Sunday, June 18, 2017

Land Between Tour

Photo by Robbie Nesmith
Four years ago, my son Robbie enrolled at Luther College, which meant our family has traveled back and forth along the 108-mile route between Cedar Rapids and Decorah. Along the way we repeatedly passed some intriguing signs, and places we always meant to stop but never did. Robbie graduated this spring...

...and is headed shortly to his new life in Seattle, so it came to be now or never for some of these landmarks. Last week "now" occurred.

Em's Coffee Co., Independence (pop 5966). Route 150 takes you right through downtown Independence. Em's is located on the north side of 1st Street.

We parked on the south side and crossed--with considerable difficulty (ADC is 11000, so it's easy to see Em's from 150 but not so easy to stop). The shop is bright and cheerful.

The coffee hit the spot, and we enjoyed chatting with the energetic mother-daughter team running the place. The meeting room in the back ("The Newsroom") gives it definite third place potential. When it's too late in the afternoon for coffee they also sell ice cream. For more on Em's, see this 2012 article by Steve Gravelle.

Tim's New and Unusual, Hazelton (pop 823). Nearly every trip to and from Decorah we've been greeted by a large pink ape. (This is even true in snowstorms... is there an APSCA division for stuffed animals?)

We were glad to stop and make its acquaintance.
Photo by Robbie Nesmith
Down the street is the Hazelton School Museum, built in 1913-14 and open by appointment (which we didn't have).

Barrel Drive In, West Union (pop 2486). At Em's they had invited us to stay for lunch, but we knew where we were headed.

Near the crossroads with U.S. 18 you can get food on a tray attached to your car window...
Photo by Robbie Nesmith
...and your root beer in a frosty glass mug.

I had the house specialty, the Hi-Boy, a double burger with dressing. Robbie had grilled chicken and a root beer float. Great road food. Across the road are a Hardee's and a Subway... how do those even stay in business when there's the Barrel?

Shrimptastic, Fayette (pop 1491). One of Iowa's two shrimp farms.
Photo by Robbie Nesmith
We stopped on a Thursday, and they'd already sold out for the week! Pre-order quickly, I guess.

Goeken Park, near Eldorado (unincorporated). The sign promised a "scenic overlook" and it didn't disappoint, though the view of the picturesque burg on the Turkey River is partly obscured by trees.

The turnoff is right at the top of a ridge, and is easy to miss. The park also contains camping hookups, a playground for the little ones with new equipment, and a large flat area the purpose of which we were unable to determine.

St. Antony of Padua, near Festina (unincorporated, pronounced with a long "i"). Two miles off the highway, well sign-posted, this is billed as the "world's smallest church," which claim it is not easy to verify.

Here's an attempted side view, showing two of the four stained glass windows:

Inside, the pews would seat about eight comfortably (four pews, two per pew):

The chapel was erected in 1849 by a pioneer family, whose descendants still manage it--very well, I'd say, as there wasn't a blade of grass out of place. There are family graves, a statue of Our Lady of Seven Dolores...

...and a pioneer cabin...

...containing this cabinet...
...which served as one of the earliest post offices in Winneshiek County.

Here's its entry on Roadside America.

Bily Clock Museum, Spillville (pop 367). The Bilys (their name rhymes with "really") were brothers who farmed near here through most of the 20th century. (They died in 1964 and 1965, respectively.) Their hobby was making clocks, and they took it seriously--from ordering the finest wood and mechanisms to intricately carving projects that took several years each.
The Apostles Clock
They never sold a clock, though Henry Ford was said to have offered them a million dollars for one of them. They nearly burned them all while grieving for their devoted sister, who died suddenly in 1946, but fortunately were talked out of doing that and into leaving the clocks to the town of Spillville.

The museum is located in a house where Antonin Dvorak spent a very pleasant summer in 1893.

 There's a lot of his memorabilia...

...as well as an old barn containing artifacts pertinent to my interests in politics...
Voting machine
...and policy.

Here's their entry on Roadside America.

Winneshiek County Freedom Rock, Calmar (pop 978). A couple blocks west of U.S. 52 in this "cross-roads of northeast Iowa" is a memorial to soldiers, first responders, pioneers and Native Americans who helped make the country what it is today.
Photo by Robbie Nesmith
We were back in Cedar Rapids about eight hours after we set out, our curiosity somewhat satisfied but realizing we'd barely scratched the surface of the towns in the "land between."

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