This Is Villisca



When people hear the word ‘Villisca,’ they likely do not know where the community is located or of its strong military history with Company F. They don’t realize Villisca, though Farmers Mutual Telephone Company, offers fiber connectivity. They don’t recognize that the community offers ready access to nearby outdoor amenities while also boasting easy access to resources and amenities in larger communities. Rather, then people hear ‘Villisca,’ there is one thing that pops to mind: The Ax Murder House.

For too long, Villisca residents have turned their backs on what has put them on the map. While the Ax Murder House represents a horrific event in the community’s history, it is time for the community to change that narrative. This placemaking action plan represents a paradigm shift. For the community to succeed into the future, it must fully embrace the Ax Murder House and leverage it and the visitors it draws to the community, ultimately leading to both population and economic growth.

Grocery Delivery

Grocery Delivery System

Healthy food markets are a cornerstone of healthy communities. In the visioning sessions, residents pointed to the then-potential closing of Villisca Foods, the only local grocery store, as a major concern. Though the opening of a new Dollar General stands as a point of excitement within the community, many residents are still worried about the reduced access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

Community Beautification

Each month, hundreds of people come to Villisca to visit the Ax Murder House. The house is tucked away on an unassuming street near downtown and other attractions. At present, however, visitors generally stop at the House and then at the Casey’s on the edge of town, meaning local businesses don’t capture the full economic potential of these visits. To help overcome this, Villisca can add wayfinding signage and strategically place beautification elements, directing newcomers toward local businesses.

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Like much of rural America, Villisca faces the issue of an aging housing stock and overall lack of comprehensive housing options within the community.


As has been described, Villisca’s Ax Murder House draws hundreds of people to the community each month. Additionally, alumni come back to town for Heritage Days in the summer, and several other events that draw people to town are held throughout the year. Up to this point, however, the community has not developed a comprehensive strategy to leverage its assets – chiefly the Ax Murder House – and bring more people into town, which ultimately will help the local economy and quality of life.

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Over the last five years, Iowa has lost 40 percent of its childcare providers. This has resulted in increased rates, meaning that even many families who have access to daycare can no longer afford it. In turn, this has left many adults – primarily women – out of the workforce, compounding the issue of trying to afford daycare.


Villisca is in a unique position in that it already has name recognition, giving it a head start that so many of Iowa’s 900-some communities could only imagine. With this plan in place and continued leadership development, Villisca is going to parlay that advantage into long-lasting success.

However, this plan itself is not enough. The steering committee must engage other community leaders to see the vision through. A community cannot succeed over the long-term if only a dozen people are guiding its future. The bench must be expanded. If it is not, current community leaders will burn out, and the community will be forced to start over with new leadership. Leverage the momentum of sharing this placemaking plan and build teams around each initiative. While there likely will be overlap between the teams, make sure that different people are charged with guiding each project to fruition; if something is everyone’s responsibility, it is no one’s responsibility.

The pieces are in place for Villisca to thrive into the future and to establish an identify that builds on the Ax Murder House and expands that history in a respectful manner. Find the leaders that believe in that vision and continue to grow them from within the community and beyond. There is no question there will be doubters and naysayers, but continue to press on. When completed, the work outlined here will boost Villisca’s competitive position – and that’s something that’s hard to deny.