport.

Waterloo is served by a moderately extensive metropolitan bus system (MET). MET serves most areas of Cedar Falls and Waterloo. Most routes meet at the central bus station in downtown Waterloo. The system operates Monday - Saturday. During the week the earliest bus is at 5:45am from downtown Waterloo and the last bus arriving downtown at 6:40pm. Service is more limited on Saturdays.

Waterloo is served by one daily intercity bus arrival and departure to Chicago and Des Moines. Service is provided by Burlington Trailways. New service to/from Iowa City, Mason City and the Twin Cities provided by Jefferson Lines is expected to begin in the Fall of 2008.

There are currently three taxi operators in Waterloo and Cedar Falls. The newest entrant to the market is First Call Taxi (319.233.TAXI). The other two firms are Metro Taxi (319.234.TAXI) and Yellow.

Metropolitan area

The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Metropolitan Statistical Area consists of Black Hawk, Bremer, and Grundy counties. The area had a 2000 census population of 163,706 and a 2006 estimated population of 162,263.

Waterloo is next to Cedar Falls, home to the University of Northern Iowa. Small suburbs include Evansdale, Hudson, Raymond and Elk Run Heights.

The largest employers in the Waterloo/Cedar Falls MSA, according to the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance, as of October 2006 include (in order): John Deere, Covenant Medical Center, Tyson Fresh Meats, the University of Northern Iowa, Allen Hospital, Waterloo Community Schools, Omega Cabinets and Bertch Cabinets. The complete list can be found at:


Monthly Normal and Record High and Low Temperatures
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Rec High °F 65 66 87 100 94 103 105 105 98 95 80 67
Norm High °F 25.8 31.9 45 59.7 72.2 81.7 85 82.8 75.3 62.5 45 30.7
Norm Low °F 6.3 13.2 24.9 35.8 48.1 58.1 62.2 59.5 49.8 37.8 25.1 12.5
Rec Low °F -33 -31 -34 -4 22 38 42 38 22 11 -17 -29
Precip (in) 0.84 1.05 2.13 3.23 4.15 4.82 4.2 4.08 2.95 2.49 2.1 1.11


As of the census of 2000, there were 68,747 people, 28,169 households, and 17,746 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,131.9 people per square mile (437.0/km²). There were 29,499 housing units at an average density of 485.7/sq mi (187.5/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 81.61% White, 13.86% African American, 0.22% Native American, 0.85% Asian, 0.05% Pacific Islander, 1.44% from other races, and 1.97% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.63% of the population.

There were 28,169 households out of which 29.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 46.0% were married couples living together, 13.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 37.0% were non-families. 30.0% of all households were made up of individuals and 12.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.39 and the average family size was 2.97.

In the city the population was spread out with 24.7% under the age of 18, 10.6% from 18 to 24, 27.5% from 25 to 44, 22.0% from 45 to 64, and 15.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females there were 92.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 88.0 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $34,092, and the median income for a family was $42,731. Males had a median income of $31,491 versus $22,569 for females. The per capita income for the city was $18,558. About 10.0% of families and 13.7% of the population were below the poverty line, including 18.6% of those under age 18 and 10.5% of those age 65 or over.


Waterloo is administered by a seven-member city council and a mayor. One council member is elected from each of Waterloo's five wards, and two are elected at-large. The current mayor is Timothy J. Hurley, his predecessor was John Rooff.


Waterloo has one central public library, the Waterloo Public Library , offering video, music, books, self-check out, and access to the Internet. For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2007, 261,261 patron visits resulted in circulation of 427,921. The total collection consisted of 191, 605 items. The library’s reference services, supported by 7 Full-time equivalent librarians, answered 71,749 questions. Staff and patrons regularly post reviews of books on the blog, Lost in the Stacks The library’s 43 public access computers provided over 73,300 sessions for patrons wanting to surf the ‘net or create Microsofi Office Suite documents.

