Cedar River drops about six feet during its half-mile course
from Franklin Street to the U.S. Highway 57 Bridge. This geological
fact had great consequences for Cedar Falls. It determined
the town's location, its name and its principal early industry:
The first settlers at the falls, William Sturgis and Erasmus
Adams, recognized the site's waterpower value. They tried
to build a dam and mills along the river but were unsuccessful.
Investors Ed Brown and John and Dewey Overman acquired
water rights at the falls in 1847. The new owners began
to develop the power that Sturgis and Adams had dreamed
of. They built a dam across the river and a millrace in
a channel between an island and the riverbank. The county's
first sawmill was operating along the river in 1848. A flourmill
was built two years later at East Second and State Street,
and the original brush and log dam was replaced by a plank-covered
The mills prospered. A six-story stone flourmill was built
in 1856, followed by another in 1869. Oatmeal, cornmeal,
starch, straw paper, metal machinery, pumps and wool were
among the items that were eventually produced using power
supplied by the millrace.
A series of financial reverses for the principal milling
company, the Waterloo and Cedar Falls Union Mill Company,
plus the replacement of waterpower with electricity, brought
an end to milling in Cedar Falls during the 1920s.
The Cedar Falls dam washed out in 1937 but was rebuilt
in 1940 for a hydroelectric generator on the millrace. The
generator was in use until 1970. Shortly thereafter, the
entire millrace was filled in during the relocation of U.S.