Resting in gently rolling farmland in east central Iowa, Marshalltown is a city of 27,500 on the south bank of the Iowa River.
The city developed suddenly from the 1870s onwards, and in 1913 was connected to the Lincoln Highway, America’s first improved transcontinental road.
The refrigeration products manufacturer, Lennox International, was founded here in 1895 and is one of a few employers from the city’s boom days to still have a presence in the city.
Marshalltown has twice bounced back from destructive EF3 tornadoes, one in 1961 and another in 2018 that wreaked havoc for almost half an hour along an 8.5 mile path.
Daily life continues, as you’ll see at the Cartwright Downtown Farmers’ Market, a local institution every Wednesday and Saturday in summer.
1. Mowry Irvine Mansion
The Historical Society of Marshall County was founded in 1908 and looks after four properties in and near Marshalltown.
The headquarters, also housing the society’s genealogical library, is the palatial Mowry Irvine Mansion, built in the Second Empire style in the 1870s, with a grand porch added around 1900.
The mansion was home to the important Lounsberry and Mowry families, and is endowed with original woodwork and furniture, as well as displays by local artists upstairs. When we made this list, the mansion was open for tours Monday to Friday.
2. Riverview Park
At the north end of Marshalltown is a picture perfect park on the south bank of the Iowa River. Less geared towards sports, Riverview Park is a tranquil spot where you can wander next to the gentle flowing river, take picnics and bring wee ones to the playground.
There’s a campground on the west side with 10 full hook-up sites, 20 electrical sites and 10 parking pads, as well as a shower house and flushing toilets.
Riverview Park also has a disc golf course, and is at the north end of a bike trail that winds through Marshalltown, tracing Linn Creek and connecting several other parks in the city.
3. Glick-Sower Historical House
In contrast to the giant Tallcorn Hotel a few steps to the south is this dainty homestead, preserved as a museum by the Historical Society of Marshall County.
One of the oldest homes in the city, the Glick-Sower Historical House dates to 1859 and was built for one of Marshalltown’s founders, Dr. Glick.
In 1870 he sold the property to George Sower, who was a newspaperman and founder of the Marshall Times, still operating as the Marshalltown Times Republican.
Sower’s descendants lived here until 1952, when Susie Sower sold the house to the citizens of the county.
The house is open for tours by appointment, and is accompanied by the Taylor #4 Country School, a 1913 one-room schoolhouse restored to its original appearance.
4. Historic Downtown District
Marshalltown developed at high speed in the last decades of the 19th century, bolstered by manufacturers like Fisher Controls (now Emerson Electric), Lennox International and Marshalltown Company, all of which are still here in some form.
Walking along Main Street there’s a lot of architecture recalling that period of sudden growth at the turn of the 20th century.
The historic district encompassing downtown has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 2002, and features almost 80 contributing buildings.
As well as the Marshall County Courthouse (1886), there’s the Woodbury Building (1862), the Carnegie Library (1902), the Ford Building (1920), the imposing Tallcorn Hotel (1928) and the Veterans Memorial Coliseum (1929).
5. Cartwright Downtown Farmers’ Market
One block north of Main Street there’s a permanent shelter for Marshalltown’s farmers’ market. May through October, this takes place on Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings, and there’s always more than 30 vendors to choose from.
The market has been a Marshalltown staple for close to 50 years, and moved to its current location in 1985.
On sale is an amazing assortment of local fruits and vegetables in season, as well as meats, honey, flowers, preserves, baked goods, crafts, handmade soaps and all manner of handicrafts.
There’s a kids’ zone with child-friendly activities, and all kinds of events coinciding with the market. In the winter months the Saturday market moves indoors to the Community Building at Riverview Park.
6. Marshalltown Family Aquatic Center
For a joyous family day out in summer there’s a public water park, open Memorial Day weekend through mid-August. The center was constructed in 2003 and packs a big variety of attractions into a relatively small site.
The main pool is an eight-lane lap pool, flanked by a diving well with drop slide and a zero-depth entry area with play features for smaller children.
Beside the main pool is a long lazy river, which is connected to the splash zones for three slides.
7. Taylor’s Maid-Rite
People come from miles around for this fast food restaurant, which is part of the Maid-Rite franchise chain. Maid-Rite is headquartered in Des Moines, with 32 locations, two-thirds of which are in Iowa.
The brand dates back to 1926, and Marshalltown has had a franchise since 1928. Maid-Rite’s specialty is its loose meat sandwich, made with juicy, 100% choice meat, ground fresh every day.
Tradition dictates that the sandwich is served with mustard, three pickles and/or chopped onions. It even took 90 years for ketchup to be offered on the counter.
Taylor’s Maid-Rite is laid out like a classic diner, and the shakes and malts are a perfect indulgent accompaniment.
