30 Amazing Hidden Gems in Iowa

Written by Bart Meeuwesen
Updated on
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Neighbored by Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Minnesota, Iowa is a state in the Midwestern United States which is bordered by the Mississippi River on the east and the Missouri River on the west. The state flag’s distinctive resemblance to the flag of France is due to the French influence in the city during the colonial times.

With Des Moines as its capital as well as the largest city, Iowa is regarded as one of the most livable states in the country in terms of safety.

Nicknamed the Hawkeye State, Iowa derives its name from the Native American tribe known as the Ioway people.

Seemingly unremarkable, the state has a lot of cultural diversities to share with the world. For example, Britt, a city in Iowa, is home to the Annual National Hobo Convention that is dedicated to the American Travelers.

Interestingly, Star Trek fans must know that Iowa is the future birthplace of James T. Kirk, the Captain of starship USS Enterprise, who will apparently be born in the state on March 22nd, 2228!

Home of the biggest bike touring event (RAGBRAI) in the world, the state definitely won’t remain just a stopover on your tour to a more interesting destination once you have discovered the amazing hidden gems in Iowa.

1. American Gothic House, Eldon

American Gothic House, EldonSource: Joe Taylor Cinema / shutterstock
American Gothic House, Eldon

American Gothic, a painting by Grant Wood who was best known for his illustrations of the rural American Midwest through his paintings, is perhaps one of the most recognizable artworks from the 20th century.

The classic painting depicts a farmer standing beside a woman (his daughter or wife), both dressed in 19th century Americana colonial printed clothes, standing in front of a house – the American Gothic House!

Though Wood only saw the house once in his life, the American Gothic House was the main inspiration behind his 1930 painting. Originally owned by Charles Dibble, an Eldon resident who lived here with his wife and eight children, the ‘Dibble’ house is known for its classic Carpenter Gothic design and the Gothic windows that adorn the upper level – apparently, the motivation behind American “Gothic.”

The house was donated to the State Historical Society of Iowa in 1991 by the last owner, Carl Smith.

2. The Day The Music Died Memorial, Clear Lake

The Day The Music Died Memorial, Clear LakeSource: jjandames / Flickr
The Day The Music Died Memorial, Clear Lake

February 3rd, 1959 will forever be marked as one of the darkest days in the history of music for America and the rest of the world.

Buddy Holly, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, and Ritchie Valens were playing on the “Winter Dance Party” tour through the American Midwest in harsh, cold weather. Holly, unable to take the weather conditions and the resulting flu, decided to charter a plane as they stopped to perform in Clear Lake.

Holly, along with Richardson and Valens, boarded the light, unfit aircraft which wasn’t capable of maneuvering through the harsh weather conditions. Unfortunately, the pilot lost control and the aircraft crashed in a cornfield in Clear Lake, immediately killing all four of them.

Don Mclean, a celebrated American singer-songwriter, referred to the date as “The Day The Music Died” in his famous song, “American Pie.”

While the original site of the crash is a little further away, a giant pair of glasses resembling the one that Holly made famous, marks a memorial erected in the honor of the artists.

3. Father Paul Dobberstein’s Grotto of the Redemption, West Bend

Father Paul Dobberstein's Grotto of the Redemption, West BendSource: Lost_in_the_Midwest / shutterstock
Father Paul Dobberstein’s Grotto Of The Redemption, West Bend

You know how we all promise we would study hard the next semester only if God would let us pass this one and how we will never lie to our parents if a treacherous toothache went away? Well, these promises are almost always never fulfilled, except in the case of Father Paul Dobberstein.

A German immigrant, Father Paul became gravely ill with pneumonia following which he prayed to God that if he cured him and let him live, Father Paul will build a shrine dedicated to Virgin Mary. The Father was a man of his words, and so, once recovered, he set out to collect hundreds and thousands of rare and precious rocks and stones from all around the country.

The construction of the Grotto of Redemption began in 1912 and continued for 42 years until Father Paul passed away in 1954. The four-story, nine-grotto masterpiece still continues to grow under the supervision of Deacon Gerald Streit.

