There are over twenty attractions in Des Moines, Iowa, a progressive mid-west city. It has everything imaginable to appease the tourist and could be compared to what New York has to offer.
If you are a history buff, visit Living History Farms, located in Urbandale, Iowa, a suburb of Des Moines. It is dedicated to helping Americans appreciate the agricultural life of our country with real farm life. You can choose to participate in hands on experience on the farm, like picking corn, spinning wool, churning butter, etc. You can learn about the progression of farm and small town living throughout our history. There are a number of events planned throughout the year such as wine-tasting of local wines, farmers market, sampling bread and beer made in Iowa and family weekends.
The arts are a vital part of Des Moines, Iowa. The Des Moines Art Center has the greatest collection of contemporary art in the Midwest. It contains collections from Georgia O’Keefe to Francis Bacon. The Civic Center of Des Moines has performances such as River Dance and Chicago throughout the year. Des Moines also has Metro Opera and offers three productions each year during Summer Festival in June and July.
You can have a unique shopping experience in Des Moines, Iowa, at History Valley Junction with over 120 specialty shops located in the Historic Railroad District, founded in 1890s. There is a lot of historical character to the area that was founded by James C. Jordan, the first settler in the area. The Hawkeye Investment Company was established here as the economy boomed.
There are two historical houses in Des Moines, Iowa, that you can tour. Hoyt Sherman built a grand house in 1877. It is now a museum and performance center containing many 20th Century paintings and 17th Century furniture. Salisbury Gardens modeled after the “King’s House” in Salisbury, England is another manor house with great architecture and 17th Century décor.
There is plenty for the children to do at Adventure Land or the Science Center of Iowa that turns learning into fun with interactive exhibits. There is a tourist line railroad called the Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad that makes a 15 mile trip through the scenic valley of the Des Moines River. You and the family can have a dining experience of eating on a train. Every major city has a zoo and Des Moines, Iowa is no exception. Blank Park Zoo is located on 22 acres with 800 animals.
For the nature buff, there is Iowa Arboretum with hundreds of trees, shrubs and flowers in a quiet, peaceful area. Not far from Des Moines is the Neal Smith National Wildlife
Refuge located on 5,000 acres. It has the largest reconstruction of prairie grasses in the Midwest. You can encounter much of the wildlife that lives in the Midwest on walking trails and auto tours. The Refuge is also a learning center where you can participate in educational programs.
Two years ago my husband and I visited the Amana Colonies in Iowa. We travel through Iowa quite frequently, but always on Interstate 35 on our way to Wisconsin. This time we thought we would take I-80 towards Iowa City, Iowa. The Amana Colonies rest in the prairie lands of the state off I-80, exit 225. Amana means “remain faithful” and the colonies have preserved the heritage of a simpler time. It is a place removed from the rush of discount shopping and fast food. All the restaurants in the area have family style meals only. Most of the food is German fare, like chicken rice soup, pickled beets and cucumbers, Cole slaw, spatzle (little dumplings) and sauerkraut with sausage. We ate at the Ox Yoke Inn in Amana, Iowa and the Ronneburg Inn. If you are not into German food, American food is served as well.
The Amana Colonies in Iowa carry a German heritage and the Amana church is still a central part of the faith life there. On Sunday mornings you see people walking to the church with their bibles. In former days, the people lived communally with buildings for sleeping only. The men had their own sleeping quarters apart from the women. The meals were cooked in a huge communal kitchen and served there. Grape trellises cover the outside of the buildings. The yards of the buildings are surrounded by three board fences. Lots of trees were planted around the buildings.
The people who came from Germany to Iowa were a religious sect called the Inspiration Lists. They were greatly persecuted for their belief in the Holy Spirit, who could inspire individuals to speak on matters relating to God. Their founders were Eberhard L. Gruber and Johann F. Rock. They came to America in 1843 and formed a community with seven different villages. The villages contained a kitchen, smokehouse, bakery, orchards, vegetable gardens and an ice house. Each village also had a school and a church located in the center of the village.
