Mason City, Iowa

Mason City, Iowa

Principal Financial Group Building in Downtown Mason City
Nickname(s): River City

Location of Mason City, Iowa
Coordinates: 43°8′55″N 93°12′7″W / 43.14861°N 93.20194°W / 43.14861; -93.20194Coordinates: 43°8′55″N 93°12′7″W / 43.14861°N 93.20194°W / 43.14861; -93.20194
Country United States
State Iowa
County Cerro Gordo
  Total 28.10 sq mi (72.78 km2)
  Land 27.81 sq mi (72.03 km2)
  Water 0.29 sq mi (0.75 km2)
Elevation 1,129 ft (344 m)
Population (2010)[2]
  Total 28,079
  Estimate (2012[3]) 27,823
  Rank 16th in Iowa
  Density 1,000/sq mi (390/km2)
Time zone Central (CST) (UTC−6)
  Summer (DST) CDT (UTC−5)
ZIP codes 50401, 50402, 50467
Area code(s) 641
FIPS code 19-50160
GNIS feature ID 0458840

Mason City is a city in and the county seat of Cerro Gordo County, Iowa, United States.[4] The population was 28,079 in the 2010 census, a decline from 29,172 in the 2000 census.[5] The Mason City Micropolitan Statistical Area includes all of Cerro Gordo and Worth counties. It is commonly referred to as the "River City", as the city grew up centered on the Winnebago River.


The region around what would later be first called "Shibboleth" was a summer home to the Sioux and Winnebago natives. The first settlement was made at Shibboleth in 1853 at the confluence of the Winnebago River and Calmus Creek.[6] The town had several names: Shibboleth, Masonic Grove, and Masonville, until the name Mason City was adopted in 1855, in honor of a founder's son, Mason Long.[7]

In 1854, John McMillin opened the first store, and Dr. Silas Card opened the first medical practice in the area. Lizzie Thompson established the first schoolhouse in a log cabin in 1856. The United States Post Office Department started service to the town in 1857. Mason City was named as the county seat in 1858.[8]

Musical heritage

Bandmaster 2009

Mason City, above all else, is known for its outstanding musical heritage, consistently producing successful performers and educators. Mason City's "favorite son" Meredith Willson grew up in Mason City, having played in the Mason City Symphonic Band as a student at Mason City High School. Willson's crowning achievement was the famous musical The Music Man, which was first a successful Broadway musical, then a popular film. Many of the characters in it were taken from people Willson knew from his childhood in Mason City. The show first opened on Broadway in 1957 and became a hit, with a three-year run at the Majestic Theatre, followed by an additional 1,375 performances at the Broadway Theatre. The Music Man garnered many awards, including 5 Tony Awards in 1958.[9] The 1962 film version starred Robert Preston, Shirley Jones, and Buddy Hackett. It was both a critical and commercial success, being nominated for six Academy Awards (including Best Picture) and winning one (Best Musical Score).


Mason City's longitude and latitude coordinates
in decimal form are 43.148747, −93.201916.[10]

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 28.10 square miles (72.78 km2), of which 27.81 square miles (72.03 km2) is land and 0.29 square miles (0.75 km2) is water.[1]


Historical population
Census Pop.
Est. 201527,366[11]−2.5%
Iowa Data Center[5]

2010 census

As of the census[2] of 2010, there were 28,079 people, 12,366 households, and 7,210 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,009.7 inhabitants per square mile (389.8/km2). There were 13,352 housing units at an average density of 480.1 per square mile (185.4/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 93.8% White, 1.8% African American, 0.3% Native American, 0.9% Asian, 1.3% from other races, and 1.9% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 5.1% of the population.

There were 12,366 households of which 26.8% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 43.2% were married couples living together, 10.8% had a female householder with no husband present, 4.3% had a male householder with no wife present, and 41.7% were non-families. 35.0% of all households were made up of individuals and 13.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.20 and the average family size was 2.83.

