“Old Rolfe”, two and one half miles north and two miles east of present town of Rolfe, was the first town in Pocahontas county. In May of 1857 a party of pioneers, consisting of Robert Struthers, W.H. Hait, A. H. Malcolm, and Guernsey Smith, came from Ft. Dodge with an ox team along the Des Moines River and until they reached the NE corner of Des Moines Township. At this date there were no settlers in the county, except the few already in the south along the Lizard lake settlement. The first claims that are on record were shanties built in June of 1858.
Mr. WM. Hait, 23, was the first to establish his claim, 280 acres. He erected the first log house in Pocahontas county. Out of this quickly grew a thriving frontier community. In 1861 a school house was built next to the Hait cabin, the first in the county. Helen Harvey was the first teacher.
These early settlers took the lead in the organization of Pocahontas County. The public offices and public buildings used for the creation of the government of Pocahontas County was located at what is now referred to as “Old Rolfe.” This privilege was maintained for a period of seventeen years when the public records and offices were moved to Center township in 1876.
Initially it was suggest that Rolfe be named Highland or Highland City, and the use of this name prevailed until 1860. In 1861 at the request of W. H. Hait, and with the approval of the people the town was platted and called Milton after the town in New York that Mr. Hait had come from. Public records show that this name prevailed as late as Jan. 2, 1866, but, when application was made for a post office this name was refused because there already was a Milton in Van Buren County.
In the fall of 1862 at the suggestion of Charles Crozat Converse, who in May of that year had purchased several thousand acres of land in the county, principally Des Moines Township, the name of Rolfe, who was married to Pocahontas, was adopted. This name, by reason of its brevity and historic interest, received popular approval and was supposed to be a permanent fixture, but in 1882 when the railroads crossed eath other at a point four miles to the southwest of it, a fatality similar to that which happened in 1876 robbed the township of the county seat ruthlessly robbed the town of it’s pretty, romantic name and left it to be called by yet again another new name-Parvin. No letter however came to Parvin. Too many changes will kill any town. After this Rolfe, the pioneer town of Pocahontas County was dead.
Today, there remains a marker where the first courthouse in the county stood. Also, there are tall regal pines surrounding what is now known as the “Old Rolfe” cemetery. The last person buried in this cemetery was in 1940, although it is well maintained and cared for by the township trustees of Des Moines township.
What happened to “Old Rolfe” when the railroad came through four miles south? It truly became a ghost town. The people took the name of Rolfe and moved with it to the intersection of the railroads.
Corn and soybean agriculture is the main industry in the county, and the tall Pro Cooperative grain elevators dominate the Rolfe skyline. Area farmers and other folk wanting the latest community news convene at the CO-OP for coffee or simply to talk. Rolfe Heartland is another hub of conversation. It is a convenience store with gasoline pumps. There is only stop light intersection in town. Wednesday mornings find a good variety of citizens at the Rolfe Public Library gathered for conversation and occasional special features. Rolfe Heartland provides noontime and evening meals as well as a place to meet up with friends.
Rolfe used to be served by two railroad companies, the Chicago and Northwestern and the Minneapolis and St. Louis. Now, there is only one line. It is owned by the Union Pacific Railroad. The tracks going east of Rolfe have been converted into the Three Rivers Trail that crosses the Des Moines River, goes through Humboldt, and ends near Eagle Grove, covering a distance of some 40 miles.
The Rolfe Golf Club has a fine nine-hole golf course and an air-conditioned clubhouse. The town also has several parks, including one with a beautiful pond where people often fish. It has picnic facilities, playground equipment, and a shelter with restrooms and showers. Rolfe is also fortunate to have a public swimming pool. A person can also find remnants of native prairie near the town, and there are many gardeners in the community. Rolfe has two churches: the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church and the Mision Evangelica Monte Sion Church.
Two organizations have missions specifically designed to promote the well being of Rolfe. The Rolfe Enrichment committee raised funds and oversaw construction of a new community center/city hall/library complex that was supported by private donations and a large grant from the USDA. The building opened in 2004 and houses city offices, the public library, and a large community room.
