IOWA, the Hawkeye State

What to see

Elk Horn a Danish Village
Winterset John Wayne - the Bridges of Madison County
Pella Dutch Village
Kalona Old Order Amish
part 2 Des Moines, Ames, Forest City, Britt, Amana
Des Moines Basilica of St John - Salisbury House - Iowa State Capitol
Ames Reiman Gardens
Forest City Winnebago Industries
Britt Hobo Museum
Amana the Amana Colonies
Article the Amana Colonies
Other pages other states | articles

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This is an extract of what to see in this state, with small photos. You will find the full description, history and full-sized photos, in my e-book View America: North West - Part 2

In the travel series View America, North West - Part 2 covers Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska. It is not a traditional travelogue, but a non-commercial and more or less objective chronicle of an in-depth exploration of these states. Each state is described with its own brief historical background and its main sights, tourist attractions and points of interest.

My book does not describe lodgings, restaurants or entertainment, except where these may interact with the narrative. It is illustrated with more than 150 full-sized photos.

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IOWA is known as the Hawkeye State, after Chief Black Hawk of the Indian Sac tribe. It derives its name from the Iowa River, which was named after the original inhabitants. In 1846 Iowa joined the US as the 29th state. The capital and largest city is Des Moines.

The surface is approximately 145,000 km2. All the rivers belong to the Mississippi system, which was important during the French exploration. The population consists of nearly three million souls, with a density of 20 per km2. The metropolis of Des Moines has about 500,000 inhabitants.

Practically the whole state used to be covered with long prairie grass, which has since been plowed under for agriculture. The first commercial activity was fur trade and agriculture, which has since become the main industry. The state is the largest producer of corn. As to livestock, Iowa occupies the third place after California and Texas. Iowa is considered a typical Mid-Western state, with fertile plains and a strong agricultural economy with grain and livestock.

It generally has warm and humid summers and cold winters. The main tourist activities in the state are hunting and fishing. Other points of interest are the Amana villages, founded in 1850 by a German sect, the Bridges of Madison County, and many festivals and rodeos.

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Elk Horn : Danish village

Elk Horn : Danish VillageThe part of the city of Omaha that overflows from Nebraska into Iowa, is called Council Bluffs. The Iowa landscape is slightly different from Nebraska. Slightly rolling hills with beautifully tended farms and fields, but

on a smaller scale than in Nebraska and South Dakota. The smaller agricultural surface per farm indicates that most of them are still family-owned. Visually, the landscape is more reminiscent of the area around Lancaster in Pennsylvania or northern France.

According to the tourist documentation, Elk Horn is a Danish Village. Unfortunately, the village is entirely built in an old-fashioned American style and doesn't really show anything Danish roots. The village proudly presents a Danish windmill and a museum of Danish immigrants, but that about sums up its Danish content...


John Wayne

Winterset : John Wayne 1Route 169 leads to Winterset, and along the way, small woods appear on the hills as a first sign of naturally occurring trees, instead of the planted trees around the farms.

Winterset is the birthplace of John Wayne, born in 1907 as Marion Robert Morrison. He was an excellent athlete at the University of Southern California, and he started his movie career with supporting roles. In 1929 he received a first major role in The Big Trail, which was the beginning of an extraordinary movie career!

The first ten years he made almost exclusively westerns and action movies, but in 1939 director John Ford chose him to star in Stagecoach. After that blockbuster, for thirty years Wayne was continually asked for leading roles, usually as a strong, taciturn and idealistic cowboy or soldier.

He played in more than 250 movies, including gems such as Rio Grande (1950), the Quiet Man (1952), Rio Bravo (1959), the Alamo (1960), Hatari (1962), the Green Berets (1968), True Grit (1969), Rio Lobo (1970), Rooster Cogburn (1975), and his last movie, the Shootist (1976). Next to this very limited list, I'm sure that everyone knows of another good John Wayne movie! The unforgettable Duke died of cancer in 1979.

Winterset : John Wayne 2 Winterset : John Wayne 3

the Bridges of Madison county

The Winterset Visitor Center presents a lot of information about the Covered Bridges of Madison County. These were immortalized by the 1995 movie with the same name, in which Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep set down a strong and remarkable performance.

These covered bridges were built around 1870, and the reason why they were covered is that the roof and sidewalls protect the bridge's expensive wooden surface against rain, snow and ice. A happy side effect is that they are quite a bit more photogenic than a "normal" bridge.

Route G-47 leads to the Roseman Bridge, and the "G" stands for "Gravel". Off the main roads, you'll find many "gravel jobs" in this region.

The Roseman Bridge had been almost completely renovated in 1992, which posed a problem for the movie, since it is set in the year 1965.

