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Midwest antiquing trip restores the soul

Susan Mullikin, a member of Antique Trader's Ask the Experts panel, reports on a recent antiquing trip through various areas of the Midwest, in a special Antiquing on the Road column.

By Susan Mullikin

If you are off on a refreshing road trip this spring antiquing in the Midwest, some interesting

Vintage signs at West End Architectural Salvage

Vintage road signs and advertising signs fill one section of the third-floor of the four-story West End Architectural Salvage in Des Moines, Iowa. The store and crew are also the focus of a show with the same name, on the DIY Network. Photo courtesy West End Architectural Salvage (

destinations are a must. Out on the road, one’s senses come alive with the hunt and anticipation of what’s around the corner and at each and every antique shop that happens to be on the map. All one needs is some slow-paced time to spend away, a few interesting destinations to head to and a mentally that’s it’s fun to look, too, because it’s impossible to purchase everything.

The various shops one encounters these days are the antique mall, the single-owner shop, the 1950s retro/vintage shop, the reclaimed architectural salvage shop and the (must stop at) book shop.

Follow along on a fun 12-day road trip covering four states in the Midwest – Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska – to find out what’s hot in the Midwest antique world, some interesting tourist tidbits and some tasty eating spots.

A favorite destination of many, Galena, Illinois, has much to offer and is known for antiquing and its rich history – home to Ulysses S. Grant and eight other Civil War generals. Galena is a town famous for early, grand red brick homes, many on steep hills overlooking the winding Main Street with all its lovely shops and restaurants. A myriad of steps look up from Main Street to the streets above, allowing one in good shape to act as “Rocky” and get in some good exercise. Many of the 25 antique shops that once lined the quaint downtown are unfortunately gone, though they have been replaced with other interesting shops and restaurants. A Peace of the Past, an antique shop with two locations along Main Street, offers an interesting array of many old books, along with select antique pieces from older toys, early glassware and some advertising.

Outside of Galena, along U.S. 20, two antique malls are relatively new: The Galena Antique Mall and the Elizabeth Grand Antique Co. A famous attraction, and great for supper, was the old DeSoto Hotel, now celebrating its 160th anniversary with its very long list of famous people who stayed there and it’s interesting past (its top two floors were removed in 1880). One must-do event when staying in Galena is to go on a ghost tour at night. Most say it’s amazing, especially the “old city cemetery.”

A small jog off the beaten path along one’s quest for antique shopping is definitely to visit Cuba City, Wisconsin. Just 11 miles from Galena, Cuba City (with the nickname “The City of Presidents”) now offers three antique malls and one architectural salvage shop. A customer will find a wide array of

Second Chance Antiques shoes and handbags

Vintage clothing and accessories, like this pair of sparkling silver heels and handbag, are among the items at Second Chance Antiques. Photo courtesy Second Chance Antiques(

antiques, from vintage clothing, advertising and a great selection of Midwest crocks to glassware toys, and a great selection of furniture. Antiques Unlimited has on display in its front window some great large Red Wing crocks – $150 and up. Cuba City is a great stop for treasure hunting.

Just 110 miles from from Galena, is an interesting antique destination, as well as a community – the Amana Colonies in Iowa. The Colonies showcase a very simplistic, though not to be confused with the Amish. Germans, when faced with persecution and economic depression in Germany in 1855, left and slowly settled in Iowa. Today, Amana consists of Amana, West Amana, High Amana, Middle Amana and East Amana and features many quaint shops, family-style German restaurants and, of course, antique shops. Get ready to see some great, wonderful early antiques. Amana Colonies antiques, in particular, has some wonderful early antiques, from fantastic quilts, jacquard woven cover lets, beaded pieces, a wide array of early catalogs, paper goods arranged in a large early file cabinet to some wonderful antique scientific instruments. The Amana Colonies is a stop not to be missed on your Midwest route of antiquing.

Des Moines, Iowa, just 108 miles from the Amana Colonies with its gleaming state capital, is an absolute destination. For the architectural guru, West End Architectural Salvage is worth an afternoon of your time. As its website mentions, it is an amusement park of fun, with its 50,000 sq.-ft. of reclaimed merchandise. Plus. if you’re a fan of The Bachelor TV show, you might remember West End Architectural Salavge being featured on the show.Get ready to spend at least $85 for an old remnant of an old-time tin ceiling to take home. This place is quite the shop, with four floors in an old warehouse of wonderful old architectural salvage to explore.