4. Lover’s Leap Swinging Bridge, Columbus Junction

Lover's Leap Swinging Bridge, Columbus JunctionSource: Dalaney LaGrange / Facebook
Lover’s Leap Swinging Bridge, Columbus Junction

Once upon a time, there was an Indian maiden who deeply fell in love with a soldier. Unfortunately, however, the soldier died in a battle. Shattered and disheartened, the maiden threw herself off of a bridge and succumbed to death. Her corpse remains buried at the bottom of the bridge while her soul, a loving and caring one, watches over visitors crossing the bridge.

Originally constructed out of refurbished barrel wood in 1886 (some say 1880), the “Lover’s Leap” bridge was constructed to provide easy access to Third Street, thus avoiding the 80-foot ravine. However, due to instability and safety issues, the usage of the walking bridge was condemned in 1902.

In 1904, the bridge was reopened with better construction. In 1920, Lew and Jesse Tisor, two brothers, were walking over the swaying walkways when, suddenly and unfortunately, the planks gave out from under their feet. Within a blink of an eye, the two brothers were at the bottom, unscathed and on their feet!

Though the bridge has been rebuilt after the incident and is more stable than it ever was, legends say that the Indian maiden still watches over everybody that passes by and ensures that they are safe.

5. Fenelon Place Elevator, Dubuque

Fenelon Place Elevator, DubuqueSource: Nicola Patterson / shutterstock
Fenelon Place Elevator, Dubuque

The (self-proclaimed) shortest, steepest railroad in the world, Fenelon Place Elevator was originally built in 1882 by J.K. Graves, a wealthy businessman, who found it extremely bothersome to travel from his home on the top of the hill to the bank he worked at, which was at the bottom of the hill. The “elevator” was actually a funicular comprising a wooden car hauled up and down via a steam-powered winch.

Unfortunately, the original car burnt down within a couple of years and was replaced. Graves noticed the increasing interest from the locals and opened it to the public for five cents a ride.

As fate would have it, the funicular was destroyed in another fire 1893, but, this time a group of concerned and passionate locals established the Fenelon Place Elevator Company and began operating the cable car to ensure proper safety.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Elevator now charges $3 for a round trip to and from the imaginary life of a rich socialite from the 1800s.

6. Sans Souci Island, Waterloo

Sans Souci Island, WaterlooSource: Coalfather / Wikimedia
Sans Souci Island, Waterloo

“Sans Souci” is French for “No Worries,” however, in 2008, a devastating flood that led Cedar River to overflow proved oxymoronic for the once flourishing Sans Souci Island in Waterloo, Iowa.

Nestled amidst the Cedar Lake, Sans Souci Island is a 100-acre landmass that was a major source of timber for building bridges across Cedar Valley in the 1800s. Formerly known as Merwin’s island, there were cottages and residential homes built on the island. The island also housed a hotel and Waterloo’s first golf course.

Approximately, 50 inhabitants lived on the island, however, they were all forced to vacate their properties and move away due to the destructive flood, and, the island has stood abandoned ever since.

Although the island is void of any human presence, it is a great spot for hikers and nature lovers. Ideally, you could circle the Sans Souci island by foot in about an hour. Do it before the city decides to restore the island once again.

7. Pottawattamie Squirrel Cage Jail, Council Bluffs

Pottawattamie Squirrel Cage Jail, Council BluffsSource: Smallbones / Wikimedia
Pottawattamie Squirrel Cage Jail, Council Bluffs

Originally designed by William H. Brown, rotary jails were an architectural design for prison cells in the 19th century which worked on the principles of a moving cell, like a carousel, which only allowed access to one cell at a time from the single opening on each level. As innovative as they may be, the newly developed cells started resulting in crushed limbs and deaths of inmates who tried to intrude the rotary function. This lead to the abolishing of the rotary jails.

The Pottawattamie Jailhouse, commonly known as the “Squirrel Cage Jail” is one of the only three remaining rotary jails in the United States of America. The prison cell was built in 1885, and, unlike other jails of that era, this one had three stacked levels.

However, by the 1960s, the rotatory feature of the prison cells didn’t function so well, and thus, in 1969, the rotary cells were no longer used to hold inmates.

