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History & Architecture


The city of Grinnell was founded by a young minister named Josiah B Grinnell in 1854 when Granvil Dodge, a surveyor, told that two railroads were going to intersect where the city now stands. JB Grinnell was a personal friend of Abraham Lincoln and a staunch opponent to slavery, and the city became a stop on the Underground Railroad. By the 1900’s the Morrison & Schults Glove factory was the world’s largest manufacturer of gauntlet gloves. There was a jacket factory, a shoe factory, a large canning factory, a washing machine factory, a refrigerator factory, and the famous Spaulding Buggy Factory. Miracle playground equipment was an early leader in the playground equipment industry, Grinnell Mutual Insurance company was innovative in the early insurance industry and continues to give strong leadership to the insurance business. Grinnell is located on the rich black prairie soil. Agriculture is a strong contributor to Grinnell economy.


Grinnell is a global destination for architects, architectural historians, art lovers and those who appreciate the "built environment." From the downtown, which is listed as a National Register of Historic Places "Commercial Historic District," to historic neighborhoods to the Grinnell College campus, the city of Grinnell features a variety of structures that attract people from around the world. But the centerpiece of Grinnell's architectural heritage is the Merchants National Bank, which was designed by the legendary architect Louis Sullivan. Built in 1914, it is one of Sullivan's eight Midwestern "jewel box" banks. Designated a National Historic Landmark by the US Department of the Interior, the bank currently houses the Grinnell Area Chamber of Commerce.

Historic Video Tours

These videos will give you a glimpse of some of Grinnell's architectural and historical treasures. The narration tells you about the past and present uses of the buildings. These videos complement a self-guided Architectural Walking Tour through Grinnell. Click here to download the tour. The creation of the videos was supported through a Grinnell College Mini-Grant. Click each link below to see a short video.

Jewel Box Bank/Merchants National Bank Grinnell House Old Glove Factory
Rock Island (Union) Station Goodnow Hall Grinnell Historical Museum
B.J. Ricker House E.H. Spaulding House Strand Theatre