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Shenandoah Chapter NSDAR

Shenandoah, Iowa

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Shenandoah History

Garden City

Early in its history, with an abundance of fertile soil, Shenandoah became the seed and nursery capital of America. Through the years the city has enjoyed success and fame for its ability to nurture business, the arts, and a sense of community. Today, Shenandoah is a vibrant town which continues to fulfill its early promise of a place where beautiful things grow.

Shenandoah, located in the Nishnabotna River Valley, provided early settlers with a sense of beauty and promise that inspired them to sow the seeds of their families’ future on this land. Originally called Fair Oaks, Shenandoah took its permanent name on August 6, 1870. Soldiers returning from the American Civil War saw a striking resemblance to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

As with many towns, Shenandoah’s growth was spurred on by the railroad. The Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad work was completed in the summer of 1870. The completion of the railroad meant more travelers passing through Shenandoah and more people deciding to call Shenandoah home.

Deeply rooted in the nursery industry, Shenandoah’s seeds for growth and opportunity were planted in 1875 with the dawn of the Mt. Arbor Nurseries.

Four years prior, in 1871, a young Henry Fields was born in Shenandoah. According to company history, Henry had sold his first packet of seeds by the age of six. It took another 15 years for a youthful Fields to actually grow, harvest, and market his own seeds locally. By the time Fields passed away in 1949, the Henry Field Company was one of the largest and best-known companies of its kind in the United States.

Another local company synonymous with growing and Shenandoah is Earl May Seed and Nursery. Earl May, a Nebraska man, sold garden seeds in the Midwest and the South to pay his way through college. May moved to Shenandoah in 1915 to work at the Mt. Arbor Nursery. Three years later he founded the company that still bears his name and is known throughout Iowa and three other states.

More than just trees, vegetables, and flowers have sprung from Shenandoah’s fertile soil. Their competitive nature and marketing prowess spurred the nursery owners to success in a far different endeavor. May and Fields created radio stations to broadcast their commercials and entertainment throughout the Midwest and across the country. Fields launched KFNF in 1924. Not to be outdone, the call letters of KMA were first heard over the crackle of a radio in 1925.

Live broadcasts of music, news, and information were beamed from studios and auditoriums built by the stations. Shenandoah became known throughout the Midwest as a stopping point for young entertainers trying to further their way in the entertainment world. Early entertainers lured to the stages in Shenandoah included the Blackwood Brothers in 1940 and other well known era entertainers.

The homespun Shenandoah talent of the Everly Brothers also found its way to the KMA stage. Although Don and Phil Everly were born in Brownie, Kentucky, the draw of a radio appearance on KFNF brought their musical family to Shenandoah in 1945. After several years they left Shenandoah in the summer of 1955. They still consider Shenandoah an important part of their musical legacy. The Everlys went on to national and international acclaim with the songs “Bye Bye Love,” “Wake Up Little Susie,” and “Cathy’s Clown.”

Even beyond the nursery and radio business, Shenandoah’s entrepreneurial spirit has helped build a strong independent community. Within its own county (Page), Shenandoah is not the largest town, nor the county seat. Yet, it boasts several homegrown businesses that thrive and prove once again Shenandoah is a place where things grow.

For more information about Shenandoah, visit the Shenandoah Chamber and Industry Association’s website at www.shenandoahiowa.net.

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Last Updated 8 February 2019
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