City Snapshot


Multicultural fare is featured in downtown Columbus Junction.

Columbus Junction, Iowa was an hour South of Cedar Rapids on our trip. Originally known as Sand Bank, the city lies at the confluence of the Iowa and the Cedar rivers. The first Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Minnesota Railway train arrived on February 7, 1870, and a restaurant and boarding house — the first local business — opened the next day.

The population of the area, including Columbus Junction, Columbus City and Fredonia, is about 2,500 residents.

Immigration is an important chapter in the story of Columbus Junction. Immigrants from Mexico began coming to the area in the early 1900s to work on the railroad, and more recently men and women from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Cuba came to the region to work at the Tyson Foods pork processing plant located outside of town.

Hispanics and multicultural with Hispanic heritage make up about half of the local population, and of those people about half are immigrants and first generation. The latest wave of immigrants are refugees from the Chin State of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. One of those Chin Burmese refugees, Ngun Za Bik, lived in the Malaysian jungle for 14 years to escape religious persecution. He come to United States and opened his Grace Chin Grocery Store alongside the Mexican and Hispanic restaurants line Main Street.



Who We Talked With


Dan WilsonLongtime Columbus Junction Mayor Dan Wilson grew up on a farm outside of town and runs an insurance business on Main Street. He credits waves of immigrants drawn by the promise of jobs, good school and welcoming people with rejuvenating the small town. Dan married his high school sweetheart, Mary Masonholder Wilson, who taught high school English for forty years and now works for The Columbus Gazette.


Mallory SmithCity Community Development Director Mallory Smith helps new residents adjust and feel welcome in Columbus Junction. "In any small town, you're always looking at: what is the future of this town going to be? And having a large group of people with young children, saying 'we'd like to live here and open some businesses,' that's very reassuring," she says. 


Nikki SalekNikki Salek is the chief operating officer of Simply Soothing, a business her mother, Freda Sojka, started after taking early retirement from Monsanto. Freda developed the recipe for the all-natural gnat, mosquito and insect repellent before June 2008 when Iowa was dealing with historic flooding along the Cedar and Iowa rivers. "My husband and I are what I call 'second-wind entrepreneurs,'" she says.




Fun Facts About Columbus Junction


  • Columbus Junction is home of the historic 'Swinging Bridge' found one block south of Highway 92 near downtown. The free-swinging foot bridge suspended across a ravine that dates to 1886 and carries a legend of a doomed Indian maiden,
  • Before developing the recipe for Bug Soother insect repellent Freda Sojka concocted a product to repel mice she called Mice Be Gone
  • The Methodist church in Columbus Junction offered to share its worship spare with more than 300 members of the Iowa Chin Baptist Church.
  • Columbus Junction has more restaurants per capita than San Francisco 
  • Cristina Ortiz, a doctoral student in anthropology at the University of Iowa, moved to Columbus Junction to study the makeup of the town’s workforce as new immigrant groups come to the U.S.