Scattered throughout the state, eight sites owned by the State Historical Society of Iowa give travelers an extraordinarily accurate look at life in Iowa during years past.
From American Indian history at sites including Blood Run and the Toolesboro Mounds, to a peek into the lives of former governors at Plum Grove and Montauk, these attractions give visitors an interesting dose of Iowa history.
American Gothic House, Eldon
Named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, this understated house earned fame as the backdrop to Grant Wood's famous painting, "American Gothic." Carl E. Smith donated the house to the State Historical Society in 1991. A year later the Historical Society renovated the house, maintaining its 1930 appearance. The house is not open to the public, but visitors are encouraged to pose for a photograph in front of it.
Blood Run, Rock Rapids
A legendary encampment where American Indians once gathered for trade and ceremonial activities, some 5,000 people lived at Blood Run from about 1700 to 1725 A.D., forming what was probably the largest American Indian community in the upper Midwest. An important hub of trade, Blood Run also served as a center for social and religious activities, as indicated by the burial mounds and other earthworks built here. An 1883 survey documented about 276 mounds. Today, only 76 mounds remain.
Matthew Edel Blacksmith Shop, Haverhill
At the time of his death in 1940, Matthew Edel and his son, Louis, operated the Edel blacksmith shop and an automobile repair shop. The shop survived World War II scrap metal drives, and thanks to the watchful people of Haverhill, the shop was never ransacked or vandalized when it sat unattended. The shop's relatively untouched condition is one reason it joined the National Register of Historic Places in 1983 and became a state-owned historic site in 1986. Unlike most blacksmith shops still surviving in Iowa, the Edel Blacksmith Shop is not a reconstruction.
Abbie Gardner Cabin, Arnolds Park
Known as one of the sites of the 1857 "Spirit Lake Massacre," the Gardner Cabin survives as a reminder of one of Iowa's tragic frontier events. Here visitors can learn the stories of Abbie Gardner and the Dakota leader, Inkpaduta. In 1856 Inkpaduta's band ravaged the area, killing many settlers and taking four women hostage, including Abbie Gardner, who was eventually released. Abbie returned to Arnolds Park in 1891 and purchased the cabin, operating it as one of Iowa's first tourist attractions. Abbie died in 1921, leaving the cabin to her son and daughter-in-law. The State Historical Society gained possession of the historic cabin in 1974 when it was restored to resemble its original 1856 appearance.
Plum Grove, Iowa City
The home of Iowa's first territorial governor, Robert Lucas, Plum Grove is a small, two-story, red-brick home situated on four quiet, wooded acres. Lucas and his wife, Friendly, lived in the house from 1844 to 1853. Plum Grove has seven main rooms - four downstairs and three upstairs, plus an attached one-story kitchen. The home, with its modest furnishings, has been restored to appear as it was when the Lucases lived there.
Journey into the past at the home of Iowa's 12th governor, William Larrabee. Enjoy a guided tour to see and hear how the Larrabee family furnished and maintained this 1874 vintage brick and natural limestone mansion for more than 100 years. All of the furnishings are original to the house. The State Historical Society of Iowa owns and preserves Montauk, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is designated as a State Preserve.
Toolesboro Mounds, Wapello
The Toolesboro site consists of seven burial mounds on a bluff overlooking the Iowa River. A local Hopewell group constructed the mounds between 100 B.C. and 200 A.D. At one time, there may have been as many as 12 mounds, but subsequent settlement and excavation have reduced that number. The mound known as Mound 2 is the largest of the remaining mounds, measuring 100 feet in diameter and 8 feet in height. This mound was possibly the largest Hopewell mound in Iowa.
The family of George H. Mosier donated the land containing the mounds to the state of Iowa in 1963. Since then, additional adjoining plots have been purchased to make a state preserve. In 1966, the Toolesboro mounds were designated as a National Historic Landmark. An Educational Center and museum was constructed in 1969. Since the site became a National Historic Landmark, the State Historical Society of Iowa has managed and maintained the mounds and the museum.
Western Historic Trails Center, Council Bluffs
Council Bluffs was the starting part for several important westward journeys. The Western Historic Trails Center is dedicated to the commemoration, preservation and education of the Lewis & Clark, Mormon, California and Oregon trails, each of which traveled through Council Bluffs. Here, state-of-the-art exhibits interpret life along the trails. Travelers who would like to follow the footsteps of the intrepid discovers can do some exploring of their own on modern hiking and biking trails that depart form the Center and follow the Missouri River. The facility is also an official Iowa Welcome Center.
To learn more on the sites, visit www.traveliowa.com on the world wide web. Or call 800-345-IOWA and request a free Iowa travel packet.
Shawna Lode is an information specialist with the Iowa Division of Tourism, and a frequent contributor to the Pilot-Tribune.