Adel: Originally called Penoach, according to legend ‘Adel’ named for pretty baby, prettier mother

Bill HaglundStaff Writer
Adel: Originally called Penoach, according to legend ‘Adel’ named for pretty baby, prettier mother

As Indians moved out, white settlers from Des Moines began moving west into what is now Dallas County.

Those pioneers first settled in huts, primitive even by standards of the mid-1800s, north of what is now Van Meter and eventually moved northwest into an area now known as Adel.

At first, however, it was called Penoach (an Indian word meaning “far away”), but Adel by any name was the first permanent settlement established in Dallas County — although state records show it was the fourth in the county to become officially incorporated.

Legend has it that Adel was chosen in honor of “a very pretty child with a prettier mother.”

Before that official recognition, however, Adel became the Dallas County Seat and has housed those county government offices for nearly 175 years.

Penoach was founded on the west banks of the North Raccoon River in 1847; two years later the name was changed to Adel.

According to available records, a man referred to only as J. Wright (probably John Wright), was the first permanent settler in what is now Adel. That was in 1845, a year before Dallas County was organized. However, other historians regard Samuel Miller as the first permanent settler in what is now Adel. He arrived in 1846 in Adel Township.

Miller’s settlement east of the river is marked by a stone monument on the north side of Highway 6, and the Miller cemetery is on the south side of the highway.

The stone marker denotes the Miller log cabin, built in the winter of 1847-48 was also the first schoolhouse in the county.

The seeds of growth were planted in 1847 as Penoach was founded. The first school, the first church and the first Post Office were all built that year.

That was also the year the first county elections were held and the District Court started.

Also in 1847, J.C. Corbell built the first dwelling house in what is now Adel — a home that also became the first Post Office.

In 1848, the first Dallas County courthouse, two primitive log cabins connected by a walkway, was erected.

That was replaced in 1853 and the second courthouse served county residents until a more solid brick structure was built five years later. The third courthouse in downtown Adel lasted for 49 years until the fourth

courthouse — still standing in downtown Adel — was built in 1902.

With Adel lying on the west side of the North Raccoon River, travel to the east was difficult — folks either had to wade across the river. That was difficult, if not impossible, during floods or high water. In 1850, however, ferry service began.

The board of county commissioners granted a license to Horatio Morrison to operate a ferry across the river “where the state road runs across the river at the town of Adel.” Pedestrians were charged a nickel for a ride across the river, and a four-horse team and buggy ride cost 50 cents.

Settlers relied heavily on rivers around which to build. Early settlers were forced to travel to Fort Des Moines for supplies, including grain.

Soon, however, a mill was built on the North Raccoon River just outside of Adel and another was built after that — the dam still stands on the east side of town.

The river also provided electricity and, in the winter, was a source for ice used by residents all around the area.

The first road in Dallas County was an east-west road through Adel and Redfield, and was just more than 25 miles long. It remained the only road in the county for a number of years and is famous as a route the “gold seekers” took on their way to California, and it was the only route used by stage coaches through the area.

By 1875, the first covered bridge spanned the river.

Rail service crossed the southern part of the county, through Adel, began in 1879, a year after construction of the rails began. (The last passenger train left the Adel station on April 9, 1952.)

The historic brick streets in Adel were first laid in 1895 — the same year the water system was installed, the city was stunned by the great Adel bank robbery and the city was devastated by a block-long fire.

The first automobile was spied in Adel in 1902.

As Adel grew, businesses flourished around the courthouse square. The city’s population grew from 466 in 1860 to nearly 1,000, 20 years later.

Adel has hosted the annual Dallas County Fair since the Agriculture Society was organized in the city in 1855. The first county fair was held the following year.

In 1903, 23 acres on the north side of Adel were purchased and, with few exceptions, the fair was held on that property — now Kinnick Feller Park — for many years before moving to its present location farther north and across the river.

Today, Adel is the hub of traffic for Dallas County. Not only does it house the courthouse and county offices, it is also home to the area high school, first Adel High School, later Adel-DeSoto and now Adel-DeSoto-Minburn.