The town of Wadena was established in 1857, and incorporated in 1895. Prior to that, an Indian trading post was located near the site of the town, known as the Culver Post. Stones from the foundation of this trading post are still visible. The town was laid out by Horace and Elizabeth Countryman and David and Elizabeth Herriman. Major Herriman had selected the name of Wadena in honor of an Indian chief who was a close friend of his during his career as Indian agent for the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. Major Herriman had acquired a large amount of land, and in 1860 built a mansion for his wife and family that still stands on the edge of town.
In 1883 the Herriman's son Jesse created an insurance company based in Des Moines known as Iowa Mutual Tornado Insurance, which has been recently renamed and is now known as Wadena Insurance. The Wadena post office opened in 1863, and the railroad came to Wadena in 1877, via Volga City, with the turnstile for the locomotive located on the west edge of town. The original two story brick schoolhouse in Wadena was built in 1898 with the addition completed in 1909, and the gymnasium in 1949. The school served grades 1-12 until 1958 when it consolidated with the school districts of Clermont and Elgin.
With the arrival of the railroad, the town of Wadena began to prosper. With agricultural ties to the area, the town served the needs of travelers and local farmers. Some early businesses in town were saloons, a boarding house, barrel shop, implement store, livery stable, sawmill, gristmill, barber shop, dry goods store, a locker and grocery store, a sorghum mill, a bank, a doctor's office, and even an opera house and bowling alley! Many of these early buildings are still in use. Historical photos and archives of the early days of Wadena are today housed in the Public Library.
Wadena gained national attention in 1970 when it hosted the rock festival, "Galena in Wadena" . An influx of over 30,000 visitors arrived to attend the concert, which was held over a 2 day period.
Today the town of Wadena, population 243, still thrives, nestled in one of Iowa's most beautiful valleys, along the meandering Volga River.