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History & Fun in the Hawkeye State
From Old West museums to iconic art, historic home tours, and even ice cream parlors, Iowa's unique and historic attractions are hard matched.
Historic General Dodge House
Home of General Grenville M. Dodge, a Civil War veteran and railroad builder, the Historic General Dodge House is a popular spot in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Dodge was associated with Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant and many other influential Americans, making him one of the most famous citizens in Council Bluffs history. Tour the 14 rooms of this 1869 mansion, and schedule your visit to enjoy an authentic Victorian Tea in the ballroom – maybe during one of the annual tea's.
Mormon Handcart Brigade Site
After stepping off the train in Iowa City, a group of 1,300 Mormon religious affiliates set about making camp in preparation for the longer trek west – on foot. Here, they fashioned up handcarts out of native woods that would enable them to haul supplies and cover about 15 miles per day on their eventual path to Salt Lake City.
The park offers some history on their campsite and the handcarts they built, along with some excellent hiking and biking trails. Visit eastern Iowa and take in some of Iowa’s grand history at the Mormon Handcart Brigade Site while you’re at it. Travel in from nearby Coralville and enjoy your visit to eastern Iowa.
Squirrel Cage Jail
Serving as the Pottawattamie County Jail for 84 years, Squirrel Cage Jail is now a member of the National Register of Historic Places. This historic jail was built in 1885 and used until 1969 and then acquired by the Council Bluffs Park Board a few short years later so that it could be preserved as a piece of city and county history.
Located in Council Bluffs, Iowa, the idea and patent for the jail came from William H. Brown and Benjamin F. Haugh of Indiana, which is where one of the other unique jails is located. The jail in Council Bluffs has been preserved and converted into a museum as a unique piece of history. Tours of the facility are available daily, with the exception of Mondays.
Located in Mason City’s historic district, the Frank Lloyd Wright Stockman House joins its neighbors as an interactive display of the city’s integral history. Mason City features a number of Prairie School architectural homes, but this is the only home designed by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
The restored home, first constructed in 1908, features original arts and crafts and décor representative of its period in time. History buffs, be sure to embark on a Stockman House tour given throughout the year. You'll want to make plans to explore the Stockman House on your next trek through north-central Iowa – the drive in from nearby Clear Lake is scenic.
Ushers Ferry Historic Village
The Ushers Ferry Historic Village is home to 20 historic buildings on 10 acres of land in Seminole Valley Park. This beautiful village, located in Cedar Rapids, depicts life in rural Iowa between 1890 and 1910. The village's interactive experiences offer great learning opportunities for school groups, on one of the six available tours.
Schedule your visit during one of the special events held throughout the year or enjoy strolling the grounds, while listening to an audio tour. The Ushers Ferry Historic Village grounds are an excellent location for weddings, picnics, parties, and bonfires.
The Amana Colonies are a collection of seven villages spread across 40 square miles of eastern Iowa near Coralville. German settlers, who first settled in New York State but relocated to Iowa in 1856, built and maintained the villages in the 1800s to the early 1900s.
The beautiful buildings remain in the Amana Colonies becoming a National Historic Landmark in 1965. Filled with craft shops, restaurants, a brewery, and more, the Amana Colonies are a great place to spend an afternoon.
Big Bopper Crash Site
Located just five miles north of Clear Lake, the fateful plane crash site that became known worldwide as “The Day the Music Died” is open to the public as memorial to the famous musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper.
Although the site is open to the public, it’s also located on private property, so visiting hours can fluctuate and guests are asked to respect the owners’ rights. Check out the large, stainless steel guitar and “Buddy-styled” black-rimmed glasses constructed as a memorial. Visit the rock 'n' roll memorial on your next visit to central Iowa.
History buffs should schedule a trip to Cedar Rapids during their Iowa travels, and make the Brucemore Mansion the first stop. This incredible, historic Queen Anne-style home was built between 1884 and 1886 by Caroline Sinclair on 26 acres of land.
Three families lived in the mansion until 1981, when it was given to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The mansion, sometimes referred as the T.M. Sinclair Mansion, remains the only National Trust Historic Site in the state.
The mansion grounds include a pond, formal gardens, an orchard, a children's garden, woodland and a night garden. This three-story home features 21 rooms, five chimneys, turrets and a steep gabled roof. Enjoy a guided tour of this incredible mansion, and stop by the Brucemore Visitor Center to learn more about its history. "The Families of Brucemore" exhibit features a model of the mansion, photographs, and home movies.
Buffalo Bill Cody Homestead
Built in 1847, the Buffalo Bill Cody Homestead was constructed by Isaac Cody, the father of legendary Wild West Show promoter, Buffalo Bill. The home is located north of Davenport in the Wapsipinicon River Valley.
Tour the restored limestone farmhouse to see the beautiful walnut floors and furnishings. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the home overlooks a scenic prairie hillside where the buffalo roam.
The Cody family lived in this rural Iowa home while it was being built. While traveling in eastern Iowa, check out the birthplace of Buffalo Bill Cody & Museum in LeClaire, a short distance from the Cody Homestead.
Cannonball 457 Historic Train
Visit Mason City and be sure to check out the last remaining Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway steam powered locomotive. The “Cannonball,” attracts visitors with its restored, original appearance and historical significance. Drive in from nearby Clear Lake.
Mark your calendars: visiting hours are May through October, Saturdays and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Be sure to take in some of the regional history during your visit to central Iowa.
Meredith Willson Boyhood Home
Now a restored historical site, the Meredith Willson Boyhood Home was the birthplace of famous Mason City native and songwriter, Meredith Willson. Guests can take tours of the home and view some its original décor while taking in some of the regions prestigious history.
Visiting hours at the Meredith Willson Boyhood Home are Tuesday through Sunday, 1 p.m.-5 p.m. and closed on holidays. Make sure you visit and explore the Meredith Home on your next visit to central Iowa – it's a short drive from nearby Clear Lake.