Retro Roadtrip: Iowa

Des Moines
Salisbury House is a 42-room mansion nestled on 10 acres of woods in the Sherman Hills Historic District. Modeled after the King’s House in Salisbury, England, this castle was built between 1923 and 1928 by cosmetics manufacturer Carl Weeks and his wife, Edith. While construction was in progress, the couple frequently toured Europe seeking architectural pieces and art objects from ancient English castles. Visitors today can see authentic 16th-century English oak, English flint work, and rafters that date back to the time of Shakespeare. The house, which has been featured on numerous television programs, is filled with furnishings, decorative arts, rare books and tapestries from the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries.

The Hoyt Sherman Place is a grand manor home built in 1877 by businessman Hoyt Sherman. Now a museum and performing arts center, the original house and gallery display an impressive collection of 19th- and 20th-century paintings plus antique glassware, china and silver. The State Historical Museum contains exhibits showcasing Iowa’s Native-American heritage, white settlements and the state’s natural history. A special exhibit, Kid Stuff: Great Toys From Our Childhood, will be on display through Jan. 7.

Pella was settled in 1847 by Henry Peter Scholte and his religious followers from Holland. The town, which retains much of its Dutch heritage, is now best known as home to Pella Corp., a major manufacturer of windows. Built around 1850, the Scholte House is the oldest structure in town. It contains church and family memorabilia. Twenty-two buildings at the Pella Historical Village preserve Pella’s history and sturdy Dutch traditions. Don’t miss the 124-foot Vermeer Windmill, built in the 1850s; and the boyhood home of Wyatt Earp. These grounds are noted for their tulip gardens, which blossom with vibrant color every spring.

Amana Colonies

The early settlers of the Amanas left Germany in 1842 for religious reasons and settled near Buffalo, N.Y. In 1855, the “Community of True Inspiration” formed its first village along the Iowa River. Eventually, 26,000 acres were purchased, and six more villages settled around Amana.

Their communal system was essentially unchanged for 89 years, making it one of the longest-lasting communal societies in the world. All land and buildings were owned by the community; families were assigned living quarters, and every adult worked at assigned tasks. In 1932 the members voted to end the communal way of life. They created the Amana Church Society to direct matters of their faith, and the Amana Society Inc. to oversee their businesses and farming operations. Today visitors can explore a variety of historic sites at this popular eastern Iowa attraction.

The Museum of Amana History is a three-building complex used to interpret life in the Amana Colonies. They are a brick communal kitchen built in 1864, a circa-1870 school, and a woodshed/washhouse. Other historic attractions include Roger’s Anvil/Industrial Machine Shop Museum, Communal Kitchen and Coopershop Museum and West Amana barns. There are also hundreds of specialty shops and restaurants throughout the seven communities.

The Living History Farm is a 550-acre historical site where authentically costumed interpreters demonstrate daily living in a 19th-century Iowa farm community. Visitors travel at their own pace through five historical time periods spanning three centuries. The circa-1700 Ioway Indian Farm shows how Iowa’s first farmers worked the rich black soil. See the interior of a farm family’s log cabin at the circa-1850 Pioneer Farm where oxen supplied most of the power. See a school, general store, blacksmith shop, pottery maker’s shop and more in the replica 1875 town of Walnut Hill. At the circa-1900 farm, draft horses supplied the power for the field work, while the family lived in a white frame farmhouse. The Henry A. Wallace Exhibit Center depicts the history of the 20th century. Sites are connected by walking trails and tractor-drawn carts. A variety of special events takes place throughout the year. Currently, holiday teas are offered on selected weeknights in November and December. An historic dinner program, complete with hearty farm-style meal and lively historic program, is available through March 18, 2007.

The National Farm Toy Museum is home to about 30,000 farm toys and collectibles. See the first Ertl tractor and floor-to-ceiling displays that also include construction equipment, fire engines, trucks and banks. A 91-year-old local family farm with an easily recognized white farmhouse was the site where Academy Award-nominee Field of Dreams was filmed in 1989. Open from April through November, it’s a great place to bring your own ball, bat and glove for a quick game of baseball, run the bases, or sit in the bleachers and experience your own dreams.


This southwestern community is a must-see for movie buffs. Marion Michael Morrison, later known as John Wayne, was born here in 1907. The four-room John Wayne Birthplace Home has been restored to its 1907 appearance with authentic furnishings and memorabilia such as the eyepatch Wayne worn in True Grit. A wide selection of John Wayne-related items are available online through the home’s Web site, and all proceeds help support its upkeep. Get a free map from Madison County Chamber of Commerce so you can locate the six covered bridges made famous in the 1992 best selling novel The Bridges of Madison County, which later became a movie starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood. Also in this area, the Madison County Historical Society maintains an extensive museum with 14 outbuildings that are open from May to October.