The Squirrel Cage Jail is now a museum site and is open to visitors.

8. High Trestle Trail Bridge, Madrid

High Trestle Trail Bridge, MadridSource: cnetten / shutterstock
High Trestle Trail Bridge, Madrid

Records indicate that High Trestle Trail Bridge may be among the longest bridges of its kind in the world, but, come night, it sure looks like it could be one of most beautiful as well!

At half a mile long and 130-feet-high, the High Trestle Trail Bridge passes over five Iowa towns, making a picturesque crossing over the Des Moines river. Originally built to carry shipments for the Union Pacific Railroad, a joint effort of donations, community support, and grants helped turn the unremarkable passageway into a sight to behold for horseback riders, bikers, and hikers.

The bridge is encircled by an art installation made up of raw steel pipes decorated with bright lights set in a spiral style. An ode to the state’s mining history, the spirals are intended to evoke a sense of getting in a mine shaft.

The lights come on every evening at dusk and stay till night.

9. Matchstick Marvels Museum, Gladbrook

Matchstick Marvels Museum, GladbrookSource: Matchstick Marvels / Facebook
Matchstick Marvels Museum, Gladbrook

The Matchstick Marvels Museum in Gladbrook, Iowa is undeniably one of the finest examples of exemplary artwork and undiluted dedication. All of the museum’s collection is accredited to Patrick Acton, a resident of Gladbrook, who has been spending every minute of his time creating the craftsmanship geniuses single-handedly for the last 40 years.

So far, Acton has managed to put together over 6.5 million ordinary, two-inch wooden matchsticks to create 70 brilliantly detailed replicas of several iconic buildings and sculptures. Some of his most famous works are the thirteen-feet-long battleship USS Iowa, the six-feet tall Minas Tirith from the Lord of the Rings, and the twelve-feet tall United States Capitol.

Other famous pieces include the Hogwarts castle, the Millennium Falcon, and the Space Shuttle Challenger.

Most replicas on display have been complemented by the artist’s drawings and blueprints of the model, the tools used in the construction, and a short documentary of the building process.

Acton’s creative work has been featured on Ripley’s Believe It or Not (television show), AAA Travel (magazine), and The Iowan (magazine).

10. The Black Angel of Oakland Cemetery, Iowa City

The Black Angel of Oakland Cemetery, Iowa CitySource: IN Dancing Light / shutterstock
The Black Angel Of Oakland Cemetery, Iowa City

Crafted in 1912 by artist Mario Kobel, the eight-and-a-half-feet-tall, winged angel statue watches over the graves of Theresa and Nicholas Feldevert, as well as Edward Dolezal, Theresa’s son from her first marriage. Although made of bronze, the statue has been turning darker and darker ever since. Now, it looks like a huge, greenish-black sorrowful figurine with an eerie vibe.

Though technically it is nothing more than a case of bronze oxidizing, the statue’s blackish color and its location in the Iowa City Cemetery has attracted several ghost chasers and urban legends. Among them is the popular belief that if you touched or kissed the statue, you will be struck dead (unless of course, you are a virgin!).

Ghost or not, increased vandalism around the edifice has led the cemetery to keep a close watch on visitors around The Black Angel.

11. Villisca Ax Murder House, Villisca

Villisca Ax Murder House, VilliscaSource: L. M. Bernhardt / Flickr
Villisca Ax Murder House, Villisca

Sometime between the evening of June 9th, 1912 and morning of June 10th, 1912, Josiah B. and Sarah, along with their four kids and two visiting guests (also kids) were bludgeoned to death with an axe that the killer left behind.

A concerned neighbor called Josiah’s brother when the family failed to answer their door. A local police investigation uncovered that the murder had taken place between midnight and early morning. A couple of cigarette butts were found in the attic indicating that the murderer(s) waited in the house for the Moore family to return from the church.

Due to inadequate evidence and lack of medical and forensic technology, the murder remains unsolved till date. But, you are welcome to try your detective skills at the house.

The new owner lets you stay there for a night if you have $400 to spare!