Rolfe Betterment Incorporated (RBI) organizes the annual Greater Rolfe Days celebration held in July as well as other projects such as the community-wide garage sale, bingo nights, and a holiday visit by Santa Claus. Philanthropic and service organizations include Friends of the Library, PEO Sisterhood, and Rolfe Lions Club.
Rolfe has more than 30 businesses and service providers. Some are common in small Iowa towns: farmer’s cooperative, insurance agent, people who do building construction, music teachers, the post office, repair shop, seed dealers, and trucking company.
Other services and facilities not always found in small towns include a full-fledged public library with an up-to-date computerized cataloging system, Rolfe Heartland Convenience Store, Powers Funeral Home, artisans, electricians, a veterinary clinic, an attorney, a licensed massage therapist, and the United Bank of Iowa. The latter is an independent institution that is much more than a bank with financial planning, and insurance under its roof and the staff often going beyond the call of duty to serve the community. Other enterprises that set Rolfe apart include Dutchland Dairy; the Flower Bin greenhouse; Rolfe Auto Parts, and Wagner Truck and Autos for used vehicles.
Rolfe has a strong educational heritage and had a full K-12 program until 1990 when its last senior class graduated. Rolfe then became part of the Pocahontas Area Community School District and, for a number of years, was home to some elementary classes and the PAC Middle School.
In the spring of 2004, the state fire marshal determined that the Rolfe building should be closed after bricks fell from the upper part of the south face of the building, destabilizing the infrastructure. The PAC school board decided to raze the old part of the building that had been built in 1917. Now, all public school students from the Rolfe area attend school in Pocahontas. A revolving Rolfe High School alumni committee holds an all-class reunion once every five years. There is a Rolfe alumni web site, www.rolfealumni.com, which has excellent information and updates on Rolfe. After the demolition of the schoo,l the remainder of the building and gym was turned over to the city. The gym is now named The RAMS Event Center. Residents can pay a membership to take advantage of the gym, weight room, game room, and basketkball. The RAMS Event Center has hosted bands, roller derby, town functions, auctions, fundraisers, etc.
Rolfe’s motto has been, “Some bigger, none better.” Some civic leaders and local volunteers are the best you could find anywhere. Among them are dedicated people who help others through home health care programs, hospice, ambulance service, fire department, youth programs, library, churches, schools, disaster relief, and other endeavors.
Rolfe is located in Pocahontas County, a flat but gently undulating agricultural area in northwest Iowa. The town was established in 1863 on a hill overlooking the Des Moines River but was eventually relocated to its current site — a move of three miles to the southwest.
According to the 2020 census, Rolfe has 509 residents, down from Rolfe’s estimated population of 1,200 people in 1904. The loss of population is related to a general decline in agricultural prosperity in the Midwest over the past few decades, and Pocahontas County is the county with the largest percentage loss in Iowa in recent years. Rolfe was named after John Rolfe the man who married Pocahontas the Indian Princess.
Pocahontas County once was Indian hunting grounds providing deer, still in abundance, elk and buffalo, a marker northwest of town designates the site where the last buffalo was killed. Groves of trees line Pilot Creek until the tornado 2004 wiped out many.
This area was to be unoccupied neutral ground based upon an unwritten law. However, Sioux Tribes were constantly at war with the Winnebago. About 30 friendly Winnebagos feeling safe were encamped on the Des Moines River preparing furs for market at the trading post at Fort Dodge a day’s journey. Based on an account written by Editor Wm. D. McEwen in The Pocahontas Times, May 18, 1876. The 1853 or 1854 battle ensued when Sioux Chief Cou-sta-wa attacked killing 10 Winneabagos while only four escaped unwounded. Cou-sta-wa was killed in the battle. The Sioux removed their warriors, but early settlers found seven graves in the area. One of the Sioux band was Inkpaduta, known for the Spirit Lake Massacre of 1857. A large boulder on the Three Rivers
Recreation Trail has a plaque commemorating the site.
Keystone Bridge along Tree Rivers Trail
Old Rolfe (1863) first town in county and First Courthouse Marker (1860-1876).
Streit Park on east Walnut Street has the Tilley Cabin from north of Rolfe. Roosevelt #7 School is also located here. At every 2 miles X 2 miles was a school house.
Viking Rune Stone was found on private property.