OTTUMWA — The history of cities comes out in different ways. Sometimes it’s obvious, a monument or a landmark. But the real stories aren’t always visible. They’re inside the walls of homes and buildings people drive past every day.

Those are the stories John Ohlinger likes to highlight. And on Saturday he introduced Ottumwans to some of his favorites.

The trolley tours from the Ottumwa Historic Preservation Commission were a success in prior years, and attracted a good audience Saturday as well. “We’ve been busy,” Ohlinger said.

Joanna Bartos was one of the riders on an early afternoon tour. She said she looked forward to finding out more about her home area.

“I just thought that it would be fun to travel around town and see some of the historic districts. We’ve lived in the Ottumwa area for a long time but I don’t know as much about the history as I probably should,” she said.

The tours took people through the Fifth Street Bluff and Court Hill Historic districts, but it was another one Bartos was particularly looking forward to seeing.

“I’m interested in finding out, the beautiful homes, of course, but the Railroad District. I don’t know anything about that,” she said.

That’s exactly the kind of audience the tours hope for. Ohlinger said one of the homes on the route is known to have been visited by Orville and Wilbur Wright. Yes, those Wright brothers. The home’s owner was an inventor as well and there has been speculation that, based on the timing of the visit, that some of the discussions at the home may well have involved the brothers’ research into flight prior to their success at Kitty Hawk.

Saying Ottumwa helped put people in the air is probably a little bit of a stretch. But tidbits like that help bring the community’s past to life. They help explain who the people who lived here and built Ottumwa were.

For the right people, those stories provide a real depth to the history they have seen but never heard.

“Some of the stories that they don’t know about. They see the houses but don’t know a lot about them,” Ohlinger said.

And one thing is for sure. People who hear the stories will never look at their home town quite the same way again.


Matt Milner currently serves as the Courier's Managing Editor. Milner is a trained weather spotter and is usually outside if there are storms. He joined the Courier in 2002.