MAQUOKETA is probably the only town in the world that is known by this name. The name was derived from the river which flows just north of the city and means in the Indian language “Bear River”. This stream was known by the Indians as maquaweutaw meaning “there are bears”. At that time, there were a great number of bears which inhabited its banks, and the streams which fed the river. The name was later to became half-Americanized. Although the spelling evolved to Maquoketa, the original plat showed the name as Makoketa, and records kept by postal clerks show that mail has been received and delivered with Maquoketa spelled more than a thousand ways.
Maquoketa has been known as the “Timber City” since about 1870 because of the many trees that line the streets.
In January 1838, two young men, J. E. Goodenow and Lyman Bates from upper New York state headed west with a wagonload of trade goods. They crossed the frozen Mississippi River and settled at the future site of Maquoketa, in the east-central region of Iowa. The first building upon the present town plat was erected by John E. Goodenow. He and Lyman Bates had joined the steady stream of settlers migrating west into the vast lands of the Louisiana Purchase. Zalmon Livermore made a claim on the quarter section cornering at the present junction of Main and Platt Streets. Alonzo Spaulding was on the northwest corner, John Shaw on the southwest and the southeast quarter section being occupied by Mr. Goodenow. Lyman Bates cabin was on the outskirts.
In 1839, other settlers mostly from New York arrived at the new settlement. That same year, Goodenow built a corn cracker, and in 1842 McCloy constructed a flour mill. Goodenow later built a brick oven, a pot kiln for making brick lime for mortar. The town’s location on the post road between Dubuque and Davenport made it a popular rest stop for pioneers heading west.
In 1840, Goodenow established a post office under the name Springfield. The name already had been claimed by other communities, however, and the Post Office Department requested a change. On March 3, 1844, the town officially became Maquoketa.
The town was incorporated in 1853 with a population of 300. In 1854, the first fair was sponsored by The Agricultural Association. That same year, W.C. Swigart published the Jackson Sentinel, and the Maquoketa Excelsior was established two years later. The city efforts to attract rail service were rewarded in 1870 when the first train chugged into town.
In 1873 Maquoketa became the permanent seat of Jackson County. The Decker House and the 800-seat Harris Opera House were built in 1876. A disastrous fire in 1882 prompted the establishment of a volunteer fire department and construction of a brick firehouse in 1901.
Today, Maquoketa has about 6,100 residents. Its agricultural economy is increasingly bolstered by light industry. Over the years Maquoketa’s industrial concerns have included a woolen mill, a brewery, furniture builder, a cigar maker, wagon and pump makers, and foundries. More recently, several auto parts manufacturers have set up plants in the city’s growing industrial park.