The bridge looked far too recent and in too good a condition for the motion picture, so the producers temporarily and artificially aged it. A similar procedure was applied to the Texaco gas station in the village, which was also artificially aged and equipped with a sign that said that you could fill up at 34.9 cents per gallon. Those were the days!

The Holliwell Bridge is also very noteworthy, as is the surrounding rural landscape. These covered bridges were usually named after the nearest resident.

the Bridges of Madison County 1
Bridges of Madison county 2 : Roseman bridge Bridges of Madison county 3 : Roseman bridge

Pella : Dutch village

In 1846 a group of Dutch Reformers decided that they had had enough of the heavy taxes and the religious persecution under the government of William I, King of the Netherlands. William's first concern was to refill the government's coffers after the many preceding wars. Napoleon Bonaparte's urge for conquest had cost them a great deal, and the subsequent independence of Belgium, enforced by the superpowers of that time (Austria, France, Great Britain, Prussia and Russia) hadn't helped a bit.

In 1847 some eight hundred Dutch, led by Reverend Hendrik Pieter Scholte, emigrated to Iowa, where they had bought 18,000 acres (7,200 hectares) of land for $ 22,500. They founded Pella, and to prove that they hadn't come empty-handed, Reverend Scholte built a house with twenty-three rooms, that was just as nice as his house in the Netherlands.

The central square has been nicely landscaped, with many flower beds and even a carillon. The main street proudly sports picturesque fronts, and it is quiet and pleasant place to stroll around. The courtyard of the Royal Amsterdam hotel has a striking design, and there is even a shallow moat. A Dutch windmill, the Vermeer Windmill, was brought over from the Netherlands and everywhere you'll see Dutch names such as Van Gorp, Veenstra, in 't Veld, Bouwer, Jansen and Vermeer. Even in those days it must have been a great place to live, for even gunfighter Wyatt Earp lived a few years in East Franklin Street.

All new buildings are required to have an "ancient" looking Holland facade, and even the new Walmart complied. In the Hallmark shop you'll find postcards and discover original Delft porcelain.

Pella : Dutch village 3 Pella : Dutch village 4
Pella : Dutch village 5 Pella : Dutch village 6

For tourism's sake the city keeps up with many old Dutch traditions such as the inevitable Tulip Festival and Sinterklaas (Santa Claus), who is virtually unknown in the U.S.

Des Moines

Basilica of St John

To reach Des Moines one has to cross de "Des Moines River", which gives us a clue to the origin of this name. The indication on earlier French maps "la rivière des Moines" literally translates as "the river of the monks", but only the part "Des Moines" remained.

The Basilica of St. John is located in the downtown area, and its surroundings do not really do justice to this very good-looking church. Its severe north-Italian Romanesque style may seem somewhat disappointing, but the interior is nicely decorated with gold leaf ceilings, and it contains 46 large windows with excellent stained glass, a marble interior, and decorative plaster work.

Salisbury House

The Salisbury House is located in the more upscale part of the city. This forty-two-room estate was built in 1924, and it was modeled after the English king's home in Salisbury. However, the construction presents a very severe aspect which appears more like a barracks than a mansion, and it is mostly used for conferences and meetings. But fortunately the neighborhood has more architecturally pleasing homes to admire.

Iowa State Capitol

The Iowa State Capitol was built around 1900, and this impressive building proudly wears a dome that is completely covered with gold leaf. The structure is without a doubt a work of beauty.

Des Moines 1 : Basilica of St John

Des Moines 2 : Salisbury House
Basilica of St John
Salisbury House
Des Moines 3 : neighborhood estate Des Moines 4 : Iowa state capitol
neighborhood estate
Iowa state capitol

Britt : Hobo museum

The city of Britt has its own Hobo museum, but unfortunately visits are by appointment only. Even more unfortunately, the tourist information fails to mention this detail.

Britt : Hobo museum 1
Britt : Hobo museum 2

Amana : the Amana colonies

On Interstate 80's exit 125 you'll find the village of Amana and the Amana Colonies. The village is entirely focused on tourism, and has developed correspondingly. The Amana Heritage Center and Museum presents a 20-minute movie about the community, which shows a most interesting history and a general background about this religious community.

The ancient lifestyle of the Amana in the U.S. was not very different from the way life used to be in Europe in the early 19th century. Nevertheless it obviously differs from the then American way of life, given that during the previous two hundred years people in Europe had to contend with two world wars, next to some seventy "normal" wars, uprisings and revolts, and all the misery associated with them.

A walk through the streets is like going back through time. The local chocolate shop produces exquisite truffles and dark chocolate. Most enjoyable!

Amana : the Amana colonies 1 Amana : the Amana colonies 2
Amana : the Amana colonies 3 Amana : the Amana colonies 4

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