10 Unique Iowa Roadside Attractions
We’re about halfway through with summer, so there’s still plenty of time to take a road trip. And you won’t have to go too far to find some interesting sights.
The website Atlas Obscura calls itself “the definitive map of the world’s most extraordinary sights” and has cataloged more than 11,000 magnificent, quirky and historic locations throughout the globe. Here are some of the notable attractions in Iowa, each with its own bit of history:
Elwood stands 15 feet tall from the soles of his boots to the tip of his telltale pointy hat. This jovial sentry is one of the many wonderful sights within Iowa State University’s Reiman Gardens.
Brandon- Iowa’s Largest Frying Pan
Built to promote the town’s “Cowboy Breakfast” fundraisers, this 15-foot-tall skillet is reportedly big enough for 528 eggs or 88 pounds of bacon. Let’s eat!
Clear Lake- The “Day The Music Died” Memorial
This memorial commemorates the events of February 3rd, 1959. Musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens & The Big Bopper were killed in a plane crash following a concert at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake. A series of monuments mark the site, including a giant pair of Buddy Holly’s signature shades as well as the guitar and platinum records pictured below.
Columbus Junction- Lover’s Leap Swinging Bridge
This bridge, originally built in the 1880s, was designed to connect two streets that were separated by a ravine. There are several local legends associated with the name “Lover’s Leap,” but the most often-told tale is of a lovesick Indian maiden who threw herself to the bottom to end her grief.
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Dubuque- Fenelon Place Elevator
A well-to-do Dubuque businessman, J.K. Graves, actually built this for his own private use in 1882. But it soon garnered interest from locals, so he began charging 5¢ per ride soon thereafter. The price actually stayed the same until the 1960s, when it was raised to an astonishing TEN CENTS. The elevator is still operational today, and a round-trip fare will still only set you back $3.
Dyersville- National Farm Toy Museum
Did you know that Dyersville is home to three farm toy companies? The Ertl Company began in the 1940s, and now manufacturers Scale Model Toys and SpecCast Collectibles, have also sprung up in Dyersville. So it’s only fitting that this tiny town west of Dubuque is home to an extensive collection of detailed replica farming equipment, showcasing the history of American agriculture. And no trip to Dyersville would be complete without also visiting the Field of Dreams movie site.
Eldon- American Gothic House
The home forever immortalized in Grant Wood’s iconic 1930 painting is located in Wapello County in southeast Iowa. The house has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 and was donated to the Iowa State Historical Society in 1991.
Gladbrook- Matchstick Marvels Museum
Artist Pat Acton has been painstakingly creating these matchstick models with precision for decades. Some of the “marvels” on display include Star Wars‘ Millennium Falcon (pictured), an Apache helicopter, and the U.S. Capitol. K98.5 actually went on location to visit Matchstick Marvels last summer.
Riverside- James T. Kirk Future Birthplace
Star Trek fans know the story. Captain Kirk, played by William Shatner, was born in Riverside–just south of Iowa City–on March 22, 2228. The annual Trek Fest is held there to honor Shatner’s legendary character.
Waterloo- Sans Souci Island
Once home to the Sans Souci Hotel and Waterloo’s first golf course, the island was ravaged by the flood of 2008. Sans Souci Island can be traversed on foot but there are very few trails and is now mostly isolated. The city of Waterloo has made a concerted effort over the years to restore the island.
Hopefully these places inspire you to go off the beaten path as you hit the road this summer. Check out the full map from Atlas Obscura here. Happy trails!