During the Great Depression, the people had to develop lives that were more independent from communal living. The rural economy was changing and they needed a way to keep their children in the area. Eventually, Amana Refrigerators became a source of income for the families still living in the colonies of Amanda, Iowa. They established a non-profit organization called the Amana Society to oversee the economic life of the communities.
There are quaint Bed and Breakfasts, hotels and motels in the area. Many of them are located right in the villages and within walking distances to shops and the restaurants. The people in Amana, Iowa, are very hospitable. A must stop is to Hahn Bakery in Amanda and Doris Hahn gets up every morning at 2 a.m. to make fresh bread and streusel. You have to try the sausage at the Henry’s Meat Shop and the chocolate at Chocolate Haus in Amana, Iowa. You will definitely take a step out of time in these charming villages.
Many people think Iowa is simply a farming state, but it really has so much more to offer the tourist. Its culture and art are diversified. It is a state were many ethnic groups settled. The state of Iowa has spent a considerable amount of money to preserve its history. The arts are an essential part of the Iowan’s daily life. Iowans place a great deal of emphasis on education with two universities devoted to research.
The slower pace of life in Iowa lends to the cultivation of the arts and the literacy rate in the state is one of the highest in the country. There are nine major art museums in Iowa along with 57 other galleries. There is also a network of local art agencies throughout the state and they can be located in the major cities of Iowa. Iowa City holds an internationally-acclaimed writers conference every summer. It also ranks as one of the top five cities in the Midwest for the development of artists.
Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is the site of the National Czec & Slovak Museum and Library. At this writing, there is a new exhibit about Rising Above: The Story of a People and the Flood. In 2008, a flood nearly destroyed the city and the many of the archives in the museum were damaged by the flood waters. You can listen to many oral histories of the Czechs and Slovak people who came to Iowa.
Dubuque, Iowa, is the scene for the Winterfest held in December with the collaboration of 20 cultural organizations. Public art by many local artists is displayed at the Grand Art Center there. It also has a 52 acres arboretum and garden, displaying the largest garden in the United States.
The Putman Museum in Davenport is one of the oldest museums in the region west of the Mississippi. The downtown district of Waterloo, Iowa has been converted into an arts districts. It began with the partnership program of the Waterloo Cultural and Arts Commission. Davenport, Iowa has a German American Center with exhibitions regarding the German immigration to Iowa. It is located in the former Standard Hotel on 2nd and Gaines Street.
The State of Iowa Historical Building is located in Des Moines, Iowa. The Salisbury House and Gardens is located in Des Moines at 42 room mansion built by the cosmetic magnate, Carl Weeks and his wife, Edith. It is a replica of the house located in Salisbury, England called “King’s House.” It is also an icon of the American Spirit and innovation.
Quilts are a part of our American heritage and Grundy County in Iowa displays some of the finest barn quilts that tell the story of Iowa. The quilts can be seen on a 64 mile loop through the county. The quilts are not made from fabric, but are painted on barns throughout the region. The barn quilt country is located on US Hwy 29 through Iowa.
This is only a small representation of Iowa’s history, the arts, and culture that exists there.
During the fall time of year, why not take a drive through the southeast corner of Iowa? The pace of life is slower in the countryside decked out in autumn colors. There are no stoplights on the 85-mile Historic Hills Scenic Byway. The views outside of the car window are very pastoral with valley and farm fields with corn stalks. It is a time to slow down and view the smaller things of life; mist hanging over the valley at sunrise or the sound of a local band in one of towns along the way. During the second week in October in the towns Bentonsport, Keosauqua and Bonaparte, Iowa, is the Scenic Drive Festival. You will find plenty of entertainment from tractor pulls, old medicine shows and church picnic.
If you are planning on next fall, you better make your plans now. There are only a few inns available along the scenic drive. In Bentonsport, along the Des Moines River, one of Iowa’s River, is the Mason House Inn, which was built for steamboat passengers. You can make reservations on line at masonhouseinn.com or call 800-592-3133. Rooms run from $69 per night. The Bonaparte Inn has four suites and nine rooms, which at one time was a 19th Century pants/glove factory. A place that is recommended to eat at is the Bonaparte Retreat with farm equipment décor. The restaurant is known for its fried chicken and country ham from one of Iowa’s farms. They are closed on Sunday evenings.
