backroads calliope

In 1860, four men from Sioux City, Iowa decided to establish a county seat for Sioux County. They chose a sight on the Big Sioux River across from Dakota Territory. A log cabin was the county courthouse. Apparently, one of the men liked the music played by a calliope, so they chose that as the name. Like creative parents, they changed the pronunciation, making the final ‘e’ silent and putting the accent on the first syllable, KEL-e-ope.

While the county seat eventually ended up in Orange City, the village was on a stage route between Sioux City and Sioux Falls, S.D., and later the Milwaukee Road Railroad passed through. The village grew. In 1882 an east-west railroad bypassed Calliope one mile south, and the village of Hawarden was platted. Over the decades, Hawarden flourished and Calliope faded. By 1911, it was gone. (Today, the site is part of the town of Hawarden.)

Or, almost gone. One original building still existed. Standing empty in 1975, it was known as “Grandma Carr’s” house for its last occupant. It was thought it may have been the stage depot for Calliope. An Eagle Scout project spearheaded restoring the building as a stage depot. That deed, along with the Bicentennial interest in history, led the community to save the memory of Calliope. The Hawarden Historical Society now manages a 19-building village named in honor of their former rival town.

Fourteen buildings sit along Iowa Highway 10 in northwestern Hawarden; five more are west of the railroad tracks in the vicinity where Calliope actually existed. Most of the structures have been moved in and refurbished to create a 19th century village. Two were constructed on site: a log cabin replica of the original courthouse (with the original safe), and a church building to house items donated by congregations. The Northside Grocery, where many folks remember shopping before it closed in 1976, and which already sat adjacent to the Village, is the most recent addition, renamed the Calliope Store.

There is much to see. The W.E. Rowe harness shop houses the reception area and the complete interior of the old Hawarden post office. The two-cell jail originally sat in Chatsworth, Iowa. The country school includes a stoneware water cooler, and has a hexagonal merry-go-round outside. Other buildings are furnished with donations from a law office, medical and dental offices, barbershops, and 19th century homes and stores. Two highlights are a veteran’s museum, and the home where Iowa author Ruth Suckow grew up.

Funded by donations and grants, kept going by hours of volunteer time, with assistance from the City of Hawarden, Calliope Village is a place where history can be experienced.

Calliope Village is located on the west side of Iowa Highway 10 between 19th and 20th streets in Hawarden, with parking on 20th Street. Open hours are the first Sunday in June, July and August from 1-4 p.m. Tours available by appointment. Email or call (712) 551-2959 or the Chamber at (712) 551-4433.  

To read more of Calliope history, visit

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