When you look back in history, many times you don’t remember how often really big things happen in really small towns. Here in Iowa, small town history has so much to offer, and such a big story to tell. From the tragic plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, to Jesse James robbing the first train in the West, here are 14 times history was made in small town Iowa.
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:
1. Clear Lake: The Day The Music Died.
After a concert at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake on February 3, 1959, Buddy Holly's plane crashed into a field near Clear Lake, killing him and everyone aboard. That day will forever be referred to as the "Day the Music Died."
2. Winterset: The birthplace of John Wayne.
On May 26, 1907, a legend was born in the tiny town of Winterset, Iowa. John Wayne, born Marion Robert Morrison, got his beginnings here before moving on to become one of the most iconic Western film stars of all time.
3. West Branch: The birthplace of Herbert Hoover.
The 31st president of the United States got his humble beginnings in the tiny town of West Branch, Iowa, where he was born in August of 1874.
4. Stuart: Bonnie and Clyde robbed First National Bank.
On April 16, 1934 (only a month after another bank in Iowa was robbed by John Dillinger), infamous crime couple Bonnie and Clyde robbed the First National Bank in Stuart, Iowa.
5. Dexter: The Bonnie and Clyde shootout.
After camping out nearby, Bonnie and Clyde were ambushed by a posse from the nearby town of Dexter on July 24, 1933. The group then got into a shootout with the posse, which left all of Bonnie and Clyde's gang wounded, but none dead.
6. Adair: Jesse James robbed the first train in the West.
On July 21, 1873, the notorious Jesse James and his gang robbed the first train in the West, in Adair, Iowa.
7. Newton: Rocky Marciano killed in a plane crash.
Rocky, the inspiration for "Rocky Balboa," was an undefeated professional boxer and World Heavyweight Champion from 1952 to 1956. On August 31, 1969, the eve of his 46th birthday, Rocky was flying in a private plane outside of Newton. There was some bad weather, and the pilot tried to set the plane down in a field, but hit a tree, killing everyone on board.
8. Eldon: Grant Wood makes history at the American Gothic house.
Grant Wood, one of the most well-known artists of our time, was from none other than Anamosa, Iowa. His most famous work,"American Gothic" featured the house shown above, forever making it an iconic image for people across the world.
9. Riverside: The future birthplace of Captain Kirk.
In March of 2228, our favorite Star Trek character, Captain Kirk, will be born in Riverside, Iowa. Iowa isn't just making history, we're making the future, too.
10. West Bend: The Eighth Wonder of the World was built.
The Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend is considered the Eighth Wonder of the World. The Grotto is a religious shrine that was painstakingly created by a priest back in 1912, in a construction that lasted 42 years. It's the largest grotto in the world, and it's also the largest collection of gemstones in one place.
11. Villisca: One of the most gruesome unsolved murders occurred here.
In 1912, the town of Villisca became notorious when an entire family was murdered in their sleep by an unknown assailant with an ax. The house is rumored to be haunted by the ghosts of the murdered family, and the site attracts many people to this day.
12. Spirit Lake: The Spirit Lake massacre.
In March of 1857, during a particularly harsh winter, a settlement at Spirit Lake was attacked by a Wahpekute band of Santee Sioux indians. The Sioux killed 35-40 settlers and took three women hostage, bringing them north. Eventually, one of the hostages, Abbie Gardner, was ransomed back and opened up her family's home (shown above) as a museum to tell the story of the Spirit Lake Massacre. It was the last Native American attack on settlers in Iowa.
13. Manson: The Manson Impact.
The Manson Crater near Manson was originally thought to have been the asteroid impact that caused the dinosaur extinction. The crater was later found to have hit 74 million years ago, before the extinction. The crater is the largest in the country.
14. Estherville: The Estherville Meteorite.
Estherville wasn't technically hit, but the 455 lb. meteorite landed just five miles from the area, and left a 15 ft. hole in the ground. Parts of the meteorite are now on display at the Smithsonian.
What are some more small towns in Iowa where huge things happened? Share your thoughts with us!