NORTH LIBERTY — North Liberty is preparing for a special birthday bash.
The town in northern Johnson County turns 100 next November, but planning for a year’s worth of activities has begun, and an official logo and slogan, “Celebrate the Century,” were recently unveiled.
As it’s approaching its centennial, North Liberty has proved to be a late bloomer.
The area that became North Liberty was settled in the late 1830s and incorporated on Feb. 10, 1913, with about 190 residents.
It remained a very small town for several decades. By 1960, the population had inched up to 334, and then, after a miniboom, increased to 1,055 residents in 1970, according to census data.
The growth really took off the first decade of this century, however, when North Liberty was the second-fastest growing town in Iowa. Its 13,608 residents last year was a nearly 154 percent increase since 2000.
With that came growing pains. This was most evident several years ago in a struggle between residents who felt development was occurring too fast and those who encouraged the population boom.
“There were a number of years that a lot of the long-term residents didn’t want North Liberty to change,” Mayor Tom Salm said. He added, “My argument has always been, we’re not going to have any choice.”
Slam was referencing the town’s location between Iowa City and Cedar Rapids and the attraction that holds to commuters.
North Liberty also is popular with young families. Its population has a higher percentage of kids and lower percentage of people 65 and older than both Johnson County as a whole and the state.
The city has had to respond by expanding services like recreational opportunities, the library and public safety and addressing infrastructure needs, City Administrator Ryan Heiar said.
Planning was somewhat lacking at the turn of the century, said Heiar, who came to North Liberty in 2007.
“I would say 10, 15 years ago that was a challenge,” he said. “That was no one’s fault. It (the population growth) happened so quickly.”
Plans for North Liberty’s centennial celebration are still coming together.
The city will partner with existing events for many of the activities, said Assistant City Administrator/City Clerk Tracey Mulcahey. It will have bouncy castles at a children’s literature festival in January, set up Valentine’s Day boxes to collect love notes to the town in February and hold a youth talent show in March.
Organizers hope to have a community picnic in the summer and bring in a “larger name” music act at some point, Mulcahey said.
The big celebration will be Saturday, Nov. 16, with details to be determined.