(Information and photographs for this history was taken from “A History of Roland, Iowa 1870-1970” which was produced for the Roland Centennial in 1970.)
Torkel Henryson, a young school teacher in Norway conceived the idea of gathering a group of people in 1846 to immigrate to America. The following spring a group of 165 passengers – 29 families and 15 single persons – chartered a sail ship, and on May 11, 1847, left Bergen, Norway. After landing in New York six weeks later, they traveled by boat to Chicago. From there they used ox-drawn covered wagons to travel to Lisbon, Illinois, their intended destination.
However, they found no government land available in the Lisbon area, and the land that was available was beyond the means of the average immigrants. They heard rumors of good land that could be bought from the government west of the Mississippi River, and decided to send a group of men to investigate. The men chosen were Lars Sheldahl, Jonas Duea, Ole Thompson, John Mehus, Jacob Ask and John Tarvestad.
This group left early in the spring of 1855, traveling in two horse-drawn covered wagons. Their route took them along the northern part of Story County, Iowa, and they finally stopped at a place on Long Dick Creek and made their headquarters at the home of James Smith, who had a dwelling near the timber that was one mile east and one mile south from the present location of Story City.
From there the traveled over the prairie, mostly eastward, to examine the land. They decided it looked favorable, and bought several large tracts from the government at $1.25 an acre, and smaller tracts from private owners for $10 an acre.
Returning to Illinois, and based on their favorable reports, a caravan of 12 families and three single men left in May 1856 for the new location in 18 covered wagons — one horse-drawn and the others pulled by yokes of oxen. Reaching their destination in mid-June, they settled on the east side of the Skunk River, mostly at the point where Roland is now located.
The members of the caravan were the families of Rasmus Sheldahl, Erick Sheldahl, Elias Hendrickson, Jonas Duea, Rasmus Tungesvik, Sjur Britson, Jacob Nelson Brue, Jacob Austin Jacobson, Ole Rasmusson, Jacob Erickson, Hans Twedt, Torkel Opstvedt, and single persons Hans Pederson, and Lars and John Ness. John Ness drowned in the Cedar River during the trip and is buried near there.
Not long after this group established the village of Roland, more movements of Norwegians from Illinois, Wisconsin and Norway moved into Palestine Township, and from those two settlements spread Norwegian colonies in Story County.
The first division of the county into townships was recognized by Judge Evans in June 1853. These included Lafayette, which comprised the current townships of Lafayette and Howard, In 1860 Howard was set off as a separate township from Lafayette.
The first dwellings were built of logs from the timber along the Skunk River, although a few dug caves for living quarters until they could build houses. In 1857 a sawmill, powered by a steam engine, opened in Story City and continued to operate for the next eight years. During this time the settlers depended on the saw mill for logs and lumber for their buildings.
In May 1870, before any businesses had been started and before the town had a name, Jonas Duea was appointed the first postmaster of the new town. The post office was located at his farm at the present west limits of the town.
By 1873 Roland had become an active business area following the establishment of the Grange store by Paul Thompson, Jonas Duea, John Evenson, and Abel Olson. They were all farmers and took turns spending two days at the store.
It was John Evenson, who had become postmaster, who gave Roland its name, suggesting it was easy to pronounce in both English and Norwegian, and easy to spell.
The coming of the Iowa Central Railroad in 1881 was a big boost for the town. The railroad was completed in 1882, and the station in Roland was opened March 23, 1882. A newspaper clipping from November 1882 reported Roland had two general stores, one hardware store, a furniture store, one dressmaking and millinery business, and one grocery store. It also had a restaurant, and a hard and sweet cider establishment. “Those who wish to get drunk can be accommodated at the latter institution,” the County Seat newspaper reported. Roland also had three blacksmith shops, two shoemaker shops and one harness shop, one grain buyer and coal dealer, a lumber yard, a creamery and two farm implement houses.
By 1887 Roland, which was still unincorporated, reportedly had two dry goods stores, two grocery stores, a furniture store and undertaker, hardware and implement store, lumber dealer, creamery, tile factor, meat market, milliner, coal and grain store, two blacksmiths, and a drug store.
The settlers had built a church on a farm outside Roland, and a school house, borrowing the money for the school. The school was built in 1862.
Two churches were later established in the Roland community. The Bergen Lutheran Church, originally a part of the St. Petri congregation in Story City, was established in Roland at its present site in 1874. The Salem Lutheran Church was established in 1868 and they built their house of worship in 1874. It was located one mile west of town, and later moved into Roland.
A commission was appointed Dec. 22, 1891, to carry out the necessary steps for incorporation of the town. A general election was called for March 7, 1892, and the following officers were elected: Mayor, W. O. Bates; councilmen Andrew J. Olson, Jonas Duea, Charles Christian, O. O Stole, Iver Johnson and Carl Oelson; and clerk, Sam J. Michaelson.
Roland’s first town council got down to business March 18, 1982, and the group passed Ordinance No. 1 March 18, 1892, creating the office of town marshal.
The first fire department was named May 9, 1893, with Carl Olson appointed fire marshal. Other members were A. A. Thompson and S. J. Michaelson.
As Roland continued to thrive and grow, many business changes took place and new businesses were established to take care of the community’s needs.
The first telephones were put into operation in June 1897 by the Iowa Telephone Company. The first telephone exchange was organized by a group of local men in 1901. In 1908 the company sold its holdings to the Story County Independent Telephone Company. In July 1927 the stock of the telephone company was sold to the Iowa Continental Telephone Company, which in turn became part of General Telephone Company of the Midwest in 1956. The operation was changed to a dial system in 1956.
Electricity Comes To Roland
Electricity came to Roland Dec. 12, 1911, with current being provided by Story City. That arrangement continued until 1927, when voters rejected renewing the contract. Several elections were held on the subject, and on July 3, 1929, the voters approved purchasing electricity from the Iowa Railway and Light Corporation.
Erickson Park in east Roland was a gift of Michael Erickson in 1915. The shelter house was built in 1940.
Roland’s sewer system was constructed in 1919. A sewage lagoon system was completed in 1963 to replace the disposal plant which had been in use for more than 40 years.
The town hall was completed in 1935, and was a federal public works project.
For more information about the history of Roland, visit the Roland Public Library.