Since its establishment as an incorporated town in 1891, Oakville in Louisa County has been "A peaceful place between two rivers". Those two rivers? The mighty Mississippi that borders the entire eastern edge of our state and the Iowa River, which cuts its way through a sizable chunk of our state.
But in the summer of 2008, things suddenly were not so peaceful.
Massive flooding impacted a huge chunk of our state and the Iowa River really did a number on Oakville. There's no shortage of photos if you want to search the web and I found this video on YouTube. Some wondered whether Oakville would survive. Prior to the flood, the 2000 census listed 439 residents. The 2010 census, just two years after the horrible natural disaster, pegged the population at 173, a decrease of nearly 60 percent.
Despite all of that, more than a decade later, Oakville is still on the map and a website for city gives it another catchy moniker: "The little town that would not drown".
Iowa Adventurer paid a visit to this community in 2020 and found a lot to appreciate about it. It's not far from Burlington and Muscatine, both sizable cities by Iowa's standards, and smaller regional towns such as Wapello and Columbus Junction. It's also located along the Great River Road, a popular scenic byway with a lot of different touristy stops along the way. In fact, that particular morning, after waking up in Fort Madison at the Kingsley Inn, I drove to Burlington to have the "hot mess" breakfast at Jerry's Main Lunch, stopped at Chief Taimah's grave, visited the community of Kingston, hit up the memorial for the six Littleton brothers near Toolesboro, and then took a leap across the Lovers Leap bridge in Columbus Junction, among several other stops.
Tri Oak Foods is a large agricultural entity that has its roots in Oakville. From grain handling and feed milling to pork production, they have several locations in southeast Iowa. They have a sizable presence and employer in the community. Agriculture is the lifeblood of rural Iowa.
I'm sure many of the structures in town experienced significant water damage. I'm not sure how many had to be torn down. However, I did spot a number of nice homes throughout the community.
I spotted a nice United Methodist Church.
This building is where the congregation of the Community Bible Church worships.
On one edge of town, I found a building that is home to the River Bottom Tap.
I found a couple of other buildings in the main street area of town. This particular one really caught my eye. I'm guessing it was once a bank? There was a for sale sign in front of it on the day of my visit. I don't know what the inside looks like, but perhaps it could be a co-working space for the community. As the future of office work evolves, a space in every community with top of the line Internet will be valuable. Maybe the bottom could also be a coffee shop with that? Is the upstairs capable of being an apartment or perhaps an Airbnb?
I also found this particular building that looks like it might have a 1902 date plate on the front.
The town has a community center that also has garage space for some emergency vehicles.
There are a few other buildings in the commerical-type buildings, including a building that serves as both the post office and a museum.
This particular building looks like it has seen better days.
I found a water tower and a nearby building that appears to be part of the town's utility infrastructure.
I imagine this old brick building used to be the school but it's of course it has seen better days. It's too bad that there wasn't the foresight at the time to immediately transition many of these old school buildings into housing when they closed. In my travels around Iowa, I know we have a lot of housing shortage issues and many of these beautiful old schools could have been decent apartments. However, time and weather has not been so kind to this and others like it.
The town has established a beautiful park to remember the efforts of those who worked to recover and rebuild from the 2008 crisis. There's a nice gazebo, a marker, flag pole, benches, and some gorgeous landscaping. It's very nice.
Near the old school, I found another park area that includes a shelter house and playground equipment, among other amenities.
The road blocks add a little bit of extra character.
As far as I can remember, this was my first ever visit to this very peaceful place. I was aware of it's history of flooding from 2008 and I'm delighted to see that it "didn't drown". It might have been knocked down a bit, but Iowans are resilient. I'll look forward to stopping back again sometime in the future when I'm in the area. Perhaps a stop at the museum and the River Bottom Tap will be in order?
As always, I welcome your suggestions of places to visit and profile whether in Louisa County or any of the other 98 counties in Iowa. If you have a good idea or would like to host the Iowa Adventurer, please drop me a note through this site.