About Us

1897 State of Iowa Railroad Map,
with Ely right of center,  "Western College",
(Western), center, and Shueyville south of Western.
Ely is a community with strong Czech ethnic identity and a well-documented history of the patterns typical of Iowa small town growth.

Because of Ely's location in the northern part of the booming corridor between Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, its population has grown from about 275 in 1970, to 2,230 as of 2017.   Encircling residential developments threaten the cohesion of the town and weaken its self-image. 

A 2002 survey of the citizens, new and old, showed a strong desire to maintain small town identity and values.  Preservation and documentation of Ely's small town history strengthens that goal.


Physical Address: 1570 Rowley Street, Ely, IA 52227 - Lower Level

Phone: (319) 848-4963  or (319) 848-4074

Mailing Address:                                            Board of Directors                    
Ely Community History Society, Inc.                Ed Vavra – President
P.O. Box 191                                                    Barbara Horak – Vice President
Ely, IA 52227                                                    Clary Illian – Secretary and Treasurer
                                                                          Directors: Joe Vavra, Mark Krob

The Ely Community History Society's mission is to preserve all aspects of the history of Ely and the surrounding rural areas and communities including Western and Shueyville.

The Ely Community History Society was granted tax-exempt status from the IRS as of February 2, 2004, and is exempt from federal income tax under Foundation Status Classification 509(a)(1) of the Internal Revenue Code as an organization described in section 501(c)(3). Donations to the Society are tax-deductible. Related documents are available for public inspection upon request.

The society is located on the lower floor of the Ely Community Center, where it has established an Archives Room to hold its history collections  The Society has developed historic wall displays throughout the Community Center that are viewable whenever the building is open.

Fackler's Grove Cemetery Project
A recent project completed by the Ely Community History Society, with approval of the Township Trustees, was the restoration of a pioneer cemetery located south of Ely in Big Grove Township, Johnson County. The grounds had not been mowed for years. Gravestones had broken and fallen; some had been moved to lean against trees; some were buried underground. Society members, with the help of volunteers, repaired gravestones and returned them to their original location. Big Grove Township Trustees agreed to mow the cemetery and the lane leading to it. See Fackler's Grove Cemetery for more information.


The now inactive Ely Historic Preservation Commission, an arm of city government, was created by the City Council in the autumn of 1999.  Its mission was to preserve the historically significant buildings of the City by means of identification, public education, fundraising, and helping to implement such legal protections as appropriate.  The Commission received Certified Local Government status from the State Historical Society of Iowa in March of 2000 and received a certified Local Government grant in 2001 to aid in the nomination of Ely's Dows Street Historic District to the National Register of Historic Places.

  • Ely's Dows Street Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as of November 14, 2003. It contains Ely's small downtown business district and wood-frame, late Victorian buildings on Dows Street.
  • The Commission spearheaded the formation of the Ely Community History Society, Inc. which was incorporated in July 2003.
  • The former Ely School House, now the Ely Community Center building, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as of September 20, 2006.
  • Preservation of history of the town and surrounding rural community, including Shueyville & the unincorporated town of Western.
  • Maintaining the Ely Community History Center and Archives Room at the Ely Community Center building.
A listing on the National Register does not limit the actions of property owners in any way.  Only changes in the zoning ordinances at the level of city government can accomplish design review regulations.

An early ad for Jan Hanus Undertaking, Ely, Iowa.
Both the surrounding farming community and the town of Ely
were heavily settled by Czech immigrants. We preserve the
history of this unique ethnic background as well as Ely,
Western & Shueyville history in our Archives Room.