The median age in the city was 40.9 years. 21.9% of residents were under the age of 18; 9.7% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 23.1% were from 25 to 44; 28.2% were from 45 to 64; and 17.1% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 48.2% male and 51.8% female.

2000 census

As of the census[12] of 2000, there were 29,172 people, 12,368 households, and 7,507 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,131.3 people per square mile (436.7/km2). There were 13,029 housing units at an average density of 505.3 per square mile (195.1/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 95.40% White, 1.17% African American, 0.18% Native American, 0.77% Asian, 0.01% Pacific Islander, 1.07% from other races, and 1.40% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 3.45% of the population.

There were 12,368 households out of which 28.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 47.4% were married couples living together, 10.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 39.3% were non-families. 33.5% of all households were made up of individuals and 14.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.27 and the average family size was 2.90.

In the city the population was spread out with 23.6% under the age of 18, 10.2% from 18 to 24, 26.7% from 25 to 44, 21.7% from 45 to 64, and 17.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 38 years. For every 100 females there were 90.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 85.8 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $33,852, and the median income for a family was $45,160. Males had a median income of $32,451 versus $21,756 for females. The per capita income for the city was $18,899. About 7.2% of families and 10.0% of the population were below the poverty line, including 10.9% of those under age 18 and 10.1% of those age 65 or over.


Mason City has a very diverse employment base covering multiple sectors of the economy including Manufacturing, Health, Financial Services, Technology and Education, with no one sector or employer dominating the market.

The largest employer is Mercy Medical Center-North Iowa. Other major industry includes door manufacturer Curries/Graham Company, Woodhardbor Cabinetry Manufacturers, Principal Financial, Cargill Kitchen Solutions and the Kraft Foods plant that produces the nation's entire supply of refrigerated ready-to-eat Jell-O pudding snacks. Mason City is also a major production center for Portland Cement. In November 2007, Reyes Holding / Martin-Brower opened a distribution facility serving McDonald's in 5 states.[13]

In March 2016, North Carolina based company Prestage Farms proposed to build a $240 million pork processing plant or slaughterhouse in Mason City,[14] employing about 1,800 people. In May, the Mason City Council cast a tie vote rejected the proposed project.[15] Plant opponents raised environmental issues and expressed concern about possible harm to property values.[16]

Arts and culture

Events and festivals

In late May or early June Mason City holds an annual celebration of its musical heritage called The North Iowa Band Festival. Bands from across the midwest compete during the parade to be named the best band. The home bands, Mason City High School and Newman Catholic High School Marching Bands, do not compete but do perform in the parade.[17]


Architecture and the Prairie School

Mason City is widely known for its collection of Prairie School architecture, the largest concentration of any city in Iowa. At least 32 houses and one commercial building were built in the Prairie Style between 1908 and 1922, 17 of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and eight more are contributing properties to a historic district.[18][19]

The first two Prairie structures, the Dr. G.C. Stockman House (1908) and the Park Inn Hotel and City National Bank Buildings (1909–1910) were both designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The hotel and bank, a mixed-use development at the corner of State and Federal Avenues, was the first to be commissioned by local attorneys James E. E. Markley and James E. Blythe. Within a year, Wright was hired to design the Stockman House by Markley's neighbor.[20]

The historic
and endangered
Len Jus Building

Both the Park Inn Hotel and Stockman House suffered from neglect and unsympathetic alterations before they were saved by community organizations. In 1989, the Stockman House was moved four blocks to prevent its demolition; it was subsequently restored and opened to the public by the River City Society for Historic Preservation.[21] Likewise, Wright on the Park, Inc. began restoration on the Park Inn Hotel in 2005 and the former City National Bank building in 2007. The organization will reopen both buildings as a boutique hotel in August 2011.[22][23] The Park Inn Hotel is last remaining of the few hotels that Wright completed during his career and is considered a prototype for Wright's Imperial Hotel.[24]

The Rock Glen and Rock Crest National Historic district is a small enclave of single-family homes situated along the banks of Willow Creek five blocks east of downtown. It is the largest collection of prairie style homes in a natural setting in the world. It features both Prairie School and Usonian design. Five of these houses were designed by Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin, two by Francis Barry Byrne, and others by William Drummond, Einar Broaten, and Curtis Besinger.

