Skip to main content

Melendy, Peter

Published onJul 30, 2021
Melendy, Peter

(February 9, 1823 – October 18, 1901)

Quick Facts

Melendy selected the land to be sold via the land grant to support the newly established Iowa Agricultural College and was part of the initial building committees for campus.

Peter Melendy was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, the eldest son of James and Susan (Smith) Melendy. He attended school in Cincinnati and later served in the Ohio Cavalry, Artillery Invincibles, and Harrison Guards Infantry (1838-1848), achieving the rank of first lieutenant. He volunteered in Relief Fire Company No. 2 (the "Livelies"), learning the importance of loyalty to and camaraderie with fellow volunteer citizens. In 1846 Peter married Martha Fleming Coddington. They had two children, Charles and Luetta (Etta).

In January 1851 Melendy purchased "Thinadiska Place," near Mount Healthy, Hamilton County, Ohio. He farmed and raised purebred livestock, specializing in Ayrshire cattle, Suffolk and Irish Grazier hogs, Saxony and South-down sheep, and Morgan horses. A successful agriculturist and conservationist, Melendy shared his knowledge in farm periodicals such as Ohio farmer, focusing on the need for soil conservation and education for farmer

Melendy moved to Butler County, Iowa, in 1857 as a partner in the Ohio Farming and Stock Breeding Company. That venture failed, yet Melendy saw potential in Cedar Falls and relocated there, becoming a vocal booster of the fledgling city.

In 1859 Melendy organized the Cedar Valley Horticultural and Literary Society, earning Cedar Falls the nickname "Lawn City of Iowa" even before the Civil War. The society developed into a private library association that, in 1877, Cedar Falls voted to support as a free, tax-supported library–the third city in Iowa to do so.

Melendy was instrumental in generating enthusiasm and support for the State Soldiers' Orphans' Home in Cedar Falls. The pledges he helped raise allowed the Iowa Orphans' Home Association to open a home in 1865. As additional space was needed, Melendy urged the purchase of more land and construction of a new orphans' home, which, when completed in 1869, served for seven years. Melendy and others then sought its conversion to a state normal school, which was accomplished on March 15, 1876. The evolution of that school into the University of Northern Iowa dramatically affected the growth and development of the city.

Melendy's enthusiasm for the establishment of railroad lines in Iowa led him to offer financial support for unsuccessful railroad ventures, which greatly decreased his personal wealth, but did not diminish his desire for a statewide rail network.

In 1857 Melendy organized the Cedar Valley Agricultural Fair Association, involving the residents of nine neighboring counties. That led to his election as a director of the Iowa State Agricultural Society in 1859, and, in 1865, a five-year term as president of the society, while also serving as secretary of the Iowa Agricultural College (now Iowa State University). In 1862 Melendy was asked to select the 240,000 acres to which the land-grant college was entitled. He also served on the building committee (1864) and the committee to select professors (1867- 1868), and devoted considerable time to a trip east to purchase stock for the college farm. Melendy served the Iowa Agricultural College until 1872. As he helped mold the curriculum and practices of the institution, he realized a deeply held ambition–that farmer look upon agriculture as a profession, not as labor.

As a delegate to the 1864 Republican National Convention, Melendy met Abraham Lincoln, who later appointed him U.S. Marshal. Although removed from that position after Lincoln's assassination, he was later reinstated by President Grant.

Melendy's wife, Martha, died on August 6, 1867. In 1868 he married Mary Woolson McFarland. From 1879 to 1886 they traveled the country as he served as quartermaster in the Department of War, adjusting claims made by citizens who had suffered property damage during the Civil War.

Retiring to Cedar Falls in 1886, the Melendys built a home and reentered community life. Melendy wrote a history of Cedar Falls (Historical Record of Cedar Falls, The Garden City of Iowa), and served as mayor (1895-1901). During his tenure as mayor, free mail service was established, a trolley line was built to the normal school area, a new city hall was acquired, and successful efforts to secure a Carnegie library building were begun. The Carnegie-Dayton Library building served Cedar Falls until 2004.

Melendy died at age 78 and was buried in Fairview Cemetery in Cedar Falls beside his first wife, Martha. Statewide tributes attested to his energy and willingness to serve, his strong convictions and high principles yet courteous respect for the opinions of others. Melendy is remembered for his support for principles and institutions that would contribute to economic and cultural growth in Cedar Falls. He laid the groundwork for many of the institutions Cedar Falls citizens still enjoy not to mention the citizens of Ames, Iowa.

Selections of text republished with permission from the Iowa Biographical Dictionary, edited by David Hudson, Marvin Bergman, and Loren Horton. Published by the University of Iowa Press, Iowa City, IA. Online publication, 2009.

Selected Sources

A Melendy genealogy (1902), a symposium on the life of Peter Melendy (1968), and other papers related to Peter Melendy are at the Research Library, Cedar Falls Historical Society, Cedar Falls, Iowa.

See also Peter Melendy, Historical Record of Cedar Falls, The Garden City of Iowa (1893); Luella M. Wright, Peter Melendy: The Mind and the Soil (1943); and Philip D. Jordan, "The U.S. Marshal on Iowa's Frontier," Palimpsest 54 (March/April 1973), 2–17.

ISU Extension “Land Grant” project website:

Sweet, Cynthia. "Melendy, Peter" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 9 June 2017

No comments here
Why not start the discussion?