Sitting 30 miles east of Des Moines, Newton is a city that developed quickly in the early 20th century as the “Washing Machine Capital of the World”.
A driving force behind that was the Maytag Washing Machine Company, which was eventually bought out by Whirlpool.
Even today, the Maytag name is omnipresent in Newton, given to a park, a monumental building downtown and a famous cheese brand that the Maytag family launched as a side-business in the 1940s.
Newton has held onto lots of delightful aspects of its past, from Iowa’s oldest drive-in theater to a Hollywood style bowl in Maytag Park and a downtown that still bustles with commerce, entertainment and culture.
1. Downtown Newton
The courthouse square and intersecting streets are preserved as a U.S. Historic District with some 60 contributing buildings, harking back to phases of Newton’s development from the middle of the 19th century to the post-war period.
The central landmark is of course Jasper County Courthouse (1911) in a flamboyant Beaux-Arts style.
Directly opposite stands the impressive Hotel Maytag (1926), housing the Capitol Theatre, which continues to show movies and has a mascot pig.
There’s a lot to love about downtown Newton, from its percolating arts scene to a profusion of flourishing, locally owned businesses.
These include a deli, a craft brewery, antique shop, flower store, music shop, wine bar, fabric store and art supplies store, all within shouting distance of each other.
2. Maytag Dairy Farms
Maytag is a name that crops up time and again in Newton. Known for washing machines, the family branched out into cheesemaking after purchasing a herd of Holstein-Friesian cows in 1941.
The now famous Maytag Blue Cheese was launched soon after, and was developed with the help of researchers from Iowa State University.
The farm and its marturing caves are just out of Newton to the north, but the company has a storefront in the handsome Maytag Hotel downtown.
The Maytag Hometown Store is open Monday to Saturday, and has partnered with the local Muse Wine Bar to offer a first-class wine and cheese pairing experience.
3. Jasper County Historical Museum
Established in 1979, the museum documenting the county’s past has more than 12,000 artifacts, most donated to the local historical society over the years.
In a modern building with a grand Doric portico, the society’s museum is a detailed and varied journey through the county’s history.
The industrial exhibits are especially rich, harking back to when this was the “Washing Machine Capital of the World”, with a wealth of Maytag objects on show.
You can also find out more about boxer Rocky Marciano (1923-1969), who died in an air accident in Newton, and peruse tons of agricultural artifacts.
Also enthralling are the many preserved spaces, including a general store, barber shop, post office, Victorian rooms and a series of rooms from the 1930s.
4. Maytag Park
The founder of the Maytag Company, F. L. Maytag (1857-1937) gifted this 40-acre park to Newton in the depths of the Great Depression.
Maytag Park was an important example of a privately owned park available for public use, until it was acquired by the city in 1977.
The park is scattered with historic structures from the 1930s, many of which are still in use today, like the pool (more later) and the amphitheater, Maytag Bowl, hosting events like Bowlful of Blues in summer
There’s also an historic log cabin (1848), a holdover from when this land served as the Jasper County Fairgrounds.
Other amenities include a disc golf course, tennis courts, a playground, hike/bike trail and a basketball court.
5. Valle Drive-In
The oldest operating drive-in theater in Iowa can be found on Newton’s western margins. One of only four of its kind in the state, the Valle Drive-In opened in 1948 and the most authentic of all the survivors.
The neon sign out front is original, along with the snack shack, popcorn maker and the charming teasers at the start of the movies.
You can come to watch first-run movies as they’re released, every day, rain or shine, April through October.
The gates open at 6:30pm and you can enjoy something from the snack shack or throw a frisbee before the presentation starts at dusk.
6. Iowa Speedway
Out by the airport in the southeast of Newton is a major motor racing track that opened in 2006. The much-loved Iowa Speedway came at a cost of $70 million, and is a ⅞-mile D-shaped oval with a capacity for 30,000 fans.
In the past this circuit has hosted IndyCar, NASCAR Xfinity Series and NASCAR Camping Truck Series events, and there have long been rumors that the speedway is a candidate for a NASCAR Cup Series race.
NASCAR legend Rusty Wallace had a hand in the track design, and is a vocal supporter as the speedway stakes a claim for more events.
7. Capitol II Theatre
Also in the palatial Hotel Maytag on Courthouse Square is a locally owned movie theater that first opened its doors in 1927.
At that time the Capitol seated 995, and in the days before talkies had an in-house orchestra soundtracking the movies.
Unlike many downtown cinemas from this era, the Capitol has never closed for more than a couple of years, and has moved with the times, by “twinning” in 1988 and installing state-of-the-art projection and sound equipment in 2018.
