The City of La Harpe began in 1881 as a rural service center. It was named after La Harpe, Illinois. In 1897 La Harpe became in industrial town and by 1898 the town had a school that provided education through high school. In 1899, when natural gas was discovered in the area, the city began to grow more rapidly. By 1910 La Harpe boasted some of the largest zinc smelters in the world, two banks, opera house, newspaper, and many stores. The Iola Electric Railway Company built tracks along what is now U.S. 54 Highway. The electric railway was designed to bring workers to La Harpe from Iola.
La Harpe had a population near 3,000 residents. La Harpe seemed to be on track to become the largest city in Allen County. Unfortunately the gas supply began to fail along with the demand for zinc mined in La Harpe. Since the jobs left La Harpe, the city has returned to its pre-boom status. La Harpe again serves as a rural service center, and maintains a few businesses to include Nelson Quarries, Diebolt Lumber, and the La Harpe Telephone Company.