Coon Rapids, Iowa, (population 1,305) began with the construction of a mill on the banks of the Middle Raccoon River. Soon, the riverside settlement also had a blacksmith shop and small store and, before long, the residents applied for their own post office. After debating names such as Ribbleton and Tuttle’s Grove for their town, the postmaster’s suggestion of “Coon Rapids” eventually won out.
In 1864, county funds allowed for the construction of a larger log and earthen dam to support a saw and grist mill. The widened river also inspired the creation of a 75-foot steamboat, the “Belle of Coon Rapids,” which on Sundays and holidays made pleasure runs to local picnic grounds.
With the arrival of the railroad in 1882, homesteaders spread across the region to farm the fertile land, with the population jumping from 54 to 600 in just three years. With such a growing population, Coon Rapids began to plan a downtown area. When laying out Main Street, city planners had a team and hay rack make a complete turn in the middle of the street and then set the street to that ample width.
Since the 1880s, Coon Rapids has served as the market and transportation center in one of Iowa's most agriculturally productive areas. In 1930, Coon Rapids began a new era as the cradle of the hybrid seed corn industry when Roswell “Bob” Garst grew his first commercial crop. The following winter, he and partner Charles Thomas founded the Garst & Thomas Hybrid Seed Corn Company, which soon became the largest in the world.
The community garnered international attention as a stop on Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s trip to America in 1959 at the height of the Cold War. He visited the Garst farm to study American agricultural success. Apple Farm, the home of Roswell and Elizabeth Garst, was the focal point of Khrushchev's visit. It has been restored and furnished in period furniture, and serves as the headquarters for the Whiterock Conservancy and a Bed and Breakfast for Garst Farm Resort.
Named a “Great Place” in the Iowa Great Places Initiative, Coon Rapids has recently developed a walking tour that focuses on the architecture and history of the downtown commercial district.
Designated a Preserve America Community in June 2007.