” Is this Heaven?”… “No, this is Iowa”   Field of Dreams

Not an entirely off-base question. There is much of Iowa that is quite heavenly. Especially in the summertime when the endless rows of corn seem to cover the state like a verdant comforter. But there’s much more to the state than just corn. The state is the birthplace of a president, a duke, and the captain of the USS Enterprise.  You can find trouble in River City or the place the music died.  You can run the bases with Kevin Costner or marvel over the covered bridges with Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood. If your willing to surrender your corny stereotypes, Iowa will amaze you.

Des Moines

The French called the river that runs through Iowa’s state capital and the largest city “Le Riviere Des Moines”  or “River of the monks” in English. The city was originally called The Fort on the Des Moines River but that was kind of a mouth full so it was just clipped to Des Moines.  While not a huge city (the metropolitan area is only about two hundred thousand) the city does have a very nice sculpture garden and art museum, a renowned botanical garden, and probably the most beautiful state capitol building and governor’s mansion in the entire country.

Sorry, no Pizza Sculptures here. That’s a different Pappa John. This is the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park. The park includes 29 intriguing and thought-provoking works from 22 artists. The sculpture park is located on a four-acre park just south of downtown Des Moines.  The Park is part of the Des Moines Art Center. Admission to both is free.
The mansion sits on a hill overlooking downtown Des Moines. The estate has over 18,000 square feet including a 90ft tower. There aren’t many governor’s mansions in the United States that are open to the public or at least without attending some sort of official function, but Terrace Hill is open to the public. Most days, the Carriage House, first and the second floors are accessible to tours. The third floor is the Governor and her family’s private apartment and is off limits though. Admission is just Five Dollars and the visit lasts about an hour.
If you have ever admired a lovely garden tableau featured in Better Homes and Gardens, the picture was most likely shot in Des Moines. The test gardens are open to the public every Friday at 10am to Noon. Admission is free.
All fifty states have capitol buildings. almost none can compare to the Iowa State Capitol. With its gold primary dome and four copper lesser domes, and marble and oak interior, the building is definitely worth the time to visit.
The Iowa Statehouse is located on a hill with a commanding view of all the city. If you would like to see more of this magnificent building,  I have a complimentary post today about the building. There are a lot more pictures and the backstory to the stunning interior design.
The Living History Farms is a 500 Acre interactive Park that features three actual working Farms from the 1700s to 1900. They include an Ioway Indian Village, an 1850 pioneer Pioneer farm, and a 1900 horse powered Farm as well as an 1875 town of Walnut Hill. All the farms and the town have people in period dress and the farmland is actually worked and harvested. There aren’t any vacant, display only buildings here. The village has all working stores, a bank, a church, and residents all in period dress and maintaining characters.
Everything is authentic to the last detail. The reenactors farm the land and make do without running water A/C or electricity.

Winterset and Madison County. 

The area was relatively unknown until Robert James Waller’s bestselling novel The Bridges of Madison County turned the area into a tourist must-see. The book also became a successful film starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood. And speaking of movies, Winterset is also the birthplace of John Wayne. There is a museum and you can also tour his birth home.

Six covered bridges still remain all of which were built in the mid to late 1800s. The Chamber of Commerce in Winterset has maps to the locations of the bridges.
Before he became John Wayne he was Marion Morrison of Winterset, Iowa. Winterset, Iowa is located just 35 miles southwest of Des Moines.  The Museum features ‘The Duke’s” movie memorabilia, photos, and personal items.

Clear Lake and the Surf Ballroom 

Located on the shores of Clear Lake, the city that shares its name has been called the place the music died. The Surf Ballroom was the last concert venue of Buddy Holly, Richie Vallens, and the Big Bopper. All three were killed in a plane crash east of the city. The event was captured in the 70s rock classic “American Pie”. The ballroom is still a concert venue to this day and has a small museum that features memorabilia from Buddy Holly and the many musical icons that have played here.

If you’d like to learn more about the last night in the lives of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper I have a complimentary post running today. We cover the history of the Surf Ballroom and how it survived it’s sad history and lives on as Northern Iowa’s premier concert venue.

Mason City

“We’ve got trouble” right here in Mason City.  When local playwright Meredith Wilson wrote his hit musical “The Music Man” he modeled the fictional “River City” after his hometown. The town features “The Music Man Square” that includes Wilson’s childhood home and the set from the Academy Award Winning 1962 film and sculptures featuring Wilson and another  made from “76 trombones”

Meredith Wilson Mason City’s “Music Man”
The “Music Man” takes place in a fictional Iowa city in 1912. Meredith Wilson drew on many of his memories growing up in Mason City. The square features the set from the film and immerses you in another time. The city also has a very nice art museum and a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home.

Dyersville The “Field of Dreams” set. 

“Is this Heaven?”, “No, this is Iowa”  But to many who saw the movie, the ballpark and the house did take on a fantastic quality. When the corn is high in the summertime, it becomes easy to see the celestial beauty of the area. The movie became the surprise hit, and the film and made the farm and the impromptu baseball field a hit and made the site into a tourist haven. This turned out to be a blessing and a curse. If you’d like to earn more I have a complimentary post I am running today. 

West Branch: The Hoover Presidential Museum

This humble farmhouse was the birthplace and boyhood home of Herbert Hoover who would become the 31st President of the United States. Sadly today, he is best remembered as being the president during the Great Stock Market Crash of 1929. His inability to respond decisively during the Great Depression marred his time in the White House. But it is a infamy not entirely deserved. It was more of a case of him being the wrong person at the wrong time. He actually was a successful businessman and a devout Quaker. The museum here does a good job of presenting a balanced picture of Hoover. The grounds also include several buildings from Hoover’s childhood days and the former president and his wife are buried on the grounds as well. I hope to write a future post about West Branch as the story is much to complex to be presented here.

Riverside, Iowa “The Future Birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk” 

The Captain and I pose for a picture

362 Days of the year Riverside, Iowa will seem like any other town in the Midwestern United States.  It has one main street and a big grain silo just like most small towns. In the summer they have a weekend celebration with fireworks and a parade. But that’s where they are different because of Riverside, Iowa is the future birthplace of Starfleet commander James Tiberius Kirk. In one of the Star Trek films. Captain Kirk mentions he was born in Iowa. The town lobbied creator Gene Roddenberry to allow Riverside to be that birthplace. Since then the city has an annual TrekFest, The Trek universe has made Riverside their adopted hometown, and Trek Days has lured most of the living members of the many Trek incarnations to come to the town for a visit.

A popular feature at TrekFest is the costume contest. Last summer, I and my cousin Julia visited Riverside and had a great time. She actually won the contest.  She’s the one wearing sunglasses.
If you would like to learn more about Riverside Iowa and TrekFest, I am posting a complimentary feature later today.

There are it’s of pictures in today’s entry but Iowa features a lot in my local travels. It isn’t just because it is close to my current home of Kansas City. Or even because I have family there. It’s just a great place to visit. The people are kind and polite, it’s rich in history and the landscape is quite diverse. Flat and rolling fields in the center with scenic river bluffs on the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers that cradle the edges.  Maybe Iowa is Heaven after all. 

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