Lake Mills traces its history back to the 1850’s. The first settler in the area was Joshua Thomas. He was soon followed by many others, a good share of whom were of Scandinavian descent. C. D. Smith incorporated the community in 1869. Lake Mills will be celebrating its 150th Anniversary in the summer of 2019.
Lake Mills has always been a prosperous community. The name Lake Mills comes from the fact that the town was built on what was then the shoreline of Rice Lake. There was also a grist and lumber mill located on the banks of the old town lake.
During the first half of the 20th century the city depended on Cool Spring Canning Company for jobs. When the canning plant closed in 1957, an aggressive group of Lake Mills’ residents began what has turned out to be a highly successful drive to create jobs for people in the area.
Richard Sears, the founder of the huge Sears organization, was depot agent here from 1880 to 1886 prior to moving to Redwood Falls where the company picks up his trail to success. Pulitzer Prize winning author Wallace Stenger spent his early life here. Jesse Parker, a legend in Iowa education, was born and raised in Lake Mills. Governor Terry E. Branstad, who served in the state’s top office, has roots in Lake Mills. Branstad opened a law practice here as a young attorney, and continued to call Lake Mills home while serving as state representative and lieutenant governor before being elected to the Governor’s office, a position he held for 16 years.