OK ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for another impromptu Iowa geography/history lesson, courtesy of the Iowa Travel Advisor and the Sawmill Museum of Clinton Iowa. Iowa was once home to the largest lumber industry in the world.This may be something that your 8th grade teacher attempted to penetrate your consciousness as you struggled to fight the drowsiness and drool effect of 2 peanut butter/jelly sandwiches at lunch or were deeply immersed in a subversive note-passing operation.If that’s the case, then here is your second chance!
The lumber industry flourished in Clinton in the 1850’s as the result of several factors. The town’s geographic location on the mighty Mississippi River and its proximity to a growing railroad network,contributed to its success.As the demands of the Civil War and the ensuing “western ho!!” pattern of settlement occurred, the insatiable appetite for lumber followed and here were the Clinton entrepreneurs willing to build sawmills that would receive the huge log rafts of fallen timber from the forests of Minnesota and Wisconsin.Millions and millions of dollars ware made in this fair city as long as the lumber came floating downstream, but ,alas, in a recurring theme of industrial America,someone forgot to plant new trees up north and thus ended the lumber boom in Clinton!!
Fortunately we have museums and these museums exist to document our past history, boondoggles and all, and rekindle the memory of long ago occupations such as milling and lumberjacking!! The Sawmill Museum attempts to do just that.A specific effort has been made to appeal to the school age children and the museum has done a fine job.I myself was hoping to hear the sound of saws whirring,sawdust flying and the smell of fresh cut lumber and you can do that here one Sunday a month, but for now my imagination was my guide back to yesteryear and you can bet I wasn’t “board”!!!
As I was selecting possible destinations for Iowa Travel Advisor’s version 9.0, a startling statistic caught my eye.The 2015 Iowa Travel Guide listed a 200 foot waterfall in Decorah, Iowa.Now to an Iowan who is familiar with landscapes that are interrupted by silhouettes of water towers and grain elevators of varying shapes and sizes,the stark contrast is readily apparent. I immediately conjured up visions of Niagara and Yosemite though I knew the unlikeliness that such an attraction could have achieved anonymity in my lifetime!Nevertheless a May expedition to NE Iowa was organized last week.
Upon arriving in Decorah,I did not expect the populace to be able to keep this attraction a secret,Niagara Falls certainly doesn’t!!However following the GPS directions to turn by turn precisely, did not prepare me for a knee high arrow sign pointing to Dunning’s Springs City Park and I drove past and had to turn around.Sure enough this lane ran along a stream that led to the “falls”.Apparently a 200 foot falls is one that you can pace off for 200 linear feet.Try pacing off 200 feet at Yosemite!!
Don’t get me wrong; a 200 foot waterfall of any kind is a big deal in Iowa , I am just trying to temper your expectations.If you need further stimulation on your Decorah visit right up the road about a quarter of a mile is another unique geologic feature… Ice Cave (also a part of the Decorah city park system)A hole in the side of the hill allows ice to form in the summer months.Agility and small stature are important if you want to fully experience the cave or you can do as I did ..stand at the entrance,peer in , feel the cold air and wonder where the ice is!
Just a yearly glacier’s movement away is another feature in Decorah ….their paved bicycle/running/hiking trail.This excellent “state of the art” pathway encircles the city and is known as Trout Run Trail, though the entire time I was there nary a trout trotted by!Timing,timing timing!The trail is full of sight seeing opportunities as well as fitness benefits. Decorah can be proud!
Iowans and anybody involved in any type of agriculture love their tractors.Nothing beats the memories evoked when standing next to an old model or replica and conjuring up stories of farming days passed to anybody who will listen.For some reason all the hard labor and long hours spent aboard one of these working machines seems to pleasantly fade away when you are immersed in nostalgia!”Remember that wintry day back in ’54 after 2 foot of snow and 30 degrees below and the old “B” started up on the first crank” You get the picture!!
Now the idea is not new by any means in Iowa, but the John Deere Corporation finally opened the doors last December to a historical tractor museum in Waterloo . This is the city where most of the John Deere tractors have been assembled for years so what better place to display and document the past successes of this agricultural giant.The museum is located in one of John Deere’s unused assembly buildings erected in the early 40’s so it has an old factory feel but certainly has been spruced up to state of the art display techniques.
When visiting you can expect to see the complete John Deere story starting from the famous”moldboard plow” right up to today’s ingenious computerized behemoths.Starting with an intro movie the visitor will see plenty of history and the part John Deere played in developing the “gas traction engine”. You will see models from every era(my favorite the 3010 gas) and experience all that was involved in getting the finished product into the hands of the consumer …the American farmer and eventually global agronomy.Usually when I travel to a new attraction I try not to have too many preconceived notions of what I might see so that I might leave room for the thrill of discovery.However, I must say that I had high expectations for this long anticipated visit and I was not disappointed!!Please consider the John Deere Tractor and Engine Museum in Waterloo.I’ll be pulling for you!!
When you travel SE Iowa you might have deduced that many of the attractions found in this part of the state are quite historical in nature.As you scratch your head trying to recall your 8th grade Iowa history and geography classes,let’s just quickly summarize. Iowa was settled from east to west and the probability of finding more sites of antiquity increases the closer you get to eastern Iowa rivers ,principally the Mississippi, Iowa and Des Moines rivers.Another facet of early Iowa history was the proximity of “free state” Iowa to “slave state”Missouri. With that pretext out of the way, I shall tell you of my visit to the southeast Iowa town of Salem.
Salem was founded by Quakers and was the first Quaker settlement west of the Mississippi.On the south side of town Henderson Lewelling built a house out of native limestone and intended it to be a refuge for runaway slaves.(see photo)The Lewelling House was once known as the main ticket office of the Underground Railroad for SE Iowa due to its proximity to Missouri just 20 miles south. The building currently houses a museum containing artifacts of early Iowa Quaker life as well as an interesting display that illuminated the educational background of the settlement.
Most interesting to me however were the artifacts connected to the institution of slavery and to the logistics of aiding and abetting runaway slaves. It is well to remember that Iowa played an important role in helping to weaken slavery though it took a civil war to officially put it to an end.
I was caught in a perplexing position..Do I write about an” ice house museum” in the heat of summer or the dead of winter? When you read this ,you will know what I decided.
It is minus 13 degrees in West Branch this morning as I strive to keep the blood moving to all of my extremities beside the tips of my typing fingers.What better way than to warmly reminisce about my trip to Cedar Falls last summer and my exploration of the Ice House Museum!
The museum is located in downtown Cedar Falls near the Cedar River Bridge and is a noticeable round clay tile structure. This replaced an old wood structure that burned down in 1921 . Now how an ice house gets so hot that it burns down I don’t know.. maybe they were using “dry ice” that was too dry!! Nevertheless the new building was state of the art and had the capacity to store 6 to 8 thousand tons of ice blocks stacked like cold bales of hay.
I realize that both concepts of storage might puzzle my readers and I myself had very little knowledge of the process of “ice harvesting”. It is hard to remember a time when there wasn’t electric refrigerators and freezers.What a luxury not to have to haul 80-100 pound blocks to the home “ice box” all for the purpose of preserving food etc. I would strongly suggest a trip Cedar Falls to learn the history of the ice industry and to see how the ice got from to the river to the home. It’s really COOL!!