Vacationing in… Iowa4/29/2015
As the school year winds down and the temperatures climb, families are packing their bags and leaving for summer vacation. But for those looking to save a few bucks, there’s nothing quite like a staycation at one of Iowa’s many tourist destinations. Whether a recent resident or a lifelong Iowan, this beautiful state has much more to offer than cornfields and farms.
In the fourth year of this annual Vacationing in Iowa guide, Cityview is taking its readers on a more traditional and educational adventure, getting back to the history of our great state. They say you learn something new every day, but at these Iowa landmarks, we think you’ll learn even more than that. Of course, vacationing is meant to be fun, too, and we haven’t forgotten that.
Past issues have featured “the future birthplace” of Capt. James T. Kirk, the Villisca Axe Murder House, Iowa’s Largest Fryin’ Pan, the Hindu Temple in Madrid and more. This year, we’ll show you a four-story mansion in Cedar Rapids, the fastest short track on the planet, a beautiful and self-sufficient village of German descent, and the first home of one of television’s greatest stars.
So pack up the car, make your best road trip playlist and get ready to explore the amazing history of Iowa.
2160 Linden Drive, S.E., Cedar Rapids
Miles from Des Moines: 129
Siting in the heart of a 26-acre Cedar Rapids estate is the beautiful Brucemore mansion, a 19th century home owned by three separate families between 1884 and 1981. The Sinclairs, the Douglases and the Halls were influential business and social leaders of their times, each bringing their own sense of style to the mansion, which now exists as a historic site museum and cultural center.
Caroline Soutter Sinclair commissioned the mansion in 1884 as a home for her and her six children after the death of her husband, Thomas McElderry Sinclair. The couple moved in 1871 to Cedar Rapids, where he ran Sinclair & Company, the fourth-largest meatpacking facility in the world. George Douglas Sr., a founder of cereal firm Douglas and Stuart that later became Quaker Oats, was the next to own Brucemore. Two sons of Douglas formed Douglas and Company and Douglas Starch Works as their careers in agribusiness grew. The final family to own the mansion was the Halls. Howard Hall moved to Cedar Rapids in the early 1900s to work for Commercial National Bank but went on to purchase many buildings in town and form Iowa Manufacturing Company in 1923, which manufactured paving equipment for road modernization.
When Brucemore was finished in 1886, it had four stories and 21 rooms and was described as “the grandest house west of Chicago.” Once visitors set foot on the lawns, they can see why. Sprawling hills, trees and pristine greenery surround the immaculate mansion, which has been preserved to share the stories of each family that inhabited it. Ornate architecture and original artifacts show the history of the residence that made such a stir in this Iowa town.
The status of the Sinclairs, Douglases and Halls brought much attention to Cedar Rapids. The home was even visited by former President Herbert Hoover during the Hall era. The amount of history on display at Brucemore makes it a time machine of sorts, bringing visitors back to three eras of Iowa’s most prominent families and businesspeople.
Guided tours run hourly from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, and noon to 3 p.m., Sunday, from March to December.
Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center
900 Larsen Park Road, Sioux City
Miles from Des Moines: 199
The permanent showcases at the Sioux City Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center share the area’s history from the death of Sergeant Charles Floyd — the first U.S. soldier to die west of the Mississippi — to the Lewis and Clark Expedition’s 55-foot-long vessel. Visitors will learn about the Corps of Discovery from late July to early September 1804 in what is now the Sioux City area, including conventional medical treatments of Lewis and Clark’s time.
In the same trip, visitors can see the Betty Strong Encounter Center, which connects to the Interpretive Center and hosts free photo and art exhibitions. Those looking to explore a little more history can check out the free programs and galleries of the 10,000-square-foot center, which offers outdoor games, lectures, music and theater programs commemorating the history of encounters before and after the expedition.
The Crossroads connects the two sites, and it is known as a place of reflection and a symbol of hope for dialogue, understanding and peace. The Crossroads symbol is a compass with a colored circle over it. The four colors — black, white, red and yellow — represent the Native people who lived in the Sioux City region before the arrival of Lewis and Clark in 1804, while the compass reflects the people who came after, including explorers and immigrants.
One of the center’s exhibits is called Traditional Native Games and includes more than two dozen traditional Lakota games. Such activities were played by the Lakota well before the introduction of non-Native games in the 19th century and remain an important piece of the Lakota culture. The tribe classified the games by gender and age, such as bull roarer for boys and the plum pit game for girls.
The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and Betty Strong Encounter Center are rich in history and culture, making for an educational and captivating outing for people of all ages. The 20,000-square-foot, nonprofit centers are free to the public and open daily. Check the website for a calendar of events throughout the summer.
3333 Rusty Wallace Drive, Newton
Miles from Des Moines: 37
It’s just a short drive from Des Moines for NASCAR fans to experience the thrill of the race live. Known fondly as “the fastest short track on the planet,” the Iowa Speedway is a $70-million, 7/8-mile asphalt racetrack and motorsports facility designed by Rusty Wallace, a member of NASCAR’s Hall of Fame. Wallace took his inspiration for the track from Richmond International Raceway in Virginia, and it plays host to several major events each year.