Beautiful old details have also been restored and you can settle in to watch first-run releases in cozy recliners.
The theater even has a mascot, Joy the pig, who greets visitors and performs tricks under the marquee in the warmer months.
8. Newton Arboretum & Botanical Gardens
Embedded in Agnes Patterson Park in the east of Newton is a glorious botanical attraction. These gardens and arboretum are spread across six acres, and were planted in 1995 on what used to be a farm.
Pathways weave through the charming grounds, past beds for annuals, perennials, roses, shrubs, seasonal flowers and ornamental grasses.
There are marvelous collections for conifers, deciduous trees, azaleas, peonies, prairie wildflowers, together with a butterfly garden that is breathtaking in summer.
The Krumm Horticultural Center here is a venue for meetings, celebrations and educational seminars.
9. Public Art
Another thing to love about downtown Newton is the abundance of public art that has been commissioned for its streets and parks.
Your first stop should be the Centre for Arts and Artists at 3rd St and 5th Ave, a regional platform for artists, with studios, galleries and a gift shop.
At the center you can get hold of a leaflet for a self-guided Public Sculpture & Art Tour, taking in more than 90 noteworthy sculptures and murals around Newton, with more being added by the year.
Newton was previously the setting for the Iowa Sculpture Festival, running from 2002 to 2017, and the organization behind the event continues to update the walking art/sculpture tour of the city.
10. Maytag Pool
The 25-meter public pool at the heart of Maytag Park has been a summer family attraction in Newton for almost 90 years.
Maytag Pool has also been modernized since it first opened in 1935, and features two water slides, zero-depth entry, water fountains, a diving well and six lanes.
The pool is open Memorial Day weekend through mid-August, and regular pool-goers can purchase passes for a discount. Swimming lessons take place throughout the season, and the pool can also be rented for parties.
11. Gezellig Brewing Company
By the DMACC campus in downtown Newton is a craft brewery run by two women with a love for good beer.
This building is in fact the former Maytag HQ: The taproom is the company deli, while the brewhouse is where the washers were tested.
Gezellig Brewing Co. opened its doors in 2019, and is one of a tiny few craft breweries in America to be female owned.
The brewery has already picked up awards for several beers including All the Goodness (Farmhouse Ale), Huge Deal Gone Sideweiss (Hefeweizen) and That G Brewery Milk Stout.
Food trucks show up regularly, and there are events uncommon at breweries like craft sessions, talks with artists and brewer chats.
There’s also a large shared courtyard with the Cellar Peanut Pub, perfect for live music outside in summer.
12. Westwood Golf Course
Near the Valle Drive-In in the west of Newton is an 18-hole public golf course with a reputation for its scenic views and welcoming staff.
Around for decades, Westwood Golf Course is also praised for its great level of maintenance and a layout that will test even the most skilled players.
Seriously, you’ll need to get used to playing out of the rough, and it’s worth packing some extra balls in your bag for this track.
Also on hand is a driving range, two practice greens, an excellent pro shop and a snack bar.
13. Rusty Wallace Driving Experience
If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to get behind the wheel of a stock car and push it to the limits on a state-of-the art racing track, you can do just this at Iowa Speedway.
The Rusty Wallace Driving Experience has a wide range of packages, whether you want to experience a few laps in the driver’s seat or go through all the emotions, preparation and action of a 50-lap race day.
Those who want to taste this kind of speed without any of the responsibility can sign up for a ride along package, for three or five laps.
14. Newton Fest
One date to save in your diary is this annual community festival at various spots around the city. Usually falling in June, Newton Fest is a weekend-long event with an endearing mix of arts, history, great food and drink and children’s fun.
Essentially, it’s a celebration of everything that is great about Newton, and is designed to be entertaining and affordable for all ages and backgrounds. In 2015, the year it was launched Newton Fest received the Iowa Tourism Award for Outstanding New Event.
Many of the venues we’ve covered in this list will have something going on, from downtown to the amphitheater at Maytag Park, the Iowa Speedway and the DMACC Newton campus.
15. Bowlful of Blues
The magnificent Maytag Bowl is also the stage for a beloved blues festival that is now about to enter its fourth decade.
Bowlful of Blues is Sponsored by the South Skunk Blues Society and gives you the chance to sample some of the best regional and national blues performers.
When we wrote this article, the festival was a one-day event on the first Saturday in September, with a large bill and schedule that ran from noon to 10pm.
Food vendors are present at Maytag Park, but this is also one of those rare festivals that lets you bring your own food and drink.