Here are a few hidden gems in Iowa that even long-time residents may not be aware of. Iowa has a rich history, and even smaller towns like to celebrate the things about them that are unique and interesting.
1. Blanche Barrow (Bonnie and Clyde's official gang photographer) was arrested in 1933 in Dexter, Iowa.
On July 24, 1933, the Bonnie and Clyde gang was ambushed in a park near Dexter, Iowa. Every member of the gang was wounded, some died. Bonnie and Clyde were hurt badly, but continued their outlaw ways until their capture 10 months later in Louisiana. The Dexter Museum has a famous photo of "wailing Blanche" and a radiator cap from one of gang's stolen cars. They also have a map on display that shows the sites of all of Bonnie and Clyde's shootouts.
This is the famous, "wailing Blanche" photo on display in Dexter. Her pants caused quite a stir among decent folk in 1933.
2. One of the world's oldest working carousels is in Story City.
Built in 1913, Story City's amazing antique carousel is housed in a special structure located in North Park along the Skunk River. It was fully restored in 1980 at The Country Shop in Roland, Iowa. In June of 1982, it was put back into service.
The Story City Carousel is open from Memorial Day until August 15th Mondays and Tuesdays from noon until 6pm and Wednesday through Sunday from noon until 8pm.
3. The Eskimo Pie was invented by Christian Kent Nelson in Onawa.
Inspired by the problem of choosing between ice cream and candy, The Eskimo Pie was Christian Kent Nelson's idea to combine the both to create dessert perfection. In July of 1921, he partnered with Russell Stover to mass-produce and market his invention. By 1922, they were consistently selling one million Eskimo Pies each day.
Rosedale Dairy, the now abandoned manufacturer of Eskimo Pies, is located in Fort Dodge, Iowa. Some of the original equipment used to make Eskimo Pies is on display in the Monona County Historical Museum in Onawa, Iowa.
4. The first train robbery in the world happened near Adair on July 21, 1873.
Jesse James and his gang attempted to relieve the Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific Railroad company of $75,000 in gold they were transporting from the Cheyenne region. They sabotaged the railroad by prying off a fish-plate connecting two rails and pulling out the spikes on a curved section of the railroad track near the Turkey Creek bridge. The train crashed into a ditch, killing engineer John Rafferty and fireman Dennis Foley.
The robbers were somewhat successful, but disappointed. They found only $2,000 in currency and no gold. The shipment had been delayed. They robbed the passengers and ended up with a total of $3,000. You can visit this historical location at 1156 Anita-Adair Road just one and a half miles west of Adair.
5. The famous American Gothic house is in Eldon.
American Gothic, one of the most recognized paintings in the world, was inspired by this home in Eldon. Grant Wood, the artist, used his sister Nan and his dentist, Dr. B.H. McKeeby as models.
You can get the whole story by visiting the house and the American Gothic House Center in Eldon at 300 American Gothic Street. They are open Tuesday through Saturday from 10am until 5pm and Sunday through Monday from 1pm until 4pm. Tours of the house itself are available on the second Saturday of each month April through October from 10am until 4pm.
6. There's an exposed 375-million-year-old ocean floor in Iowa City.
During the flood of 1993, the emergency spillway overflowed and washed away millions of years of soil, many large trees, and part of the road. When the high waters receded, a 375-million-year-old fossilized Devonian ocean floor was exposed. Start walking at the entry plaza to find the gorge with thousands of fossils exposed.
Visitors may find brachiopods, corals, and crinoid fossils at this site. Devonian age fossils are nearly 200 million years older than dinosaurs. Once a tropical marine environment, Iowa sat south of the equator and was covered by shallow, warm, seawater.
7. Visiting the Villages of Van Buren is a great way to spend a long weekend.
Southeast Iowa has a winning tourism destination that many Iowans are unaware of. The Villages of Van Buren offer a relaxing break from it all. There are no fast food restaurants or stop lights in the county. There are 11 villages with lodging, outdoor recreation, shopping, and historical sites.
The Villages of Van Buren were voted one of the "1,000 Places to See Before You Die." The Mason House Inn is famously haunted, the fudge is out-of-this-world, and the people are just as welcoming and kind as you'd expect.
8. The shortest and steepest railroad in the world is in Dubuque.
The ride may be short, but it's thrilling. The view of scenic Dubuque from the top will take your breath away. Fenelon Place Elevator Car is the self-proclaimed shortest and steepest railroad in the world. It's 296 feet long and takes passengers 189 feet in the air from Fourth Street to Fenelon Place for views of the Mississippi River and three states.
This historic railroad runs April 1 through November 30. Round-trip fare is $3.00. It was built in 1882 by J.K. Graves in order to save him the half-hour horse and buggy round trip that was taking up too much of his lunch break. The original elevator, for private use only, blew up in 1884. After rebuilding it, Mr. Graves opened it to the public and charged a $.05 fare per ride.
9. There's a giant lavender farm in Loess Hills.
LavenderStock was first held in 2015. This festival happens in mid-July at the height of the lavender bloom. This 13-acre farm offers tours, events, and house-made lavender products like balm and lotion.
You'll find the Loess Hills Lavender Farm at 2278 Loess Hills Trail in Missouri Valley, Iowa. They are open May through October Thursdays through Saturdays from 11am until 5pm and Sundays from 1pm until 5pm. You'll see plenty of purple flags and signs to help you find your way.
What do you think of Iowa’s little secrets? Will you visit any of these sites and museums? Is there anything we missed?