Coon Rapids History
Coon Rapids is scenically settled among the rolling hills of the Middle Raccoon River. Established in 1863 by two savvy Carrollton residents, Crocket Ribble and Jacob Cretsinger, Coon Rapids began with a saw and gristmill near the Middle Racoon River. When a rail line was built about a half mile southwest of the village, a boom began as farmers became merchants and tradesmen, bringing newcomers to the area. The downtown area was filled with two- and three-story brick buildings and offered an array of shops, services, and amenities.
By the early twentieth century, Coon Rapids was the dominant trading center between Perry and Manning. From a simple market and trading point, Coon Rapids had become the economic, social, recreational, and service center for the four county areas.
During the 1930s and 1940s, Coon Rapids played host to the conversion of old-style family farms to modern agribusiness with the formation of Garst and Thomas Seed Company. By the mid-1950s, the community was transformed into the headquarters of Garst Seed Company as it expanded into an international company. In 1959, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev came to Coon Rapids to visit his friend Roswell Garst and learn about growing corn and feeding livestock. Garst was helping the US’s most feared enemy improve their food production, in a citizen diplomacy effort he called “Peace through Corn.” The Coon Rapids visit was one of the most publicized stops on Khrushchev’s historic 1959 tour of the United States and more than 400 news journalists were on site for the visit. After the conclusion of the visit, Llewellyn Thompson, then the U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union, stated that the visit to the Garst farm was one of the most significant parts of Khrushchev's journey to the United States. This visit, combined with plummeting yields from Soviet agriculture, helped to lead Khrushchev to attempt an overhaul of the Soviet agricultural system.
Coon Rapids enjoyed the steady employment provided by the Garst Seed Company for many years. The seed corn company succumbed to several buyouts at the end of century and into the next. Hartung Brothers now owns what is left of the original seed corn business in Coon Rapids.
Twenty-first-century Coon Rapids lives on the tenacity and commitment of its residents. Hartung Brothers, POET Biorefining, ET Products, and other local industries remain strong in large part to a dedicated and productive local workforce. Decedents of Roswell Garst turned 5,500 acres of rural and native land into a land trust known as Whiterock Conservancy. Whiterock Conservancy promises greater interest in Coon Rapids through its opportunities for year-round outdoor activities that include mountain biking, horseback riding, kayaking, canoeing, hiking and camping. City leaders and residents continue to work to improve the quality of life in the community with the expectation that Coon Rapids will remain a viable rural Iowa town far into the future.