About Us

  • City of Corning, Adams County, Iowa
  • 601 6th Street, Corning, IA 50841
  • Population 1564 at the 2020 Census


History of Community

Adams County is located in southwestern Iowa and was established in 1851.  In 1853 the county seat was designated in Quincy.  In 1856 a preliminary survey routed the proposed railway right-of-way along the East Nodaway through most of Adams County, touching both Queen City and Corning but passing approximately four miles south of Quincy.  David N. Smith, the principal founder of the Corning Town Company, filed the town plat for the new railroad town..  He bought up land there and filed the plat on September 21,1857.  Area railroad fever encouraged development of the new townsite and there was an initial burst of enthusiastic town building as the railhead advanced westward.  Promoter Smith even funded the erection of a number of substantial speculative business buildings, including the town's first brick storefront for Daniel Ritchey.  The newly established Corning Sentinel predicted that Corning would be the scene of more construction during the year than would any other townsite in the young county.  The first hotel, the Corning House was built in 1859.  During the early 1860s the town consisted of about 40 homes and a population of 150 persons.  Smith named the new town for Erastus Corning (1794-1872), of New York, the director of the B.&M. Railroad.  The Corning Town Company incorporated on July 22, 1859. The City of Corning was incorporated December 13, 1871. 

Corning was laid out across a natural south-facing amphitheater that ran along a rounded bluffline that arose 200 feet above the river and 150 feet above the railroad grade.  This setting was the provision of a one-third mile long "natural toboggan run" and ran downhill on Davis Ave from the Opera House corner at 8th Street.  The town plat showed traits of a typical railroad town plan but with some originality thrown in.  Most notable was the double main streets of Davis and Benton with each being 100 feet in width and uniquely separated by a half block.  It is said that the town planners intended the half blocks to be reserved as parks, and commercial development would be around Central Park.  Corning managed to get a resolution on the ballot in 1872 which called for relocation of the County Seat and in November the people voted to move the seat of County government to Corning. The location of the courthouse is considered to be the defeat of the original plan and new brick structures south of Central Park began to house commercial enterprise.  

Corning had its first visit by the town mappers of the Sanborn Fire Insurance Company of New York in early 1886.  These maps were used by local insurance agents to calculate the fire risk in issuing fire insurance.  There were 14 brick storefronts in the downtown, assembled in double fronts or scattered singly.  Frank LaRue and O.A Pease built the first electric light plant c. 1886.  The private company also pumped water for the municipal water system.  The town council was worried about the adequacy of the town's water supply and an 1888 election resulted in a nearly unanimous vote to issue bonds to construct a municipal water system, authorizing  $15,000 to be raised by selling six percent bonds with a 20 year maturity.  Another town improvement was the establishment of a local normal school academy  that boasted 120 students by 1898.  The Corning Electric company was organized in October 1887 and the first electric plant was a by-product of the water plant.  The system first serviced 200 "lamps" and by 1898 powered 900 rented lights.  The plant was lost to the 1896 fire but was back on line within 2 months time.  By early 1888, Corning had a population of about 2000 persons.  There were two banks, eight general stores, four grocery stores, three drug stores, three hardware stores, three barber shops, two clothing stores, two boot and shoe stores, three hotels, & several restaurants. Additionally, a flour & feed store, three livery stables, four meat markets, four blacksmith shops, two agricultural implement dealers, two elevators and three newspapers, an opera house, steam mill, laundry, two fenced in parks (Central & Grove) and three stone quarries.

The Icarian iris symbol incorporated on the 706 Davis building is no accident.  Just as the Icarian colony influenced Adams County history, it also had a presence on Corning's commercial district.  The colony was replete with skilled artisans and energetic intellectuals that sponsored a number of Corning businesses beginning in 1878.  Many of these subsequently turned into for-profit enterprises.  One of those ventures was a "French Meat Market" that was located at 719 Davis.  The Free Press endorsed the market noting "this justly popular meat market continues to furnish the choicest meats of all kinds, dressed poultry, dried and pressed beef, bologna sausage and pure lard".  The colony solicited general trade at its flour & saw mills and there was always a direct marketing link between the agricultural products of the colony and the shipping point at Corning.

By the early 1890s, the Sanborn Map field men revised their 1886 map.  The post office was then located at 618 Davis, the First National Bank of Corning occupied the future site of the Opera House and City Hall (800 Davis).  The fire company was housed there as well.  The city was credited with having "a fine City Hall, with mayor's office, fire department, etc., all well equipped, an extensive system of water works furnishing the very best protection against fire and one of the best court houses in southwestern Iowa."  The city had excellent stone quarries producing both stone and sand.  There were two brick yards, a creamery, canning factory and a cheese factory.  Electric lights served the city streets and numerous buildings.  The public schools had two buildings in addition to the Corning Academy and there were five churches (Methodist, Congregational, Presbyterian, Baptist and Catholic).  Corning was a shipping point for large quantities of hay, grain, hogs, cattle, butter, eggs, horses, etc.  Daily stages linked Quincy, Carbon & Mt. Etna while tri-weekly stages ran to Iveyville, Holt, and Clarinda.

If any singular event left its mark on Corning's downtown, it surely was the disastrous fire of October 9, 1896.  It greatly altered individual business partnerships, locations and fortunes.  Several factors made the fire worse.  A hole had been cut in the water tower and the system boiler was being repaired so there was virtually no water when the disaster struck.  Couple that with most of the city leaders were away from town and not able to provide leadership in fighting the blazes. There were two distinct fires.  The first broke out at 2:30 am and destroyed the Reynolds Elevator south of the tracks.  With no water, firefighters used the "old hand wagon" and only confined the blaze.  A strong southeasterly wind scattered burning embers to the north and northwest towards the downtown.  By 4:00am the scare was thought to be over and the crowd dispersed home to bed.  But little time passed when the general alarm again sounded and townspeople discovered the building on the NE corner of Davis and 7th was fully ablaze.  It took just two hours for the fire to consume 23 store buildings. The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy railroad enabled  last minute assistance from Creston, Villisca & Clarinda fire companies to be instrumental in finally stopping the flames.  Corning rebuilt during 1896-1902 by uniformly replicating structures with an end result of a solid block & a half of new brick structures.  

Coordinates:  40º59'29"N     94º44'13"W

Corning is probably best known as the birthplace of Johnny Carson, comedian & Late Show host from October 1, 1962 to May 22, 1992.   His birthplace still stands on the corner of 13th & Davis as a tribute to Mr. Carson's beginnings. 

Daniel Webster Turner, Governor of the State of Iowa from 1931-1933 was born in Corning on March 17, 1877.


Community Profile

City of Corning, Adams County, Iowa was incorporated December 13, 1871.