Iowa Speedway opened in September 2006 and seats more than 25,000. Drivers such as Kevin Harvick, Dario Franchitti and Joey Logano have raced on the track, which has been a rumored candidate to host a Sprint Cup Series race for several years.
Racing fans travel from all over the country to watch the races at Iowa Speedway, which features 50 competitor garages, 28 luxury suites, 104 RV spaces, two party decks, a gift shop and a helipad, among other amenities. The Speedway was the first track designed by a driver, and it is still the most state-of-the-art motorsports facility in the nation.
The speedway also offers several driving schools throughout the year, including the Richard Petty Driving Experience, where fans can find out what it’s like to be a racecar driver by either driving or riding in a stock car. Choose from seven different driving opportunities ranging from $199 for four laps and $1,799 for 50, or two ride-along options for $129 for three laps and $169 for five. Check the website for dates and scheduling.
The 2015 schedule begins with the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East/West and NASCAR XFINITY Nationwide series on May 16-17.
622 46th Ave., Amana
Miles from Des Moines: 103
For more than 150 years, the Amana Colonies have been a celebrated treasure of Eastern Iowa. Less than two hours from Des Moines via Interstate 80, the Colonies offer a unique experience of history and culture in its artists, foods and various events throughout the year.
The Amana Colonies are a group of German Pietists settlements that are comprised of seven villages that first settled in New York. For 80 years they have maintained an almost completely self-sufficient local economy. Instead of importing from the industrialized U.S. economy, the Amanians adhere to the specialized crafts and farming occupations brought from Germany. Known for the woodworking shops, restaurants and craft shops, the Colonies have been a National Historic Landmark since 1965 and are currently considered a major tourist attraction in Iowa.
With hotels, bed and breakfasts, condos and campgrounds, the Amana Colonies are well equipped for overnight guests, which is great for families or couples looking to experience all the community has to offer. One could spend days looking through the homemade furniture shops, antiques, handcrafted clothes and food items found around every corner.
And for even more fun, the Amanas offer various events and activities throughout the summer months, including Maifest, the Colonies’ annual spring festival. It starts May 2-3, with live music, German food, a parade, games and more. It’s a great place to celebrate the heritage and beauty of Iowa, and it’s a great way to entertain the kids on a beautiful spring weekend.
Iowa 80 Trucking Museum
505 Sterling Drive, Walcott
Miles from Des Moines: 152
For all those who share a love for classic and antique automobiles, the Iowa 80 Trucking Museum is for you. Dedicated to the restoration and preservation of antique trucks and trucking artifacts, the goal of the Iowa 80 Trucking Museum is to share the trucking history with the public. It promotes the importance of trucking by presenting a positive image of the industry and professional truck drivers. And if you’ve spent any measure of time driving on any of Iowa’s interstates, you know just how big of an industry trucking is around here.
The museum began as a collection by Bill Moon, who founded the Iowa 80 Truckstop. When sections of the instate highway system were being built throughout the U.S. in the early 1960s, large oil companies like Standard Oil took notice. Realizing truckers would be leaving two-lane roads and wanting to buy their fuel along the new interstates, Moon, an employee at Standard Oil, was sent out to scout locations for truck stops. He chose Walcott, Iowa, for its proximity to Davenport, Detroit, Omaha and Des Moines, and the Iowa 80 Truckstop opened in 1964.
Moon’s passion for trucking led to a collection of more than 100 antique trucks, 60 of them being on display at the museum. It also contains 304 original petroliana signs and 24 vintage gas pumps on display. A few trucks to take a look at include the 1913 Rambler, 1925 International Water Tanker, 1959 Diamond T 921 Cabover and the 1983 Ford 9000, which is the newest model in the museum.
For a free-will donation to support the museum, visitors can spend the day learning about the little-known history of the trucking industry and its ties to Interstate 80.
Iowa 80 Trucking Museum is open every day from Memorial Day to Labor Day. It offers educational field trips for students and a variety of exhibits, including Vintage Transportation Related Toys, Antique Metal Signs and a Bill Moon Tribute.
For 30 years, Johnny Carson made people laugh with his quick wit and hilarious conversations with guests on “The Tonight Show,” but few people know Carson spent the first years of his life right here in Iowa. Born in Corning in 1925 to Homer and Ruth Carson, the home right where John William Carson was born has been preserved and turned into a tourist attraction for fans to get a glimpse into the early life of the TV personality.
Carson took over “The Tonight Show” on Oct. 1, 1962, just nine years after the show was created as a counterpart to NBC’s morning show “Today.” It was originally called “Tonight,” but the name changed to “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” when he joined the team.
It would be hard to believe anyone born in this house grew up to be one of the most revered names in television by its unassuming style. The humble home looks as if time has stopped, with the wallpaper, wooden furniture and antique knick-knacks of nearly a century ago.
Carson lived in the state until he was 8 years old, calling Avoca, Clarinda and Red Oak all his temporary homes, before his family moved to Nebraska. Take an afternoon to step back into the early 1900s and discover what life might have been like for a young Carson 90 years ago in small-town Iowa.
Tours are available every Saturday from Memorial Day to Labor Day for $7 per person and can be scheduled during the week by phone or email. Group tours are also available and include visits to other local attractions such as the Corning Opera House, Adams County Speedway, Corning Winery and Vineyard and Lake Icaria. CV