Sioux City Iowa -- the Widmanns lived there 1883-1893


Book on Sioux City, with picture of Herman-Widman Iron Works
The Widmanns and Kriegers moved to Sioux City during its Golden Years -- the 1880s and early 1890s. Although Elizabeth and William Widmann had been in Portland, Oregon for the 1880 census, they had moved back to Waterloo by the time of Carrie's death in July 1880.

This period, from about 1880 to 1890, marks the most rapid and important progress made in the city's development. It was this period that decided whether Sioux City was to become a city or remain a river village. The progressive element won. Street cars, water works, electric lights and other improvements appeared. Factories, jobbing houses, packing plants, retail stores and railroads began to appear more rapidly. The detailed story of that ten years reads almost like a fairy story and even those who went through the period cannot realize what it meant not only to the city but to the entire country. The following years up to the beginning of the present century were the trying ones. The panic of the early nineties threatened disaster to the industries only so recently launched. The improvements built with anticipation of still better business became hard to carry on. Only the will of the progressive business men of that day, who denied lodgement to the thought of failure could have passed through that period brushing aside the obstacles that they met and continuing on the course of success with an assurance that appeared as positive as the successes of the past. Only the vision of a hardy people who had builded the city from the ground up and who had faith in its future, faith in themselves, and faith in the people could have carried out the plans which brought Sioux City through those trying days with flying colors and made her a city whose name and whose products are known where-ever civilization is known. --- THREE QUARTERS of a CENTURY of PROGRESS 1848-1923 A Brief Pictorial and Commercial History of Sioux City, Iowa published 1923

The first steamboat arrived from St. Louis in June of 1856, loaded with ready-framed houses and provisions. The railroad first arrived in 1868. About that time a few small factories opened. In 1873, James Booge opened the first large-scale meatpacking plant and created a demand which ultimately led to the opening of the livestock yards ("stockyards") in 1884. The period from about 1880 to 1890 marked the most rapid and significant progress made thus far in Sioux City's development. In 1880 Sioux City had a population of 7,500.; in 1884, 15,514; in 1886, 22,358; in 1887, 30,842; and in 1890, 38,700. Street cars, water works, electric lights and other improvements appeared. Factories, jobbing houses, meatpacking plants, retail stores and railroads increasingly came on the scene. The city's building boom included an elevated railroad (the Sioux City Elevated Railway) and early "skyscrapers". These changes mirrored growth that was occurring nationwide, especially in the transition of small pioneer settlements to thriving urban centers. President Grover Cleveland visited in 1887. In May of 1892, heavy rains caused the Floyd River to rise, sending a destructive wave of muddy water through the unprepared city. At least three thousand people were left homeless. The stockyards and railroad lines were all badly damaged, and a lumber yard caught fire. The final death toll from drowning was twenty-five, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.

The First Corn Palace. It has been largely forgotten, but the first ever Corn Palace was built in Sioux City in 1887. The city went "corn crazy" for the next five years, building a bigger and bigger Corn Palace each year, until the 1892 flood, followed by the 1893 nationwide recession.

1887 Corn Palace
The first corn palace structure was originally designed as 58 feet by 58 feet, however planners soon decided to enlarge it to 100 feet by 100 feet, and then again enlarged to include the Goldie Roller Rink -- a final size of 18,000 square feet of floor space. It was decorated entirely, inside and outside, with corn and other grains. Nearly 140,000 people attended the festivities, more than anyone had expected. Local railroads even added extra passenger cars to their daily runs from surrounding communities. Many prominent people came to see this amazing palace, including Cornelius Vanderbilt and other eastern capitalists. President Grover Cleveland came by special train to see the Corn Palace the day after it closed, with attendant news coverage from the New York Times and London Times. The New York Times called it "really something new under the sun". Sioux City was delighted, and agreed that it should be done again next year!

1890 Corn Palace
The mgnificant 1890 Corn Palace featured a 200 foot main tower and six 100 foot towers. A huge dome, built as part of the largest tower, formed a giant globe with various countries mapped with grains of corn. Of course, Iowa faced front and center with Sioux City most prominently displayed. The palace also had an auditorium that seated 1200 people. The Festival of 1890 had all of the usual parades, bands, balls, fireworks and celebrations.

The 1891 Palace was so large that it spread across Pierce Street and featured a large archway that allowed traffic to pass though. The palace featured a balcony atop the main 200-foot tower. There, visitors could take in a magnificent view of the city and the surrounding three states. Despite poor attendance at the 1891 festival, promoters made plans for the next palace.

Flooding and a Nationwide Recession. In May of 1892, the Great Floyd River Flood devastated Sioux City. A wall of water six feet high came without warning and did tremendous damage, especially to homes in the South Bottoms area. Ten people died and between 400 and 500 homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed. The devastation was so severe that city officials had to request outside help in rebuilding the flooded area, and the 1892 Corn Palace plans were postponed for a year. Then 1893 brought a financial panic that swept the country. In fact, April 1893 was one of the lowest points in Sioux City economic history -- two local banks failed. The banks had financed many of the city's largest business and more than two dozen of Sioux City's most important businesses collapsed within weeks. Many prominent people declared bankruptcy and real estate prices fell. This was the final death knell for the Sioux City annual Corn Palace as well. The prominent people declaring bankruptcy in this 1893 recession in Sioux City included the Widmanns; they lost their business, their home, and their savings, and they moved back to Waterloo where William would once again work for the ICRR, a job he retained for the next 32 years.

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