In addition to Prairie Style architecture, Mason City is home to extensive Victorian, Craftsman, and Bungalow style homes, as well as historic commercial structures dates from between 1892 and 1940, including the Brick and Tile Building at the intersection of State and Delaware Streets.

The Mason City Public Library was designed by Chicago architects Holabird and Root in 1939.[25]

The Len Jus Building on North Federal Avenue has an extremely rare sheet-metal facade, it had been placed on the Iowa Historic Preservation Alliance's Most Endangered list because of its poor repair and indifferent ownership,[26][27] but is now being rehabilitated by the new owner.


Mason City has some history of minor league sports teams despite its relatively small size.

The North Iowa Bulls hockey team began play in Mason City during the 2011–2012 NA3HL season.[28] The Bulls won the Silver Cup in 2013, 2014 and 2016. They have also gone on to win the Tier III National Championship in 2013 and 2015. The North Iowa Outlaws junior hockey team began play in the North American Hockey League in 2005. They were in Mason City until 2010, when they relocated to Onalaska, Wisconsin to become the Coulee Region Chill. The former North Iowa Huskies played in the United States Hockey League until 1999.

The Mason City Bats of the short-lived Great Central League played baseball here in 1994.

College Football Hall of Fame coach Barry Alvarez led Mason City High School to the 1978 Class 4A state football championship with a 15–13 victory over Dubuque Hempstead.

River City Rugby Football Club was established in Mason City in 1972. The Club competes in two separate two-month seasons, April and May, and September and October. The Club celebrated its 40th anniversary in June 2012. Over 250 players have played for the Club since it first began. The Club competes against teams from Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska in the Midwest Division 3.


The Mason City Community School District has a motto of "Quality Education in a Caring & Responsive Environment".[29]

Public schools

Harding Elementary, Hoover Elementary, Jefferson Elementary, Roosevelt Elementary, Lincoln Intermediate (5–6), John Adams Middle School (7–8 ), Mason City High School, (9–12), Mason City Alternative High School, Madison Early Childhood Center, Washington Early Childhood Center

Private schools

Newman Catholic Elementary/Middle School, Newman Catholic High School, and North Iowa Christian School. Mason City is also the home of the Worldwide College of Auctioning.

Advanced education

Mason City is home to several institutions of higher education, including the North Iowa Area Community College, a branch of Buena Vista University and Kaplan University.


Movies and documentaries

The town is featured prominently in the first episode of the 12-part documentary film How Democracy Works Now. It served as the inspiration for the fictional town of River City, Iowa in The Music Man, the musical that was composed and written by Mason City native son, Meredith Willson.[30]


Local stations serving Mason City include:

Minnesota stations that include Mason City in their coverage area include:





The majority of the city is served by Iowa Highway 122, and U.S. Highway 65. U.S. Highway 18 now bypasses the city to the south. Interstate 35 (eight miles to the west) serves the city as well.

Mason City is home to the Iowa Traction Railroad. The IATR is one of the last surviving electric interurban railroads in the U. S., and the only one that still uses electric locomotives to haul freight in regular service.

Mason City also is served by the Canadian Pacific Railway and Union Pacific Railroad. The Canadian Pacific track is part of its US subsidiary the Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern Railroad ( former I&M Rail Link and Milwaukee Road trackage. The Union Pacific's track was inherited from the Chicago and North Western Transportation Company when it bought it in the 1990s. Much of the trackage is composed of the old Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad's (aka Rock Island Railroad )

While the Iowa Northern Railway does not operate in the city of Mason City, it does serve other communities in the Mason City micropolitan statistical area. The Iowa Northern has facilities in Manly, Iowa.