8. Wayward Social
Southwest of downtown by Legion Memorial Park, this newly renovated bowling alley has been reborn as a kind of entertainment center akin to Dave & Buster’s.
Of course, bowling is at the heart of the action, with 20 state-of-the-art lanes, but you’ve also got a host of machines at Alien Alley Arcade and Rosie’s for a big menu of fancy cocktails, craft beers and seltzers.
Food-wise the signature menu item is the pizza, hand-tossed and made with fresh sourdough and an enticing choice of meat and non-meat toppings.
9. Grimes Farm and Conservation Center
In 1964 Leonard and Mildred Grimes purchased this farm in the west of Marshalltown, and restored a deteriorated patch of land using conservation practices and sustainable farming.
This involved building terraces, digging waterways, excavating a pond, avoiding tillage and planting native grasses, helping to reverse the soil erosion that had taken hold.
Starting in the early 1990s, the couple donated parcels of these 160 acres to the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation.
You can come to walk or bike through the crop fields, prairies, woodlands and wetlands, and visit the Conservation Center, which has natural history exhibits and a classroom for environmental education.
There are public interpretive programs all year, and outdoor concerts at the amphitheater in summer.
10. Iowa River’s Edge Trail
The Iowa River grazes the north side of Marshalltown on its long journey southeast to the Mississippi. In East Central Iowa, the gentle waters of the river create a greenway, interrupting the surrounding farmland with a wooded corridor.
A wonderful way to encounter this riparian scenery, as well as the small settlements upstream from Marshalltown, is on the River’s Edge Trail.
This follows a former railroad right-of-way for 34 miles between Marshalltown and Steamboat Rock in Hardin County.
Although the right of way has been secured and is open to the public, the trail is an ongoing project, and only the first and last few miles had been paved at the time of writing.
The long-term goal is for the trail to be a whole experience, with markers, shade structures, public art, outdoor interpretive galleries, benches and wildlife observation areas.
11. Central Iowa Fair
The Central Iowa Fairgrounds are on Marshalltown’s southeast side and host a packed calendar of rodeos, livestock events, stock car races, craft shows and private events throughout the year.
Excitement builds most of all for the Central Iowa Fair, across four days in mid-July. Attracting close to 10,000 visitors, the fair is organized to offer something for all ages.
There’s a catalog of 4-H animal shows, contests and tournaments of all descriptions, live music, a farmers’ market, dozens of food vendors, a beer tent and a “Kid Land” packed with activities for little ones.
12. Collison Par 3 Golf Course
Local golf enthusiast Dr. David Collison began this par 3 in the 1950s as a place for family and friends to play. By 1972 he had completed a full-fledged 18-hole course that is still run by his son, Mark Collison.
The level of maintenance is high, from the tees to the greens, and you couldn’t pick a better place to learn the ropes.
While the course is perfect for newcomers to the sport, it’s also somewhere for experienced golfers to improve their iron play, pitching and putting. There’s a surprising diversity in hole lengths, ranging from 87 to 250 yards.
13. Marshalltown Speedway
The automobile racing circuit at the Central Iowa Fairgrounds has a season running from April to the end of September.
The track is a ¼-mile high-banked clay oval, with weekly events for IMCA Sanctioned Late Models, Stock Cars, Modifieds, Hobby Stocks, SportMods and Mod Lites.
Most of the races take place on Friday nights, with occasional events on Thursdays. The grandstands are very close to the action and open at 5:30pm, while the races get started at 7:30pm.
14. Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway
Until the nation’s first improved transcontinental road was established, the fastest way to cross the United States was by train.
Formally dedicated in October 1913, the Lincoln Highway is a long chain of connecting roads running coast-to-coast, from Times Square in New York to San Francisco’s Lincoln Park, passing through 14 states, 128 counties and 700 cities.
One of these is Marshalltown, and there’s a designated scenic byway in Iowa, with official brochures and itineraries that can be downloaded online.
So if you’re in the mood for a road trip you can set off in the direction of Ames or Tama and see what you can find along the way.
15. Matt Edel Blacksmith Shop
The blacksmith and inventor, Matthew Edel ran this shop from 1883 until he passed away in 1940.
A German immigrant, Edel was one of more than 2,100 blacksmiths working in Iowa in the 1880s, and his place of business and home have been preserved as a snapshot of a bygone profession.
The Matt Edel Blacksmith Shop is a State Historic Site, with a shop from the 1880s, a house from the 1890s and a garage that he added in 1915 after his son had qualified in auto repair in Des Moines.
In addition to repairing tools and shoeing horses, Edel Sr. was an accomplished inventor, and you can find out about his patented wire grain-binder, dehorning clipper, fence stretcher, wedge cutter and more.