Places to shop in this southeastern corner of Iowa would be the Dutchman’s Store, a Mennonite general store, where ladies sell bread on the porch in Cantril, Iowa. Iron and Lace, owned by the Printys, have pottery, ironwork, and textiles for sale. Betty Printy is the potter crafting signature pots with Queen Ann’s Lace. Bill Printy is in the blacksmith shop hammering glowing iron into ornate art. In Milton, Iowa you will find the Milton Creamery and further down the road Yoder’s Indian Creek Furniture built by the Amish in the area.
If you want to enjoy the autumn’s fresh air and simply hear the sounds of nature, there are the colorful woods of Lacey-Keosauqua State Park and Shimke State Forest. A Des Moines River town, Ely Ford, marks the place where the Mormons crossed on their way west and hikers can find freshwater clamshells. The children will love Kathy’s Pumpkin Patch, outside of Donnellson, Iowa. For a treat, be sure to stop at the Wild Wisk at Fort Madison, Iowa and enjoy some croissant bread pudding. There are also blackberry scones at Fort Madison’s Ivy Bake Shoppe.
There is a swinging bridge at Fort Madison, Iowa that crosses over the Mississippi River, called the Santé Fe Swing Bridge. Rail traffic comes through on the lower part of the bridge while car and truck traffic crosses on the upper part of the bridge. The bridge crosses over into Illinois. There is a $1.00 charge for those leaving Iowa.
Come to southeastern Iowa and take a drive and enjoy the little things.
Iowa is named after a Native American people named the Ioway. Iowa means “one who puts to sleep” or “beautiful land.” They are believed to be of Mississippi origin from the Oneonta who moved into the upper Iowa region in 1250 C.E. They were mainly farmers and hunters who adapted their life to the beauty of the heartland. They experienced all four seasons, living in the river valleys. In the winter months they would trap beaver. During spring they would disband to sugar cane regions to make sugar and syrup. Later in the spring they would gather at summer camps and do their trading with the European fur traders. After the spring festival, planting was done and the lodges were repaired from the harsh winters.
Summer was designated for hunting and the young warriors would leave to hunt bison. Often they had war over hunting rights. The corn was harvested in September and there would be another festival in the upper Iowa region with gambling, horse racing and the game La Crosse. After the festival they would leave to set up winter camps.
The Ioway believed in the Great Spirit and called the Earth their Mother. Their land was described as an island resting on a Turtle. Over the earth was a dome called the sky and this land was surrounded by the boundaries of the Missouri and Mississippi. The bluffs surrounding these rivers were the burial places for their dead and many mounds have been located in these areas. Their villages were placed near these mounds because they believed they were not separated from their dead, loved ones.
Iowa Governor, Chet Culver, proclaimed the fourth annual history week of the Ioway during October 3-9, 2010. It was to remind the people of Iowa of its origins with the Ioway. The purpose of the history week is to keep alive their story of survival and the importance of retaining their unique culture and language in our present day. A film, Lost Nation: The Ioway, made its premiere during this week. It is an award winning documentary by Kelly and Tammy Rundle.
Iowaville is a site of an Ioway village located in the lowland near the northeast border of the Des Moines River. Thousands of artifacts have been excavated here. The village existed from 1760 to 1820. Near Iowaville is Black Hawk State Park, named after the Ioway Chief who led the battle against the United States, under President John Quincy in 1828. Quincy was trying to force the Ioway to move further west, taking all their lands east of the Mississippi. Chief Black Hawk was defeated at Bad Axe in Wisconsin. He died in 1838 and was buried in a sitting position facing southeast near the Des Moines River.
The Ioway are not in Iowa today but along the Missouri River. At Living History Farms the staff has worked with the Ioway to create at 1700 Ioway farm. Living History Farm is located in Urbandale, Iowa, off of Interstate 35. Iowa’s 300 years of history can be learnt at this museum.