The Waterloo Public Library is located in a renovated Great Depression era U.S. Post Office building that also served as a Federal Circuit Courthouse. The last person to be subjected to capital punishment in Iowa, Victor Feguer, was sentenced by a Federal Circuit Judge in 1963 when the library still hosted the Federal Court. The City of Waterloo acquired the structure in 1979 and with the help of a successful bond referendum performed major renovations which adapted the building to library use. Fortunately, the renovations did not disturb two New Deal funded murals created by Edgar Britton. His art work may be seen on the wall above the Youth Departmentoffice and to the south of the Circulation Services desk.

The Flood of 2008 had some impact on library services. About 3-4" of seepage water flooded the basement causing the temporary evacuation network services and the perhaps permanent relocation of Technical Services. Waterloo was one of the very few communities to have two Carnegie-endowed libraries: one on the East side and one on the West side of the Cedar River.


Hawkeye Community College is located in Waterloo. Neighboring Cedar Falls is home to the University of Northern Iowa.

One of two public high schools in the city is Waterloo West High School. Its school mascot is the Wahawk, a contraction of Waterloo and Black Hawk (the city and county names), and its colors are old rose and black. Its most famous alumnus is former amateur wrestler and coach Dan Gable. Its current principal is Dr. Gail Moon. The other public high school is Waterloo East High School. Its athletic teams are called the Trojans, and the school colors are orange and black. Dr. Barney is the current principal. Waterloo's private high schools include Columbus Catholic High School and Walnut Ridge Baptist Academy. Waterloo also has a variety of Catholic and public grade schools such as St. Edwards and Orange Elementary School.


FM Radio

AM Radio

Analog Television



One of the largest attractions in Waterloo, are tours of either the John Deere Tractor Assembly Plant or the Engine Works.

The Dan Gable International Wrestling Institute and Museum offers a historical perspective on Wrestling from ancient Greece to the present. The institute also serves as a learning facility.

The National Cattle Congress has been part of Waterloo since 1910. The organization maintains a fairgrounds and ballroom. The annual fair is held in mid-September. Additionally, the organization hosts a wide variety of events throughout the year.

Waterloo is the headquarter of the Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area. The area is an official National Park Service Heritage Area and consists of over 80 sites throughout the northeastern 2/3 of Iowa.

A recent entry that has been drawing national and international attention is Galleria de Paco. The upscale restaurant and bar features a complete reproduction (on the ceiling) of Michaelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling. The painting was done by local artist Paco Rosic completely with spraypaint. Dinner reservations are recommended.

The Grout Museum District is a multi-building museum that focuses on telling the story of Waterloo and the surrounding community. A large expansion of the Museum will widen its focus when the Sullivan Iowa Veteran's Museum open's in late 2008. This expansion honors Waterloo local WWII heroes, the Sullivan Brothers.

Downtown Waterloo hosts numerous festivals and celebrations throughout the course of the year including the bi-weekly Friday'loo (May - September), BBQ'loo (July), My Waterloo Days (June), the 4th Fireworks Festival (July), Tour d'Loo (October) and a new event in 2007, Iowa Irish Festival (August). More information at: ; ; .

On Waterloo's south side, near the U.S 20/I-380/U.S. 218 intersection, exists the Lost Island Waterpark which opened in 2001 (, and "The Isle" Hotel and Casino (, which opened on June 30th, 2007.

Waterloo is also part of the very large and well developed Cedar Trail Network. Trails along the Cedar River through downtown Waterloo are currently under construction. Complete trail map can be found at:

Waterloo is home of the Waterloo Blackhawks, a team in the United States Hockey League which plays in Young Arena. It is also the home of the Waterloo Bucks, a summer collegiate league baseball team which plays in the Northwoods League. The team plays at Riverfront Stadium.

Other information can be found at the Waterloo Convention and Visitor's Bureau website:

Notable natives


External links

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