12. Albert The Bull, Audubon

Albert The Bull, AudubonSource: Suzanne Tucker / shutterstock
Albert The Bull, Audubon

Looking over the streets of Audubon since 1964, Albert the Bull, at 28-feet-tall is regarded as the largest bull in the world.

Though spotting bull statues around America is quite common, especially around eateries and steakhouses, Albert, however, is the biggest of them all. The statue, mostly made of concrete, weighs 45 tons, has a 15-foot gap between his horns, and also has huge concrete gonads.

A kiosk, in the parking lot where Albert stands, lets you look at him through a plexiglass, and, a push button allows Albert to tell you all about himself – he was constructed as a replica of a Hereford bull (from Herefordshire, England), only nine times larger than an actual one, and is authentic from his head right down to his toenail. He further elaborates that around 20,000 people visit him annually.

For as long as Albert existed, people claimed that he had baby blue eyes, but, the locals complained otherwise, thus, in October 2017, Albert’s eyes were painted brown.

13. American Gothic Barn, Mount Vernon

American Gothic Barn, Mount VernonSource: cwwycoff1 / Flickr
American Gothic Barn, Mount Vernon

“American Gothic” is not only a classic painting from the 20th century which made artist Grant Wood famous all around the world; it is also one of the most parodied artworks in modern American history (much like Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa).

While the original painting rests at the Art Institute of Chicago, a hidden barn, off the Route 30 in Mount Vernon, Iowa has been completely covered in a colorful, life-size rendition of Wood’s masterpiece.

One side of the barn depicts a bison grazing in a prairie, the other side is a display of a countryside that may have inspired Wood to dress his characters as farmers.

The entire façade of the barn has been painted to recreate the magic of the American Gothic, however, it wasn’t painted by the barn’s owner. As a matter of fact, the landowner commissioned Mark Benesh in 2008 to create this drive-by parody of the famous artwork.

14. Huston Cemetery, West Des Moines

Huston Cemetery, West Des MoinesSource: Robin Fortney / Facebook
Huston Cemetery, West Des Moines

Commonly dubbed as the “Cemetery in the middle of the road,” the Huston Cemetery is named after James B. Huston, who along with his family, was one of the first settlers in Dallas County. Huston is also regarded as the first attorney of the county.

The little cemetery is located inside a roundabout at the intersection of 88th Street and Mills Civic and houses a total of nineteen graves. Among the deceased buried in the cemetery are James B. Huston, his wife Nancy Hill Huston, six children, and other family members. The first two tombstones, as claimed by the city’s website, belonged to two slave girls with the last name of Harper.

Reportedly, the oldest tombstone dates back to 1847 whereas Huston’s was the last to be erected in 1889.

The nearby home of the Huston family served as a stagecoach station, a post office, a tavern, and even a stop on the underground railroad.

15. Snake Alley, Burlington

Snake Alley, BurlingtonSource: channone / Flickr
Snake Alley, Burlington

Ripley’s Believe It or Not called this stretch of street in Burlington, Iowa as the “crookedest street in the world.”

Inspired by the steep elevation of Heritage Hill, the construction of Snake Alley began in 1894 to serve as a section of the road that connects the downtown business district to the North Sixth Street’s shopping area. The German architects, Charles Starker, William Steyh, and George Kriechbaum, collectively completed the project by 1898.

With a stretch of 275-feet and five half curves and two quarter curves, the limestone street was intended to provide better footing for horses as they descend.

Though San Francisco’s Lombard Street beats the Snake Alley by several turns, the turns on the latter are sharper and have a total of 1100° of turning from end to end as opposed to 1000° of the Lombard Street.

Every year, the crooked street hosts the Snake Alley Criterium (annual uphill bike race) and the Snake Alley Art Fair.

16. Site of the First Train Robbery in the West, Adair

Site Of The First Train Robbery In The West, AdairSource: Tom Messenger‎ / Facebook
Site Of The First Train Robbery In The West, Adair

On the evening of July 21st, 1873, Jesse James, the famous American outlaw and robber, along with his gang known as the James-Younger Gang, staged what is till date known as the “first train robbery in the West.”

