Villisca has a fascinating history, a blend of history~~mystery. This self-guided tour starts at our community square and takes you around town, highlighting some of the major pieces of our history along with some quips that, well, are just fun to share. If you are interested in particular pieces of our history, we also give you the choice of a tour by subject - the 1912 Unsolved Axe Murders, our military history, the story of the Pulitzer Prize Winning Photo, the important place of the railroad in our story, historical moments recorded at our cemetery, ....
Our story is reflected in the unsolved 1912 axe murders, in patriotism illustrated by those who have stepped forward time and time again to answer the call of their country to serve in the military, which was memorialized in a Pulitzer Prize winning photo, to everyday people distinguishing themselves with academic, business and cultural accomplishments. Historically, Villisca provides an environment in which people flourish. It is a community of people with diverse interests and backgrounds; a community of individualists. As Liz Murray noted in Homeless to Harvard, "History - It is each of us - it is all of us."
Our story expresses some of the endearing qualities that makes living in Villisca forever an adventure. In many ways Villisca is typical of many of the small rural communities that dot the Iowa landscape. While we have many similarities, like our name, there is only one Villisca. We have a story to tell. Chuck Offenberger, a renown columnist for the Des Moines Register in the 1990s, once described Villisca as " A nice little town where something awful once happened”. Carolyn Gage, former publisher of the Villisca Review wrote in 2000, "While it is not pleasant for Villisca to be remembered as the site of these murders, it is foolish to ignore what happened. History, no matter how painful, should never be rewritten." So, we tell the story here. While the events of that night in 1912 impacted life in Villisca, there is more to Villisca's history and we share some of that on these pages.
So, let's get started. The basics: Villisca means beautiful land between two rivers.
Villisca was platted in 1858 and was only a ‘paper town’ until the first railroad went through in 1869 when Villisca was legally declared a town. Villisca is located at 40°55′45″N 94°58′41″W / 40.92917°N 94.97806°W / (40.929115, -94.978162).