Iowa’s past is one rich with history, and even now, you can visit these 10 historic cities to get a little glimpse of how life was back in the day. These 10 cities are some of the oldest in the state, and a few are even older than the state itself!
We’re aware that these uncertain times are limiting many aspects of life as we all practice social and physical distancing. While we’re continuing to feature destinations that make our state wonderful, we don’t expect or encourage you to go check them out immediately. We believe that supporting local attractions is important now more than ever and we hope our articles inspire your future adventures! And on that note, please nominate your favorite local business that could use some love right now:
Incorporated in 1833, Dubuque is Iowa's oldest city, and one of the first settlements west of the Mississippi. The first settler, Julien Dubuque, arrived in 1785. You can see evidence of the past in everything from the architecture to the monuments, like the Julien Dubuque Monument, where Dubuque's body is buried.
Founded in 1833, Burlington is one of the oldest cities in Iowa. Back in the steamboat era, Burlington was a bustling river port and a central city to the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad. Some historical sites to see are the Hawkeye Log Cabin Museum, Phelps Museum, and the Heritage Hill Historic District.
Incorporated in 1839, Davenport has a past older than the state itself. Davenport is another river town in the east, which was a key location for settlers. Most of the oldest cities in Iowa are in the eastern part of the state, because of their proximity to the Mississippi River, which was a huge trading route. Also because the settlers who came from the crowded eastern part of the country moved slowly west, so it took a while for them to start settling in other parts of the state. One particular place of interest to see is the Claim House, which is the oldest building in Davenport, built by George Davenport to protect his claim on the land.
4. Iowa City
Created in 1839, Iowa City was built on the request of Governor Robert Lucas to house the new capital building and replace Burlington as the capital city. While in Iowa City, some historic points of interest to see would be the Old Capital Building or the Plum Grove Historic Site.
Incorporated in 1839, Muscatine began as a trading post founded by representatives of Colonel George Davenport, the namesake of the city of Davenport. Muscatine, like other river towns, was built because of its key location on the river, which offered good trade opportunities. Some places to see are the Alexander Clark House and the Pine Creek Gristmill.
Incorporated in 1847, Keokuk was a key location for settlers; situated between the Des Moines and Mississippi Rivers, the area had access to a large trading area. While you're there, check out the historic lock and dam, or the Miller House Museum, which is an old house built by a supreme court justice who was appointed by Honest Abe Lincoln himself.
7. Cedar Rapids
Incorporated in 1849, Cedar Rapids was named after the many Cedar trees on the banks on the Cedar River at the site. Take a step into the past by visiting the Bohemian Commercial Historic District, or take a step into a different culture by visiting the Czech Village.
8. Des Moines
Incorporated in 1851, Des Moines was originally known as Fort Des Moines, named after the Des Moines River. Des Moines has a vast history, even prehistory that goes back 7,000 years. Some interesting things you can still see here are the Big Creek Schoolhouse and St. Paul's Episcopal Church, among many others.
9. Council Bluffs
Although it was incorporated in 1853, Council Bluff's history goes all the way back to Lewis and Clark. The city was named for an 1804 meeting of the Lewis and Clark Expedition with the Otoe tribe, which actually took place 20 miles to the north. While you're there, check out the 100 Block of West Broadway Historic District, and some of the numerous historic houses in the city.
10. The Amana Colonies
The Amana Colony stems from a religious movement started in Germany in 1714 by a group of people dissatisfied with the dogmatism of the Lutheran church. The group later moved to America and settled in Iowa in 1854. The new colony was originally to be named Bleibetreu, German for "remain faithful," but the founders settled on Amana, a Biblical name with similar meaning. Pretty much everything in Amana is historic and preserved, so just walking around town is like being in the past, or in a village in Germany.
We Iowans are lucky to have such well preserved history, and these historic towns are definitely worth the trip to see!