The James-Younger gang had learned that the train will be carrying $100,000 worth of gold on the said date, however, changes at the last moment had resulted in the shipment being pushed to a later train. The gang could only collect $2000 worth of loot. Enraged, Jesse James and his gang began looting passengers of their personal belongings and collected an additional $1,000.

John Rafferty, the engineer on-board, was the only person killed during the heist, who died as the train turned to its side when Rafferty tried to reverse the engine.

The wheel, donated by the Rock Island railroad in 1954, commemorates the site of the train robbery and the turning point in the history of American thievery.

17. World’s Largest Popcorn Ball, Sac City

World's Largest Popcorn Ball, Sac CitySource: Lorie Shaull / Flickr
World’s Largest Popcorn Ball, Sac City

Sac City, Iowa doesn’t have much to offer in terms of visitor amusement, but, what it does have is the LARGEST popcorn ball in the world!

The City installed its first popcorn ball in 1995 that weighed 2,225 pounds. However, it was soon bested by the Iowa Boy Scouts who rolled one that weighed 2,377 pounds. Though Sac City lost its ‘claim to fame’ for a tiny bit, the town wasn’t ready to back down. So, they blew up the old ball with seven dynamite sticks and started rolling a new popcorn ball.

The version 2.0 of the popcorn ball that sat inside the barn on Main Street, Sac City weighed a whopping 3,100 pounds. The story doesn’t end here.

Another quick blow to Iowa’s pride came in the form of the 3,423-pounder which was created in Lake Forest, Illinois. Agitated and determined, the town finally, in February 2009, rolled a 5,060-pounder popcorn ball which, they believed will stay at the top for a very, very long time.

But, they were outdone again in 2013, this time by Indiana State Fair who challenged Sac City with their 6,510 pounds, eight-foot-diameter ball.

As of 2016, Sac City has regained its title by producing a 10,000 pound, 12-foot-diameter popcorn ball that remains on the Main street in a custom barn.

18. Iowa’s Largest Frying Pan, Brandon

Iowa's Largest Frying Pan, BrandonSource: sawdust_media / Flickr
Iowa’s Largest Frying Pan, Brandon

Created in 2004 by a group of motivated locals, the Frying Pan was intended to promote Brandon’s “Cowboy Breakfast” that takes place each year on the third Sunday of September. The pan denotes the cast iron hot plates that are used in the making of the “breakfast.”

Although built with a motivation of being the world’s largest frying pan (which, by the way, is in Washington), the town realized that they were up against a lot of competition, and thus, settled happily with being the largest of its kind in Iowa.

As the signage around the pan reports, the construction of the 1,020-pounds frying pan took 41 hours of collective hard work. Located within the grounds of Brandon Area Community Center, the pan, reportedly, can fry 44 dozen eggs or 176 pounds of pork chops at a given time!

Hungry much?

19. Dubuque Shot Tower, Dubuque

Dubuque Shot Tower, DubuqueSource: Nicola Patterson / shutterstock
Dubuque Shot Tower, Dubuque

The Dubuque Shot Tower was constructed in 1856 with an intention to manufacture perfectly spherical lead balls to be used by the military in weapons. Reportedly, the shot tower was equipped with a capability to produce eight tons of lead balls daily!

At 120-foot-tall, the top half of the tower is made of red brick while the bottom was built out of Galena Dolomite stone.

Starting the second half of the 18th century until the 1960s, shot towers were the primary methods of ammunition manufacturing. The lead balls produced here could be used for projectiles in shotguns as well as for ballasts and radiation shielding.

However, the Great Panic of 1857 brought with it an immensely difficult era of economic hardships for the tower. After that, the tower changed several hands, and ironically, was partly damaged by a series of gunfire in 1911.

The tower was restored in 1976 and is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

20. Grant Wood Murals, Ames

Grant Wood Murals, AmesSource: Michelle Mucciaccio / Facebook
Grant Wood Murals, Ames

While the “American Gothic” is definitely one of the most celebrated works of artist Grant Wood, that is not all that the fine painter can be accredited with. In fact, unlike most other notable artworks that are displayed in plush art galleries or museums, some of Wood’s largest illustrations can be found on the walls of the Parks Library.

