Look at the countryside around Woodward and you see flat, fertile farmland.
More than 130 years ago, that flat terrain was the reason Woodward was born, although it was originally called “Colton.”
As was the case in many newly-formed Iowa communities, the initial name had to be changed when it was found that another “Colton” already existed in the state. When problems arose, including mail delivery, early settlers took action.
Thus, Woodward was born.
The community was founded when the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway Co. constructed its line through what is now Woodward in 1880. Just a mile-and-a-half east was the then-thriving settlement of Xenia. But, Xenia was built on the side of a hill; the railroad sought more level land.
When the railroad went through, a depot was constructed and a community was built up around that railway stop.
Today, Woodward thrives and there’s nothing left of Xenia but a name.
Just three years after Woodward was first settled, the community was officially incorporated on Oct. 13, 1883.
Woodward grew quickly. People — indeed sometimes houses — were moved from Xenia to Woodward. Even a few business buildings were moved westward from Xenia to Woodward, which rapidly grew to a population of about 600.
The original land on which Woodward now sits was owned by Henry Hutsonpiller, J.R. Cole and Dr. J.O. Shanks and the first dwelling house in Woodward, located at the corner of what is now 3rd Avenue South and 3rd Street East, was built by Al Hughes.
The home was later moved to 201 Jackson Avenue.
As the fortunes of Woodward began to rise, poor Xenia began to fade even more rapidly into extinction.
By 1879, the “History of Dallas County” noted that fewer than a dozen houses were left in Xenia, located just west of the Des Moines River. Only one business remained there.
While Xenia was fading, it did have the distinction of being home to the first schoolhouse built for children of the area. That school was built in 1852.
As much as crossing the Des Moines River itself was a problem for early railroad architects, the river valley itself also produced a number of problems.
The first railroad through the area wound down the east side of the valley, crossed the river on a wooden bridge with wooden pilings, then wound up the west side of the valley and into Woodward.
Before that crossing was modernized, Woodward became a part of the interurban railway — an electronic trolley that connected cities and rural communities. Incorporated in 1899, the Des Moines & Central Iowa Railway tied with the Des Moines city street railway system.
It branched to town both east and northwest of Des Moines. The northwest branch of the trolley, a 34-mile road, was the final extension of the rail. The 34-mile road connected Des Moines to Herroll and Granger and ran to Perry with a three-mile branch running from what was then Moran, north to Woodward.
Service to Woodward began in June of 1906.
That service, however, was not without its share of problems and mishaps.
An ice storm in March of 1907 stranded the interurban trolley at Moran. Since there were no services there, the company arranged for livery rigs to pick up passengers and transport them into Woodward for an overnight stay.
Another, more serious incident, occurred in February of 1908 when the Woodward car and the Perry car collided, also at Moran. The Perry car was parked at Moran, awaiting the arrival of the Woodward car where passengers would board the Perry car en route to Des Moines.
Six people were injured when the Woodward car rammed the parked Perry car.
While interurban passenger service was important to the line, freight was also hauled.
The short Moran to Woodward branch of the service was discontinued in 1941 because of declining revenue and the Woodward branch was entirely abandoned in August of 1946.
Meanwhile, rail service from the east, took a more useful role with the construction of a high bridge over the Des Moines River Valley in 1913. The announcement of that project was made a year earlier and included a fill, estimated at a half-mile long, on the east side with more than a half-million cubic yards of fill used in the project.
Another difficulty was that an entire cemetery had to be moved. Finally, the bridge was finished in the summer of 1913.
As World War I broke out, 21 men from Company H, 1st Iowa Infantry were assigned to guard the bridge in fear that the Germans would try to destroy it.
Believed to be the longest double track railroad in the U.S. at the time, the bridge served the area until it was destroyed in 1973, replaced with a single-track concrete span.
Again today, the Des Moines River Valley and the scenic view it provides for all who view it, has become an important part of Woodward’s history and economy. A new high trestle bridge, connecting a bike trail to the east and through Polk County, currently ends at the trail head in Woodward. One of the early depots still stands at the point the trail now ends.
Another industry that sprang up east of Woodward and helped boost both the economy and population of the community was coal mining.
Little coal mining was done in the county until the early 1900s and one of the first mines came when coal was discovered at what was to become Scandia No. 1, east of Woodward.
Coal seams were frequently exposed in the Des Moines River Valley and Dallas County quickly became one of the state’s most important coal producing counties.
Today, many of those living in Woodward commute to the Metro area to their jobs. Woodward has always prided itself in providing its youth with solid education and the community is now part of the Woodward-Granger School District with the high school located in Woodward.
Several natural disasters have rocked the community through the years, perhaps none more serious than the tornado that swept through Woodward in November of 2005, destroying a number of homes, mostly in the south and east parts of the city.
Fortunately, there were no fatalities during that severe storm, but many homes and businesses were destroyed. Many of them have been rebuilt.