Of course, the East Village of Des Moines offers much. A vintage clothing shop offers yarn, knitting classes and resides as a place where 1980s vintage clothing is hot. Also check out Porch Light, where 1950s is hot, from juice glasses to enamel pans to ’50s linen tablecloths. Zombie Burgers is amazing for supper – just plan that four people can comfortably share one order of french fries.

Omaha, Nebraska, our furthest destination on our antique adventure, was 134 miles from Des Moines. Antique shopping was at its best in the Old Market area of Omaha, with great restaurants and a variety of antique shops. If you’re into vintage clothing, don’t miss Second Chance Antiques, the basement of their shop overflows with vintage, mostly 1940s, ’50s and beyond. At night, carriage rides grace the downtown, an area that has undergone much renovation in recent years.

Milk glass at Porch Light

Displays like this selection of milk glass pieces can be found throughout Porch Light, located in the East Village of Des Moines, Iowa. Photo courtesy Porch Light (

Spaghetti Works was a great place to eat, and if you love old books, don’t miss the Jackson Street Booksellers. A definite stop in the Midwest is Pella, Iowa. Did you know that a little Dutch town with a canal, a working windmill that actually grinds wheat into flour and an area that celebrates Tulip Time is just 35 miles from Des Moines.

Pella was one of the quaintest towns I have been in, with an absolute brilliance of so many varieties of blooming tulips. Take a tour of the windmill, visit the Klockenspiel brick courtyard where you can look up and watch mechanical Dutch figures perform to the music. Antique shopping offered a nice stroll along the central square of town. Lastly, don’t forget to visit Jaarsma Bakery before leaving town.

Our last stop on our grand antique trip was LeClaire, Iowa, home of the American Pickers, just 154 miles from Pella, Iowa.

Situated along the very relaxing Mississppi River, first on one’s list of of definite things to do is to stop at Antique Archaeology. You probably won’t see the pickers or Danielle, but you will see a lot of items that the pickers picked on display for sale and, of course, Picker merchandise. The Pickers old van sits in front. The address of 115 1/2 Davenport Street did not disappoint. We were told the Pickers were in Arizona filming a new segment for their show.

Other antique shops along Cody Street proved interesting. Entering Big River Antique shop on Cody Road was like stepping back in history. The shop was filled with everything one could dream of. If one is looking for advertising, Big River Antiques is the place to check out. Don’t miss Crane and Pelican for lunch. Enjoy the Mississippi! At Dam 14, pelicans and turtles await to be photographed.

These Midwest antique destinations provided a sampling of interesting places to venture to find a

Coffee and clocks at Porch Light

A mix of timeless and timely items, including vintage coffee tins and clocks, greet visitors at the Porch Light in Des Moines, Iowa. Photo courtesy Porch Light(

most coveted treasure. Antique interest is at a pique in every town and city mentioned.

What’s hot these days is depends on preference. As each generation moves on, the market shifts, revealing new trends. We noticed, however, Midwest crocks and advertising remain a favorite mainstay, but prices remain high. Toys from the 1950s and ’60’s are climbing in value. Early books, and books of all kinds, are reaching new highs. Paperwork of all kinds, especially catalogs, are reaching higher prices. Vintage clothing and jewelry is shifting in preference to the 1970s and ’80s. For many these days, the 1950s is the favorite era. Linens of all kinds – even those that have been worn – can be made into repurposed treasures. And architectural items are definitely hot now – these pieces are proving great for decorating purposes.

Each person’s story is unique in regards to what you see on the road antiquing. Share your experiences with Antique Trader for possible inclusion in an upcoming issue and on this site. Email tales of your antiquing adventures to

About our columnist:
Susan Mullikin, owner of Mother and Daughter Vintage Clothing and Antiques is an honors graduate of the Asheford Institute of Antiques. For the last 25 years she has specialized in assisting clients across the U.S. in regards to fine antique garments, textiles, and ladies accessories. She was published as part of a “Child in Fashion 1750-1920,” and her business was honored at George Washington’s birth night ball. She provides conservation, restoration and appraisal services.