Wood followed a typical Regionalist style of painting which has been observed repeatedly throughout his artwork. Several walls of the old section of the library, located at Iowa State University, depicts agricultural and farming arts such as farm crops, prairies, and animal husbandry.

The creative work was commissioned by University of Civil Works Administration and was completed by Wood and a group of local Iowan painters, handpicked by the artist.

21. Hawkeye Point, Sibley

Hawkeye Point, SibleySource: Evilwop66 / Wikimedia
Hawkeye Point, Sibley

Though it is believed that much of the state’s land is flat, Iowa does have its share of highlands and Hawkeye Point, at 1,670 feet above sea level, is the highest natural point in the Hawkeye State.

The land that comprises the marker once belonged to the Sterler family, where they worked for several years. Originally, the markers stood at the end of a trough, however, when Merrill Sterler passed away in 2004, much of the land was donated to Osceola County to be used as a state park.

Since then, Osceola County, along with the Hawkeye Point Committee, has taken several steps to beautify the area around the marker and erected an informational kiosk which offers valuable insight into the Sterler family history as well as the county. Additionally, on display is a collection of 50 license plates from 50 different US states that were sent to the family.

Currently, a flagpole, an office space, a picnic table, and several granite markers can be found around the marker.

22. What Cheer, What Cheer

What Cheer, What CheerSource: k_hargrav / Flickr
What Cheer, What Cheer

A big plaque inscribed with “Welcome to What Cheer” greets you as you enter the partly-abandoned town of What Cheer, Iowa. Once a flourished agricultural and coal mining town with a population of 5,000, the town barely has over 600 residents now.

While there are no substantial tourist attractions in the town except the two-story museum, Masonic Opera House, and the What Cheer Flea Market, the etymology behind What Cheer is of great absurdity and interest.

Established in 1865 by Peter Britton, the little town was supposed to be called Petersburg, however, the Post Office wasn’t happy with the idea, suggesting him to pick another name. Finally, Joseph Andrews, a storekeeper in the town, suggested the town be called “What Cheer!”

Several speculations of varied sorts have been made as to why Andrews chose the specific name, however, one that is most logical is that he got the toponym from the saying “what cheer, Netop!” which, in his hometown of Providence (RI) translates to “what cheer, friend!”

In an otherwise decaying town, the source and mystery behind its name are the only dots that are keeping it on Iowa’s map, so much so that the city clerk usually receives several letters from across the world inquiring about the meaning behind the town’s name.

23. Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, Decorah

Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, DecorahSource: David Harmantas / shutterstock
Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, Decorah

Dedicated to the Norwegian immigration to America and the life experience of Norwegian settlers in the Midwestern US, the Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum is regarded as the most comprehensive museum in the country to have been dedicated to a specific ethnic group.

The national museum and heritage center has a compilation of over 24,000 collectibles including certain life-like samples of tools and machinery used during early agriculture, folk arts, wood carving, knife making, and lumbering.

The museum comprises twelve historic buildings, a library and archives, and a Folk-Art School. Reportedly, the museum exhibits the most exclusive collection of Norwegian-American artifacts to be found anywhere in the world.

Established in 1877 as the Norwegian-American Historic Museum, the heritage center hosts the Nordic fest, a 3 to 4 days celebration dedicated to the Scandinavian culture.

24. Bily Clocks Museum, Spillville

Bily Clocks Museum, SpillvilleSource: Jonathunder / Wikimedia
Bily Clocks Museum, Spillville

Sometime in the late 19th century, two brothers, Frank and Joseph Bily lived and farmed in the quintessential Czech town of Spillville, Iowa. Both were extremely equipped in farming as well as carpentry. While farming was slow during winters, the brothers passed their time building wooden clocks.

Starting 1913, the Bily brothers began creating detailed, fashionable wooden clocks purely as a hobby. Little did they know that so many decades later, the town would still be celebrating the exemplary craftsmanship of the duo.

