McGregor, Iowa is a picturesque river town
nestled in the Mississippi River bluffs of
extreme northeast Iowa.
Part of a region known as the Palaeozoic Plateau
(or Driftless Area), this scenic corner of Iowa,
along with the adjacent corners of SE Minnesota,
NW Illinois and a large area of SW Wisconsin, is
home to rugged timber-covered bluffs with limestone
cliffs and outcroppings, deeply carved valleys, and
meandering crystal clear spring-fed streams and rivers.
This topography was left behind after being missed by
the most recent glaciers, which leveled much of the Midwest.
Situated at the northeast corner of Clayton County (population 18,129), McGregor occupies a narrow valley surrounded by steep tree-covered bluffs.
McGregor is bordered by Pikes Peak State Park, which features a stunning view of the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers from the tallest bluff along the Mississippi. McGregor has a population of 876. Nearby towns of Marquette, Iowa (population 427, one mile away), and Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin (population 6018, three miles away), form a collective population of 7303 area citizens. The bridge between Marquette and Prairie du Chien is one of three crossings of the Mississippi River in the northern part of the state. The other bridges are in Dubuque, Iowa, 55 miles to the south, and Lansing, Iowa, 35 miles to the north.
The region has a strong agricultural economy.
McGregor is part of the MFL-Mar Mac consolidated school system. The town is home to a number of unique and diverse businesses, including two book stores, two art galleries, two 1860s-period clothing and accessory stores, and a microbrewery with an upscale restaurant. There also is a Mexican restaurant, a specialty food and wine store, a 1950s-era antique store with an ice cream fountain, an 1860s-era saloon, a tee-shirt printing shop, and other antique stores. This strong retail base is augmented by local area industrial businesses including a 3M manufacturing plant, a modular home and solar energy system manufacturing plant, a sand and gravel plant, a large warehouse and barge shipping facility, two wood and wood products plants, and an auto speaker and electronics manufacturing plant. There is also a Cabela’s retail store with huge warehouses for all Cabela’s products shipped east of the Mississippi River. These large businesses employ hundreds of area residents.
Major airports and population centers.
The Dubuque, Iowa, airport is 55 miles to the south; LaCrosse, Wisconsin, airport is 70 miles north; Cedar Rapids, Iowa, airport is 95 miles south; Waterloo, Iowa, airport is 95 miles west; Madison, Wisconsin, airport is 100 miles east; and Rochester, Minnesota, airport is 120 miles northwest.
The major population centers of Milwaukee, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Chicago, are accessible with a four-or-five hour drive.
One of the earliest settlements in Iowa, McGregor has a rich and colorful history.
McGregor began in 1837 as a landing for a horse-drawn ferry started by Alexander MacGregor, and immigrant Scotsman who moved to Prairie du Chien, Wi. from Chicago. The town was surveyed in 1846 and was established as McGregor’s Landing in 1847. It prospered and grew into a thriving community in the 1850’s.
The town was incorporated as McGregor in 1857. It was a hub of steamboat activity and in 1861 was deemed the largest grain terminal in the world by the Chicago Tribune, with 20 grain dealers serving 600-800 area wagonloads of grain at a time. At this point in time McGregor was said to be vying with Saint Louis to become the “Gateway to the West”.
Many colorful characters lived in old McGregor, including August Ringling, from 1860-1872. The Ringlings had four sons who were born here and the boys staged the very first Ringling Brothers Circus in McGregor before moving on to Baraboo, Wi.
Of special note, McGregor was home to the practice of Dr. Lucy C. Hobbs, DDS, the first woman in the world to receive a degree of Doctor of Dental Surgery. Dr. Hobbs practiced here from 1862 - 1865.
In its heyday, McGregor was said to be a wild and wooly place. The population continued to swell, and reached more than 5,000 by the 1870’s. However a pontoon bridge, finished in 1864, brought the railroad to Iowa, starting the steady decline of the steamboat industry. Ultimately local businesses started to close, and the population diminished.
The town has long been a center for conservation. Church camps and Chatauquas were commonly held here, as early as 1897. A pavilion to hold 1500 people was built in 1898. Destroyed by fire in 1918, it was rebuilt in 1922. A popular wildlife school was started in 1919. College and University department heads, as well as noted speakers and conservationists of the time, provided lectures and led field trips during these sessions. The school remained open until gas rationing during WWII forced it to close.
Today, the district office of the Upper Mississippi Fish and Wildlife Refuge is located here (the McGregor District). Although somewhat less now in population, McGregor still thrives as a tourist-oriented community.