KK & PK got up before 7am and went for a walk at the Centerville square. They flagged down a local and asked a few more questions about the RAGBRAI bicycle event. There are going to be 20,000 people in town on Tuesday associated with this event. KK asked where all the painted bicycles came from and she said they went down to the police station and got them all out of the impound. This blog is where you will get all the breaking news from Centerville about RAGBRAI.
While we were checking out of the hotel, Stephanie & Marissa visited the Dollar General across the street, and they got an earful from the manager about how much she hated the bike ride and everybody in it. So it appears that Centerville has not won the hearts and minds of all its citizens for the greater good of the bike ride.
Now might be a good time to ask, “Why are we in Centervile, Iowa?” KK’s dad was born in Centerville in 1901, and we had a lot of family that lived in the area through the years. A lot of the family history we knew, but we also learned quite a bit in the last six months, as KK’s friend, Weasel, performed an extensive genealogy history for us. We owe Weasel a huge thanks for all his efforts, and we put them to good use today.
Our first stop was to visit the Centerville square. We took a leisurely walk around the square and checked out every storefront. It is still a vibrant square with only a few empty stores. Appanoose County proclaims this is Iowa’s largest town square. In fact, we saw a sign that claimed it was the WORLD’S LARGEST CITY SQUARE. Mic drop.
We took loads of pictures and the kids were great sports. As we have driven through Iowa the past few days, it is clear that Iowa takes their town squares and courthouses very seriously. Large, grand and ornate are apt descriptions of these mid-1800s buildings. We were impressed.
Our next mission was to visit the Mt. Ararat Cemetery outside of Centerville. My great great grandfather, Daniel King, died in 1922 and is buried here. It was fortunately not a very large cemetery and in no time both Miles and Marissa found some King tombstones. We took lots of pictures, and KK explained some family history.
KK is on the Board of the Pleasant Valley Cemetery in Sumner, so we all noticed what great shape the cemetery was in, including the fresh cut grass and the general condition of the headstones. We left a note of thanks and a donation in their donation box.
Our last cemetery stop was a search for the Davis Cemetery, where Daniel’s father, Ely King, is buried. During my research, I could not definitively locate this place but KK has better resources than I do, and he nailed it.
We had to drive down several miles of gravel roads, including the final stretch on a “low maintenance” road (the road sign told us so), but we did find the very small Davis Cemetery. It almost looked like it was on private property, but it also had been freshly mowed.
It was not hard to locate Ely King’s headstone, given there couldn’t have been more than a few dozen graves. Ely was born in Gettysburg Pennsylvania in 1828, and died in 1894. We tried to soak it in that this man was born when our country was just 52 years old. KK commented that he thought Ely would be happy that his family tracked him down after all these years. I agree.
One unexpected treat at the cemetery were the wild blackberries growing right across the fence. All of us enjoyed a handful. They tasted wonderful.
Our next stop was lunch at Bloomfield. We had stopped at the courthouse to check it out, and KK waved down a local to ask where we could find a park. She turned us on to a great place with a gazebo covered picnic table. Stephanie has been knocking it out of the park with our food. Today it was wraps with rotisserie chicken, onions, pepper jack cheese, and cream cheese. We love you, Chef Stephanie.
Following lunch, we made our way to Eldon, Iowa, location of the home made famous by the painting, American Gothic. This came up during our research on the trip, and since it was not too far out of the way, we decided to check it out. This truly turned out to be a highlight and I’m so glad we did it.
American Gothic, as the volunteer told us, is the world’s second most famous painting. The painter, Grant Wood, was a native Iowan, so there is a lot of local pride in the fact that this famous painting was created here in 1930.
The “American Gothic House Center” is located adjacent to the house itself. We read about the history of Grant Wood and his family, and how he came to be the painter that he was. He visited Europe 4 times to hone his craft, and he was quoted as saying “I had to go to France to appreciate Iowa”.
There was a 25 minute well-done video which we watched, and of course, the American Gothic gift shop. The painting itself is really fascinating, and there is so much more going on in the artwork than you realize at first glance. Even the models for the painting had an interesting story. It was the painter’s sister, Nan, and his dentist. He had assured his dentist that nobody would recognize him from the painting, which of course turned out to be false. His dentist didn’t speak to him for 10 years afterward. The two subjects never stood together for the painting, and neither one of them ever stood in front of the house for the painting.
The center also provides clothing and hayforks so that you can re-create your own version of American Gothic. This was so much fun.
The visitor center at American Gothic is only open from 1-4pm on Sundays. Originally, I had worried that we would be traveling to Eldon and get there far too early in the day for their visitor center to be open (which would mean no pictures in the fancy wardrobe). How misplaced was that concern? We left the center shortly before 4:00 and were glad we were able to fit in our photo session. Such is life when traveling. Got to be flexible.
Our next stop was a short visit to the town of Pella, home of the famous Pella windows. This town is known as “America’s Dutch Treasure” and was founded in 1847. The town seemed worth a stop as it boasts the largest working grain windmill in the United States and the Dutch heritage.
This town was not a county seat, but it did have a large town square with a variety of monuments where a courthouse might ordinarily sit. It also had a fairly new canal built in a “business district” but it looked more like a movie set, or Disneyworld, than an actual functioning part of town.
After some walking around the square, we visited a coffee shop on the corner and cooled off with some ice cream and treats. I should note that one of the highlights planned for the day was a trip to café in Sully for award-winning pie, only to find out they are closed on Sundays.
Leaving Pella, we drove north through the windy roads of Iowa to Waterloo, where we will be staying tonight. Originally, we had planned to tour the John Deere factory on Monday morning, only to find out they were shut down for maintenance this week. But as luck would have it, Stephanie’s Aunt Mary, cousin Matt, and his wife Annie, live in Waterloo, and they were gracious enough to meet us for dinner on somewhat short notice.
It has probably been five years since we have seen them, and that was when Aunt Mary lived in Albuquerque. It was a nice visit, and a nice evening sitting outside. Even though the highs got up into the 90s today, our waitress was wearing a jacket by the end of the evening.
We made it to the hotel at 11pm and everybody was beat, but it was a very fulfilling and entertaining day.
We visited Lamoni Iowa yesterday, and the best man from my wedding, Charles, texted me that his son was going to church camp in Lamoni this week. Small world.
We have been surprised by the geography of Iowa. Since it is known as an agricultural state (corn!), we had assumed it would be as flat as Kansas. But this is absolutely not the case. The entire part of the state we have traveled has been rolling hills, full of large trees, and quite beautiful.
Stephanie has taken notice that most of the schools that we see in Iowa are community schools. It seems they have long ago abandoned the idea that every little town should have its own school.
Our neighbor, Jenny, who is from the great state of Iowa, advised us that there is a song about corn that Iowans sing. She then texted Stephanie a video of her and her Mom singing it.
We’re from Iowa. Iowa.
Best in all the land.
Join in every hand.
We’re from Iowa. Iowa.
That’s where the tall corn grows.