The brothers crafted around 20 timepieces during their lifetime, of which some of the most notable ones are The Apostles, which, at 9 feet 10-inch-tall, is the largest clock they ever created, and American Pioneer History, undeniably regarded as the best work by the brothers. The latter took four years to complete and was sought by Henry Ford for a million dollars but the Bily brothers refused to sell any of their artwork.

In 1946, the brother donated the collection to the town of Spillville with a strict condition – none of the pieces were ever to be sold.

25. Maharishi Vedic City, Maharishi Vedic City

Maharishi Vedic City, Maharishi Vedic CitySource: Keithbob at en.wikipedia / Wikimedia
Maharishi Vedic City, Maharishi Vedic City

Maharishi Vedic City, the newest town in Iowa, was established in 2001 and is based on the ancient Hindu principles of Veda (knowledge), the law of nature, and promoting balance and harmony. The whole town is based on the theme of Transcendental Meditation (TM).

Late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi is regarded as one of the most revered sages of meditation and harmony around the world. In fact, he was the leader of the International Transcendental Meditation movement which began in the 1950s in India and comprised organizations and programs that promoted the technique and benefits of practicing TM.

Fairfield, Iowa is home to the Maharishi International University, a non-profit American university that is based on a “consciousness-based education system”, which was founded in 1973 by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

The town is designed to promote happiness, prosperity, and a healthy way of living.

David Lynch, a distinguished American actor and director, is a frequent visitor and an extensive promoter of TM and its benefits.

26. Stone City, Anamosa

Stone City, AnamosaSource: Kepper66 / Wikimedia
Stone City, Anamosa

Once upon a time, sometime in the 19th century, a rich source of dolomite limestone was unearthed in eastern Iowa. Word spread fast and multiple quarries sprung up in Anamosa, Iowa. The quarry business proved so fruitful that the city built itself a stunning stone town and named it the “Stone City.”

By 1880, there were 500 residents in the new city and the surrounding quarries were undertaking substantial construction projects around the town. The Columbia Hall, a 54-room hotel equipped with a tavern, an opera house, and a bank, constructed in 1883, was among the finest examples of the resulting work.

However, in 1905, Portland Cement set up a plant in Waterloo and resulted in a massive decline in Anamosa’s limestone business. Several businesses shut down and estates were sold.

By 1932, a group of artists, including Grant Wood, had set up a colony in the Stone City, thus making it a creative success but a commercial failure.

While many of the buildings were destroyed in a fire and rusted with time, a few can still be found scattered around the city.

27. The Hobo Museum, Britt

The Hobo Museum, BrittSource: Britt Hobo Days & Hobo Museum / Facebook
The Hobo Museum, Britt

A “hobo”, as opposed to a “tramp” who works only forcibly or a “bum” who doesn’t work at all, is a migrant worker who moves from one place to another while working along the way – like modern day hippies or travelers on a “working holiday.”

The Hobo foundation was established in the mid-1970s by three Hobo kings who were determined to preserve the history and culture of the American Hobo. As a result, Britt became the center for the National Hobo Convention, an annual celebration that has been in operation since 1990.

The Hobo Museum, formerly the Britt movie theatre, started with one box of Hobo artifacts and a substantial amount of money donated by an anonymous Hobo. Soon, the money was used to establish the museum, and Hobo kings and queens from all around the world gladly donated some of their prized possessions for the exhibition.

Owned and managed by the Britt Hobo Days Association, the museum houses a diverse collection of memorabilia, photographs, collections from celebrated Hobos such as Frisco Jack, Steam Train Maury, and the Connecticut Slim, and several interesting paintings.

28. National Farm Toy Museum, Dyersville

National Farm Toy Museum, DyersvilleSource: Lost_in_the_Midwest / shutterstock
National Farm Toy Museum, Dyersville

You would think that the most appropriate place to study the history and science of agriculture will be on an ancient farm or at an agricultural plant, but, you will be wrong!

The National Farm Toy Museum, established in 1986 in the city of Dyersville, Iowa was created with an intention to serve as a host to the annual National Farm Toy Show in the state. However, with three major farm toy companies headquartered in the city, the museum soon became the most suitable platform to showcase the city’s illustrious industry.

