Janesville, the first town platted in Bremer County, was founded in 1849 by John T. Barrick. Mr. Barrick was a fur trapper who had moved from Ohio to Iowa with his wife and children. The family had previously lived in Sturgis Falls (now Cedar Falls) for a few years before making the move into the wilderness, which became Janesville. The town of Janesville was named in tribute to his wife, Jane Barrick and was anticipated to become the Bremer County seat. This did not become a reality because of land grabbing by political figures in Black Hawk County. Janesville was incorporated in 1854, and is the oldest town in Bremer County. The following paragraphs illustrate some of the milestones of the community.
At the time of Janesville’s settlement, the only neighbors were the Native Americans. The land that Janesville is located on was bought from the Sauk and Fox Tribes in 1843. The tribes surrounding Janesville varied in number and size but included as many as 1,700 warriors.
Early settlers began arriving in 1850, which prompted the building of the first school house. In 1853, the Janesville city post office was established and the local newspaper was started in 1855. Typhoid fever broke out in the city in 1855 and tragically claimed approximately one-third of the city’s growing population. Due to the stoic and determined settlers, the town was able to recover its population.
Janesville was originally established as Jaynesville and then changed to Janesville on January 23, 1876.
Tragedy once again struck when a fire on the west side of Main Street almost destroyed the city of Janesville in 1898. Thanks to hard work and perseverance, those living within the City of Janesville were able to rebuild and remain in the young town. The determination of the residents became evident when the fire did not stop the installation of the initial telephone service. The ingenuity and inventive genius of the settlers of Janesville was demonstrated when Isaac Barrick, the son of the founder of Janesville, utilized the abundance of wildlife and animals in the prairie. First, he harnessed two buffalo to a plow to till the soil, much like the typical work of the horses. He also harnessed elk to his buggy and discovered that the elk could out run the best horse.
Lost in Time Photo Album
Other Notable Dates in Janesville History
The Riviera Ballroom and Bowling Ally. The Riviera Ballroom opened in January of 1951. It hosted many Big Band Dances with bands and musicians from all over the United States including Jan Garber, Louis Armstrong, and Lawrence Welk. The Riviera was also the home to many school proms, athletic banquets, Fireman dances, Christmas parties bowling leagues, and other private and public events. The original bowling ally was in the basement and had only eight lanes. After much success and popularity over nearly 4 decades, the Riviera closed its doors in the late 1980s. Unfortunately the current property owner let the building stand vacant and abandoned and in the early 1990's, it was burned down by the Janesville Fire Department to make room for a new community center. To this day the current Riviera Roose Event's Center stands on the same property.
The Collapse of the Barrick Road Bridge. On February 29, 1992, at approximately 03:30 in the morning, the Barrick Road Bridge across the Cedar River collapsed into the river. The Middle section of the bridge had been struck by a pick up truck traveling at a high rate of speed. The driver of the truck, of rural Janesville, was not injured. However, he was arrested for and later convicted of drunk driving. The middle section of the bridge collapsed into the river leaving the east and west sections still standing. The east section was pulled away from the edge of the road and had fallen about two feet. About a month later the middle section was forced downstream by floodwaters. In 1995 the rest of the bridge was removed and the area on the west side became a city park. In 2014 a new pedestrian walk bridge was built and still stands to this day.
Floods 2008 and 2016. June 2008 and October 2016 will be remembered in recent history as two of the most historic floods to impact the City of Janesville. Cresting at 19.45 ft. in 2008 and 16.27 ft. in 2016, these floods impacted the community greatly by forcing evacuations of the trailer court, emergency sandbagging operations by countless community members, temporary closure of the 7th Street green bridge, multiple other road closures both in town and rural hindering emergency response, incident command center put in place by city personnel along with the Fire Department, First Responders and Police Department, sheltering and feeding operations at the local churches. Luckily each time, no injuries or deaths have been reported and damage in town has been relatively minor. Pictured to the right is the entrance to Barrick Road during the 2008 Flood. You can see water nearly to the roof of the Lion's Club Shelter.