Seven Places to Check Out (If You're Ever In Iowa)

My friends and I are planning a long weekend this summer. Cancun? Florida? California? Nope. We're going to spend four or five days wandering around Iowa. It all started when we were talking a couple of weeks ago and realized that most of us (Iowa natives) have never been to the Field of Dreams. It's one of the only "famous" spots in Iowa – the other one is Madison County, home of the famous bridges (which I have actually seen). I lived in Philly for about a year and whenever the locals there found out I was from Iowa, the reactions were usually one of these three things: "Did you grow up on a farm?" No. "Oh, that's why you have an accent." People from Philly telling me I have an accent? And the third comment: "Oh, Field of Dreams, right?" So it's probably about time I check out the Field of Dreams in Dyersville. While we're at it, we're going to check out some other strange attractions around the state. If you've never been to, I suggest you check it out – it's chock-full of bizarre things to see across the States. I'm not under the delusion that Iowa is a hot spot for tourism, but should you ever be in the state and looking for something to do, I thought I'd share with you some of the interesting (read: strange) stops we'll be making this summer. In turn, maybe you can share some strange things in your state with me. I'm always up for interesting stops.

Grotto of the Redemption, West Bend

My husband went here with his family when he was very small. There's a good story his mom tells about him that involves the Grotto and diapers (or a lack thereof), but I'll spare you. If you're thinking Playboy Mansion-style Grotto, you're way off. Way, way off. This Grotto is a religious monument built largely by just three men. Father Paul Dobberstein almost died of pneumonia when he was younger and promised to build a shrine to the Virgin Mary if she would heal him. He got better and kept his promise. In 1912, he started the first of many travels to Hot Springs and South Dakota's Black Hills in search of rocks and crystal to use in his blueprint-less creation. When he obtained these little treasures, he would return to West Bend and set the gems and stones into concrete. Sounds like a pretty small undertaking, sure, but when you consider that the grottoes take up an entire city block and contain more than $4 million in rocks and minerals, you can see why it's a big deal. Photo by Wikipedia's MissouriRichardson

The American Gothic House, Eldon

This one isn't such a big deal to me, probably because I grew up just 20 minutes away. But my friends haven't been there, and it was in the running to be on the state quarter, so it must be pretty important. You might recognize the Dibble House from the Grant Wood painting American Gothic. Apparently Grant Wood came to Eldon in 1930 and thought the contrast of the tiny little house with the "pretentious" Gothic windows was interesting. He sketched the house and then convinced his sister and his dentist to pose as the father and daughter (not man and wife, as most people think) in the foreground. The rest is history. The best part about visiting the American Gothic House is that the American Gothic House Center actually provides drab clothes and a pitchfork so you can pose in front of the house with your own sour expression. I'm a sucker for a ridiculous photo op, so that's another reason the house makes my list.

Buddy Holly Crash Site, Clear Lake

Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens performed at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake on February 2, 1959. In the wee hours of February 3, the plane carrying the three of them crashed almost immediately after takeoff, killing everyone on board. There's not as much of a monument as you would expect, but if you trek out to the middle of the cornfield they landed in (although I believe it was soybeans at the time), you'll find a stainless steel guitar and three records. Photo by Wikipedia's Fernkes

Canteen Lunch in the Alley, Ottumwa

I can't resist the urge to plug my hometown. Fans of Roseanne surely remember The Lunch Box, the little hole-in-the-wall joint that Roseanne ran with her sister, Jackie. At the time, Ottumwa native Tom Arnold was married to Roseanne and took her to the Canteen. She fell in love with the place and decided to base the Lunch Box on it, loose-meat sandwiches and all. I don't know that I'd visit just because of that fact, but I would visit because the food is amazing. Don't order a "loose-meat sandwich", though, unless you want to get a look of contempt. The burgers there are called Canteens, and don't you forget it. But if you want to look like a native (uh… you probably don't), just order "One", as in "One with everything" or "One with ketchup-pickle". It's served lunch-counter style and the place seats, oh, maybe 15 people. Also? The chocolate malts are to die for. Photo from Iowa Backroads

The First Train Robbery in the West, Adair

Not only was it the first train robbery in the West and the first moving train robbery in the world, it was conducted by none other than Jesse James. On July 21 (my birthday!), 1873, the James-Younger Gang staged a robbery expecting to make off with $75,000 in gold. Turns out that shipment was delayed, so they only got away with the $3,000 in the safe of the Rock Island Express. The tracks are long gone, except for the little piece that shows where Jesse derailed the train. Adair celebrates Jesse James Days the every year on the third weekend of July, including a reenactment of the robbery. Photo by Randy Walker, Roadside America

Bank Robbed by Bonnie and Clyde, Stuart

In a funny twist of fate, the bank Bonnie and Clyde robbed in Stuart, Iowa is now houses the police station. The Barrow Gang paid a visit to Stuart in April of 1934, a month before they were killed in Louisiana. Several months earlier, Bonnie and Clyde were in the same area and had a close run-in with a man from a nearby farm. Marvelle Feller, his parents, sister and uncle were held at gunpoint by Clyde and W.D. Jones. The gang eventually stole the family's car and took off. Photo by Randy Walker, Roadside America

Bank Robbed by John Dillinger, Mason City

Jesse James, Bonnie and Clyde, and Dillinger – who knew Iowa was such a hotbed for outlaws? Just a month before the Bonnie and Clyde robbery, John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson and their gang hit the First National Bank in Mason City, Iowa. They took $52,000, which was much less than they had planned on getting. The building is now called the City Center, but it's still around. To commemorate the occasion, the town started holding Dillinger Days (officially called Dillinger Meets Mason City) in 2007. Derek Arnold from Flickr has some pretty interesting pictures of the Dillinger robbery re-enactment. OK, your turn! Share your little-known state stops in the comments.

Newest 5
Newest 5 Comments

Marvelle Feller who is the last survivor who had a gun pointed at him by the Barrow Gang in Iowa is at the same care center as my inlaws. We visited with him this weekend and he told us all about WD Jones pointing a gun at him and his uncle and how they stole their family car to excape. Marvelle is now 96 years old. It is quite facinating to hear him tell the story.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
I'm an Iowa native myself (I'm 30). Born and raised in Sioux City (north western tip of the state on the border of Nebraska and South Dakota). I've never been to any of these places. Closest I've been is Clear Lake but I didn't make it out to the memorial. I did however see a few of the Bridges from Bridges of Madison County and John Wayne's birth place in Summerset.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
In addition to the Canteen, Ottumwa is also known as the Video Game Capital of the World AND had it's share with a prohibition-era bank robbery, conducted by Vernon Miller, Tommy "Machine Gun" Kelly, and others back in Sept. 1930.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
I leave in Radcliffee, Iowa, Never been to this strange places.. But I'll see to it.. That I'm not gonna miss visiting this places on my next vacation... Good day.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
My wife's family is from Ottumwa, and I've eaten at the Canteen. In case anyone is wondering about the weird architecture, when I ate there is was a free standing building in a parking lot. When they constructed a (I think) parking garage, the Canteen was so popular they just build the new structure over top of it.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
Login to comment.

Email This Post to a Friend
"Seven Places to Check Out (If You're Ever In Iowa)"

Separate multiple emails with a comma. Limit 5.


Success! Your email has been sent!

close window

This website uses cookies.

This website uses cookies to improve user experience. By using this website you consent to all cookies in accordance with our Privacy Policy.

I agree
Learn More