The city also has a municipal airport, from which Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper took off on the night of February 2, 1959, after a concert at the Surf Ballroom in nearby Clear Lake, Iowa, only to crash their plane in a historic event later referred to as the Day the Music Died.

Notable people

Sister city

Mason City, Iowa, and Montegrotto Terme, Italy, created a Sister City relationship in the spring of 2005. This relationship creates a bridge between the two cities that citizens can use to build new and lasting friendships and relationships.[8]

See also


  1. 1 2 "US Gazetteer files 2010". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2012-05-11.
  2. 1 2 "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2012-05-11.
  3. "Population Estimates". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on 2013-06-17. Retrieved 2013-05-23.
  4. "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Archived from the original on 2015-05-10. Retrieved 2011-06-07.
  5. 1 2 "Data from the 2010 Census". State Data Center of Iowa. Retrieved May 18, 2011.
  6. "Mason City Chamber of Commerce". History. Archived from the original on February 23, 2010. Retrieved 2010-12-04.
  7. Chicago and North Western Railway Company (1908). A History of the Origin of the Place Names Connected with the Chicago & North Western and Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha Railways. p. 100.
  8. 1 2 "Mason City Portal". History. Archived from the original on August 14, 2010. Retrieved 2010-12-04.
  9. Zolotow, Sam (April 14, 1958). "'The Music Man' Wins 5 of 18 Tony Awards...". The New York Times: 21.
  10. "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2011-02-12. Retrieved 2011-04-23.
  11. "Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Incorporated Places: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2015". Retrieved July 2, 2016.
  12. "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on 2013-09-11. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  13. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-06-13. Retrieved 2013-06-13.
  14. John Skipper (21 March 2016). "New Mason City pork processing plant identified as Prestage Farms". The Courier. Retrieved 8 June 2016.
  15. "Prestage Farms to seek another Iowa location for pork plant". Radio Iowa. Learfield News & Ag, LLC. 5 May 20216. Retrieved 8 June 2016. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  16. "Prestage to Mason City: No hog plant for you". Des Moines Register. Associated Press. 3 June 2016. Retrieved 8 June 2016.
  17. Skipper, John. "Band Festival royalty shocked and honored". Mason City Globe Gazette. Retrieved 2016-04-27.
  18. Panning, John A. (2009). "Iowa". The Prairie School Traveler. Retrieved June 25, 2010.
  19. "IOWA – Cerro Gordo County". National Register of Historic Places. Retrieved June 26, 2010.
  20. McCoy, Robert. "Frank Lloyd Wright". Wright in Iowa. Retrieved 2010-12-04.
  21. Douglas, Martin (September 2, 1993). "Averting a Wright Wrong". The New York Times. Mason City, IA. Retrieved June 25, 2010.
  22. Skipper, John (April 1, 2006). "Restorers will buy, renovate Wright's bank". Mason City, IA. Retrieved June 29, 2010.
  23. Johnson, Dick (September 14, 2007). "Wright on the Park completes purchase of former City National Bank building". Mason City, IA. Retrieved June 29, 2010.
  24. "The Park Inn Hotel & City National Bank Building: A Brief History". The Historic Park Inn Hotel. Wright on the Park, Inc. Archived from the original on October 5, 2010. Retrieved June 29, 2010.
  25. "Library History – Mason City Public Library". Retrieved 2010-03-29.
  26. Cedar Rapids Gazette, Cedar Rapids historic buildings make 'most endangered' list:
  27. Iowa's Most Endangered Properties,
  28. Junior hockey – The Bulls – coming to Mason City
  29. "Mason City Community School District". home page. Archived from the original on May 10, 2008. Retrieved 2010-12-04.
  31. Johnson, Richard (October 9,10). "Mason City native Lannon named Creighton president". Mason City Globe Gazette. Retrieved 2010-09-14. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  32. "The Political Graveyard". MacNider, Hanford. Retrieved 2010-12-04.
  33. "Born Losers book website". Scott Sandage. Retrieved 2010-12-04.
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