A Czech and Slovak Community
Early Czech immigrants to Iowa settled in farming communities, most notably at Spillville in the northeast corner of the state. In 1893 the famous Czech composer, Antonin Dvorak, who was living in New York City, spent a summer in Spillville where he was able to work on his music surrounded by his fellow Czechs.
Later immigrants from today’s Czech and Slovak Republics came to work in meatpacking plants, primarily in Cedar Rapids where Czech immigrants first settled in the early 1850s. Many of the Czechs who settled in Cedar Rapids worked in the large Sinclair meatpacking plant. The owner of the plant, T. M. Sinclair, an Irish immigrant himself, was well known for hiring immigrants. Likely, letters written home to friends and family by Sinclair employees accounted for the migration of thousands of other Czechs to Cedar Rapids.
One Family's Story
One Czech family that ended up in Iowa was the Korabs, who embarked on their adventure in 1854. Thomas Korab who was seven at the time, joined his family for the 12-week journey from Moravia in eastern Europe. The Korab family traveled thousands of miles across Europe and over the stormy Atlantic Ocean. Their exhausting journey ended at their new home–a farmstead near the town of Cedar Rapids. There they found a growing Czech community.
By 1900 there was a thriving Czech speaking community along 16th Avenue in Cedar Rapids, a section of town still known as “Czech Village.” For many years Czech was commonly spoken in Cedar Rapids, and most businesses had at least one Czech employee. Today more people of Czech ancestry live in Cedar Rapids than in any other city in the world, except for the Czech capital of Prague.
The national Czech and Slovak Museum is located near the edge of Czech Village, displaying artifacts dealing with Czech and Slovak immigrants around the United States. The museum building was dedicated by President Clinton, President Michael Kovak of the Slovak Republic and Vaclav Havel, the president of the Czech Republic.
- Sherri Dagel House, “A Czech Community,” The Goldfinch 17, no. 2 (Winter 1995): 18-19.
Adapted by Peter Hoehnle from original article published in The Goldfinch, provided courtesy of State Historical Society of Iowa.