Polk City emerged as a predominantly rural community in the nineteenth century, enjoying slow, but steady growth throughout it’s history. Polk City has experienced considerable change over the 150-year history.
Native Americans first cut paths through the timber and prairie, followed by white settlers in the late 1840’s. Several sources indicate that some of the first settlers used the remnants of an abandoned Indian village along present-day Booth street for their settlement.
The first Polk City area settler was George Beebe, who arrived in 1846. Beebe was instrumental in laying out the town and he also donated land for a town square and mandated that the land be used as a park. The Town Square still remains the center of the community today. 1846 also marked the construction of the first water-powered mill that was built in the Big Creek area to grind livestock feed, wheat and corn.
In May 1850, Polk City was officially recorded as a town and Five years later, the town outmatched Des Moines with a flour mill, five shoe shops, three general stores and five saloons. However, Des Moines (then known as Fort Des Moines) still managed to become the county seat of Polk county and in 1857, Polk City fell just short of becoming Iowa’s new state capital to Des Moines.
In 1874, the Des Moines & Minneapolis Railroad built a line between Ames and Des Moines through Polk City. Five years later, Polk City was nearly bypassed by the railroad in favor of straightening the route from Ames to Des Moines. In response to protest, a compromise was made and the “Polk City Junction” line was established along with then incorporated in 1875.
A turning point in Polk City history came in the 1960’s when planning began for the Saylorville Reservoir. The Army Corps of Engineers presented two alternative plans. The first option was to buy out and relocate Polk City residents in order to let Saylorville Lake encompass the area. The second, and chosen, option allowed for the preservation of Polk City by creating a second dam to form Big Creek Lake. This decision has resulted in a significant amount of development in Polk City since the 1960’s.