Notes from the Lake

Dear Readers

Union Grove State Park along with its counterparts all over the state, will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of Iowa’s lakes and state parks this year.

Union Grove Lake was the brainchild of a group of individuals who in 1936 formed Union Grove Lake Park and Holding Corporation, a non-profit group which is still active today.

Shares at $100 each were sold and could be used to purchase lots around the lake. Proceeds were used to purchase land for the park and once the initial 230 acres were secured, the group teamed with the Worker Progress Administration (WPA) to cost-share construction of the park’s infrastructure.

The same year WPA workers completed the dam. The spillway was carved out of limestone outcropping in the southeast corner of the park. Rock was quarried to build roads and several cabins were constructed-some still standing.

For the next four years the lake was operated privately be the holding corporation, but was open to the public. It attracted many visitors to the area for recreation and residential development.

In July 1940 the holding company sold the area to the state for $10,000. The residential lots were retained by their owners.

The name Union Grove comes from a town that was located in the area originally called Spring Creek. The small village was renamed in the late 1870’s in hopes of attracting the Union Pacific Railroad. it had a school, cemetery, post office, store, blacksmith shop, cheese factory, hotel and dance hall.

The railroad eventually picked a route that ran from Tama to Garwin, and then to the newly developed town of Gladbrook, thus skipping Union Grove. Most of the businesses and buildings were moved to Gladbrook, and Union Grove was abandoned. In 1890 only a few foundations and Union Grove Cemetery remained.

There you have the bones of how Union Grove Lake and Park came to be, but not the stories of trappers, Indians, the first settlers, the Ghost School, life and death in the little village (from the notes of Frank Rickerl, former DNR Park Manager and others).

We will be back with these stories and more during this year of celebration.