The site that is Oakville today attracted only a few scattered families until late in the 19th century. Most folks, I assume, looked at the swampy bottomlands and figured they could do better. They were probably right. The completion of the first railroad in the area in 1885 and the railroad bridge at Keithsburg the following year would be the catalyst for creating the village of Oakville. When levee construction and swamp draining began in the early 20th century, the land became more attractive for farming and housing.
Platted in 1891 by Abe and Harry Parsons and incorporated in 1902, choosing a name proved a little difficult. Charles W. Edwards and a Mr. Creighton tried a number of different “-villes”, but they had a hard time agreeing on one, at least until they noticed a young burr oak near where they happened to be standing. So the story goes.
Oakville had a modest stockyard and was at one time on two different railroad lines. The village had the usual collection of small town businesses: a grain elevator (wheat, corn, and oats were common crops in the area), a general store, a blacksmith, a couple of banks, plus small manufacturing plants. Folks built an opera house in 1901, so they had a place to go for entertainment. Oakville residents could cross the Mississippi River after a short trip to a ferry that crossed to New Boston, Illinois.
Life has never been exactly easy, though, in Oakville and the village never had more than a few hundred residents. The village suffered through several big fires (1898, 1899, 1940, 1943, 1952). The last train passed through in 1971, and the ferry to New Boston shut down in 1973. Oakville schools closed in 1980.
The biggest threats have always come from flooding, however. You can drain the swamp but you can’t change the fact that you live in a floodplain. An ice jam on the Iowa River caused a major flood in 1946, but bigger floods in 1993 and especially in 2008 devastated Oakville and convinced many people to move to higher ground.
Exploring the Area
Inside the post office (505 Russell St.), there are a few displays about the history of the village.
Where to Stay
Ferry Landing Recreation Area (6990 County Road X71; 563.263.7913) has 20 primitive sites near the river; no showers.
Where to Eat
The Piggy Bank Cafe (608 Russell St.; 319.766.2204) serves lunch during the week, and dinner on weekends.
Heading upriver? Check out Toolesboro.
Heading downriver? Check out Kingston.
© Dean Klinkenberg, 2014
If you like the content at the Mississippi Valley Traveler, please consider showing your support by making a one-time contribution or by subscribing through Patreon. Book sales don’t fully cover my costs, and I don’t have deep corporate pockets bankrolling my work. I’m a freelance writer bringing you stories about life along the Mississippi River. I need your help to keep this going. Every dollar you contribute makes it possible for me to continue sharing stories about America’s Greatest River!