Businesses on Main Street

Along with the pioneer farmers who streamed westward to the rich lands of Iowa came the "town builders." They knew farming people would need a place to sell their grain and animals. There would also be things they would need to buy, such as plows, kerosene, nails, sugar and coffee. They might need help with shoeing horses or repairing farm machinery and plows. Just as soon as a farming area in Iowa was settled, businesses grew in towns to serve as a market and business center for local farm people.

The number of stores depended on the number of people who lived in and around town. Towns with 20 to 30 people usually had a general store, a post office, a blacksmith shop and a depot, if there was a lumberyard. As a town prospered, artisans with special talents set up their businesses. Silversmiths, coopers, shoemakers and photographers came to earn their living. A hardware store, saloon, barbershop, pharmacy, millinery and dressmaker's shop might occupy the buildings. Banks, lumber yards, newspaper offices and churches were located on many towns’ main streets. Larger towns might have several of each of these businesses. One or more newspapers often began publishing a growing town and helped to bring in more business.

Teachers, doctors, dentists and lawyers often made their homes in town, providing professional services to both townspeople and the surrounding dwellers. That their town would continue to grow and be successful was the hope of all who lived and worked in the community.


  • Margaret Atherton Bonney, Ed., "What Was On Main Street?," The Goldfinch 3, No. 3 (February 1982): 2-3.


Take a look at the businesses on Main Street in your town. What do you see?

Media Artifacts

Reading Tip: Reflecting
When you are finished reading the article, think about how the information affects your life and the lives of others in your community.