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Decatur County 1934 Drought

Decatur County, Iowa

The 1930’s were a difficult period for the entirety of the United States. The Great Depression had a tight hold on the nation, and it seemed that there was no end in sight. In Decatur County, a drought only worsened the impact of the depression. Crops failed, and the local economies suffered even more. With agriculture as the primary source of income for many residents, Decatur County was stuck.

The heat of the summer gripped the county. The drought meant that many had no crops to tend to. All that was left to do was to sit in the heat, attempting to cool oneself any way available. Resident Himena Hoffman reflected on the severe heat of 1934 in one of the county’s histories.
“There was no air conditioning and day after day of extreme heat meant suffering that was particularly harmful to babies, the ill, and the aged. For the first time almost everyone slept in the outdoors. Some slept in the courthouse yard in Leon, in the park at Davis City, or in the square at Decatur. Some took a blanket and slept on a hillside in the country. During the day electric fans hummed, wet sheets were hung in windows and some fortunate families that had basements fit for a living space spent part of their days underground.”

In 1934, Decatur County was farming corn on less than 14% of acres used in 1899. The United States Department of Agriculture notes the deficit was likely due to the severe drought. Crops rebounded in the late 1930s as the drought started abating. Much of Decatur was still in an economic downturn, however, due to the past five years of drought.

Drought is frequent in Decatur County’s history. Only ten years after the founding of Decatur County, residents recorded a year of intense drought, destroying corn crops and damaging the county’s economy. In the present day, Decatur County still struggles with drought. The most recent being in 2018. In 2017, Iowa State University found Decatur County was the least valuable farmland in the state for the fourth year in a row. An acre of land was valued at only $3,443, nearly $7,000 less than the most valuable land in Iowa. As the land has become increasingly unproductive, residents of Decatur County face the challenges of being designated the poorest county in Iowa.

Decatur in the early 1900s

Sources: SHSI: Himena Hoffman, “The History of Decatur County, Iowa: 1839-1970,” Decatur County Historical Society, 1970; A.W. Goke, “Soil Survey: Decatur County, Iowa,” United State Department of Agriculture, April 1939; Mrs. O.N. Kellogg, “An Interesting Early History of Decatur County,” 1880; on-line: Dave Price, “Iowa’s Poorest County Suffers Another Setback, but Optimism Remains for Better Days,” 13WHOtv, February 2018; Wendong Zhang, “Interpretation of Iowa Land Value Survey Results,” Iowa State University, January 2017.