The City of Iola was named after Iola Colborn. Iola was the wife of J.F. Colborn, who owned part of the land where Iola began. Several names were proposed, but the name Iola was chosen after a vote by residents of the newly founded city. Buildings began going up after land was divided into lots.
In 1861 a stone building, built in 1859, was fortified after the beginning of the Civil War. This building served as Iola’s fort. The fort was utilized by local militia as well as Army troops throughout the war. In 1865 Iola secured the vote to become the new county seat. The county seat, previously in Humboldt, moved to Iola.
At the conclusion of the Civil War, Iola began its growth. Iola had maintained a steady population of approximately 150 residents from 1860-1865. In 1868 the first Allen County Jail was established. In 1870 Iola secured its place on the Leavenworth, Lawrence, and Galveston Railroad. During that time the King Bridge Manufacturing Company was established in Iola. Two years later it moved to Topeka at the promise of more money. Bonds issued by Iola to the King Bridge Manufacturing Company were nullified after a court case was heard. In 1877 a new courthouse was built of stone south of the current courthouse on the courthouse lawn.
Iola was slow to grow during this time. Iola catered to local agricultural economy. In 1893 the first natural gas well was drilled in Iola. In 1896 the first Lanyon zinc smelter was completed. This resulted in a 12 year boom. Iola saw its population boom from approximately 1,300 citizens to approximately 12,000 citizens.
During Iola’s boom, an electric railroad connected Iola to La Harpe with spurs to Bassett and Concreto. Iola was home to an opera house, modern courthouse, paved streets made with bricks manufactured in Iola, electric lights, gas available to every home, and a modern hospital.
By 1910, the gas, once thought to be inexhaustible, was exhausted. The population of Iola began dropping steadily until evening out in the 1930s. Iola remained an industrial city that provided essential services to farmers throughout the region. In the 1950s the new Allen County Courthouse was built. In the early 1970s Iola again experienced an industrial surge with the location of Midland Brake, Herff Jones, and Gates Rubber Company.
Iola has maintained a population of approximately 6,000 since the 1990s. Iola has three elementary schools, a middle school, and 4A high school. Allen Community College is based in Iola and provides college classes to many surrounding communities. In 2004 the new Allen County Law Enforcement Center was built to include a jail and administrative offices for the Sheriff’s Office. In 2013 the brand new Allen County Regional Hospital opened on the northeast edge of Iola.