Reportedly, the first ever farm toy around the area was built in Dubuque by Fred Ertl, Sr., who started making toy replicas of farm machines and tools as a way to feed his family after being laid off from his job. This led to the establishment of Ertl Company in 1945. His first creation, a toy replica of a horse-drawn sickle mower is on display at the museum.

The Toy Museum’s collection includes a huge variety of farm toys gathered from every corner of the world. Some of the items on exhibit date back to the 1800s.

29. World Food Prize Hall of Laureates, Des Moines

World Food Prize Hall of Laureates, Des MoinesSource: David S Mohn / shutterstock
World Food Prize Hall Of Laureates, Des Moines

Des Moines, Iowa is considered as the self-proclaimed center for fights against hunger. So, it isn’t surprising to know that the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates is located in the city. However, what is surprising and even extremely ironic is the fact that the establishment that commemorates the pioneers who have made contributions towards improving the hunger situation in the world DOESN’T HAVE A CAFETERIA!

Dr. Norman Borlaug invented the World Food Prize in 1987, and, against the approval of the Nobel prize committee, every year, the recognition is bestowed upon those significant researchers and scientists who have made extensive efforts to reduce world hunger. Categories included in the award include hybrid crops, incect control systems, and innovative methods of farming in arid soil, etc.

Each of the distinguished winners has been venerated with a portrait and a plaque at the Hall of Laureates. The various rooms at the exhibit display an elaborate presentation on the struggle of world hunger.

Additionally, a giant mural depicts the city’s history from the stone age to the 20th century.

30. Elwood, The World’s Tallest Concrete Gnome, Ames

Elwood, The World's Tallest Concrete Gnome, AmesSource: Ethan Prater / Flickr
Elwood, The World’s Tallest Concrete Gnome, Ames

Located on the grounds of Iowa State University in the vicinity of Reiman Gardens stands Elmwood, a giant concrete gnome which is regarded as the tallest of its kind in the world.

Reiman Gardens is one of the largest public gardens in the state and houses several striking attractions, making it perfect for a nice family picnic. Covering an expanse of 14-acres, the garden is home to many indoor and outdoor gardens, an indoor conservatory, five supporting greenhouses, and a 2,500-square-foot indoor butterfly habitat.

Owned by the University, the garden has received several rewards and recognition for its brilliant work in preserving nature and incorporating sustainable gardening practices.

Despite so many picturesque sites, the 15-foot-tall concrete Gnome is its primary attraction. Reportedly, it is only two-feet shorter than the world’s tallest fiberglass gnome which is erected somewhere in Poland.

30 Amazing Hidden Gems in Iowa:

  • American Gothic House, Eldon
  • The Day The Music Died Memorial, Clear Lake
  • Father Paul Dobberstein's Grotto of the Redemption, West Bend
  • Lover's Leap Swinging Bridge, Columbus Junction
  • Fenelon Place Elevator, Dubuque
  • Sans Souci Island, Waterloo
  • Pottawattamie Squirrel Cage Jail, Council Bluffs
  • High Trestle Trail Bridge, Madrid
  • Matchstick Marvels Museum, Gladbrook
  • The Black Angel of Oakland Cemetery, Iowa City
  • Villisca Ax Murder House, Villisca
  • Albert The Bull, Audubon
  • American Gothic Barn, Mount Vernon
  • Huston Cemetery, West Des Moines
  • Snake Alley, Burlington
  • Site of the First Train Robbery in the West, Adair
  • World's Largest Popcorn Ball, Sac City
  • Iowa's Largest Frying Pan, Brandon
  • Dubuque Shot Tower, Dubuque
  • Grant Wood Murals, Ames
  • Hawkeye Point, Sibley
  • What Cheer, What Cheer
  • Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, Decorah
  • Bily Clocks Museum, Spillville
  • Maharishi Vedic City, Maharishi Vedic City
  • Stone City, Anamosa
  • The Hobo Museum, Britt
  • National Farm Toy Museum, Dyersville
  • World Food Prize Hall of Laureates, Des Moines
  • Elwood, The World's Tallest Concrete Gnome, Ames