Nestled along the bluffs of the Skunk River of Central Iowa, the small town of Colfax boasts a big and surprising history. Originally platted in 1866 as a stagecoach and railroad stop, Colfax rocketed to world prominence with the discovery of artesian mineral water springs in 1875. The mineral water industry brought in thousands of visitors a year, who came to bathe and drink the medical properties of the water.
In its heyday, Colfax became known as "Spring City," "Little Carlsbad of the Midwest," and the "Saratoga of the West" comparing the town to famous spa resorts of Europe and America. Colfax sported eighteen mineral springs, four bottling works, nine spa hotels, and other industries that sprang up around the burgeoning economy of the time. In 1900, Hotel Colfax, the largest hotel, registered 13,000 guests.
Unfortunately the Great Depression and modern medicine brought about the end of the mineral water industry. Many of the great hotels fell into disrepair or were destroyed by fire. In the 1930s, the iconic gazebo at Mineral Springs Park was constructed by the Works Progress Administration to commemorate the industry. Now Colfax has memorialized unique past by creating the Spring City Commercial Historic District which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
James Norman hall
Colfax is the boyhood home of author James Norman Hall. Born in 1887, Hall is the co-author of the famous book Mutiny on the Bounty (1932), which is based off the mutiny against British Naval lieutenant William Bligh in the South Pacific. The novel has been made into film three times. After his childhood in Colfax and college years in Grinnell, Iowa, Hall had a lively and adventurous life serving in the British, French, and American armed forces during WWI; adventures which he frequently wrote about. He later settled on the island of Tahiti, where he wrote most of his work. Hall wrote a series of poems entitled
Oh, Millersville! under the pseudonym Fern Gravel. The poems are a loving reflection of small town Iowa life and growing up in Colfax.
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Spring City Stories is a self-guided walking tour that lets visitors discover the history and architecture of downtown Colfax. Informational booklets can be purchased at the Colfax Main Street Office, The Colfax Historical Society, The Colfax Public Library, and participating businesses. You can also get an electronic copy