Among the early residents of Montgomery County were Native Americans, dating back to over 10,000 years ago. The earliest white settlers arrived in the early 1850’s settling near a small stream they named Red Oak creek for the Red Oak trees that grew along the banks. Montgomery County was formed in 1851 and named after Revolutionary War hero, Richard Montgomery.
The settlement of Red Oak was officially made the Montgomery County seat in 1865. It grew slowly at first, numbering only about 50 houses in 1869, when the Chicago, Burlington & Pacific Railroad line came through town. In the same year, the town of Red Oak Junction was officially organized (“Junction” was dropped in 1901).
The arrival of the railroad triggered rapid growth and an influx of wealth to Red Oak over the next decade. The town became the trading center for the entire region, and new industries developed quickly, including a meat packing plant, a brewery, a cannery, flour mills, and a brick and tile works. At the height of the town’s prosperity, around the turn of the century, several fine community buildings including the Montgomery County Courthouse, were constructed. Wealthy merchants, as well as railroad officials, built many splendid homes on Red Oak’s east side. These homes stand today as a tangible reminder of Red Oak’s storied past; several of the structures are on the National Historic Register.