Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The patriotism of the Winnebago County, Iowa, courthouse square May 21, 2015

At the top of the hill looking down the street we just traveled to reach downtown Forest City and courthouse square.

At the top of the hill looking down the street we just traveled to reach downtown Forest City and courthouse square.

THE RED-WHITE-AND-BLUE BEDECKED gazebo caught my attention as we drove up the hill, past grain bins and Dollar General, into downtown Forest City two Saturdays before Memorial Day.

This oversized gazebo sits in the Winnebago County Courthouse square.

This oversized gazebo sits in the Winnebago County Courthouse square.

What a delightful, patriotic welcome to this northern Iowa county seat, home to Waldorf College, Winnebago Industries and Heritage Park of North Iowa.

The courthouse was built in 1897 for $20,496. A south wing was added later.

The courthouse was built in 1897 for $20,496. A south wing was added later.

The Winnebago County Veterans Memorial rests on the side of the courthouse near the gazebo.

The Winnebago County Veterans Memorial rests on the side of the courthouse near the gazebo.

The Union Soldier statue was purchased by the local Women's Relief Corps in 1899. The chapter was founded to care for Union soldiers and to assist their widows and orphans and to honor the dead. There are 151 Civil War veterans buried in Winnebago County.

The Union Soldier statue was purchased by the local Women’s Relief Corps in 1899. The chapter was founded to care for Union soldiers and to assist their widows and orphans, and to honor the dead. There are 151 Civil War veterans buried in Winnebago County.

This eye-catching display of American pride drew my eyes to the gazebo and then to the imposing 1897 Romanesque style courthouse. Both sit in the Winnebago County Courthouse square, graced by two war memorials—that of a Union soldier and the Winnebago County Veterans Memorial.

The vintage Sherman tank.

The vintage Sherman tank.

A Sherman tank anchors a corner of the block.

A sculpture on a corner of the courthouse.

A sculpture on a corner of the courthouse.

Aiming my camera up at the towering courthouse.

Aiming my camera up at the towering courthouse. Notice all that architectural detail.

Another courthouse sculpture.

Another courthouse sculpture.

The Union Soldier was constructed from zinc by J. L. Mott Iron Works of Trenton, New Jersey, at a cost of $155.

The Union Soldier was constructed from zinc by J. L. Mott Iron Works of Trenton, New Jersey, at a cost of $155. The monument was restored in 2005.

The fountain atop which the Union soldier stands was also built by J. L. Mott Iron Works. It is of French Victorian design. The goat head symbolizes strength and victory.

The fountain atop which the Union soldier stands was also built by J. L. Mott Iron Works. It is of French Victorian design. The goat heads symbolize strength and victory.

It was a lot to take in, to photograph. Artsy architectural details add visual interest to the fountain and courthouse, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. I only wished it had been a week day so I could have toured the courthouse interior.

I appreciated the patriotic colors on The Legion.

I appreciated the patriotic colors on The Legion.

But, since I couldn’t get inside, I focused my camera on the exterior, all the while watched by two elderly men across the street near the Legion. I expect they were wondering about the couple in the car with Minnesota plates and the woman shooting pictures with a fancy camera. Perhaps I should have chatted it up with them. The likely could have told me a story or ten.

FYI: Click here to read my first, and then my second, blog post on other Forest City, Iowa, attractions.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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18 Responses to “The patriotism of the Winnebago County, Iowa, courthouse square”

  1. treadlemusic Says:

    Love that gazebo!!!! I have noticed more such central “commons” artistry in Iowa than in MN….I’m not sure if it isn’t because I’ve been to more smaller towns in that state than here but the architecture & layouts seem to be more along the lines/pattern of Forest City (not all but a higher percentage). It’s sad that our military (past and present) vets have slipped into/been relegated to more of a place of “problematic” (VA woes, etc) rather than “honor”. The quilt guild I belong to in Spring Grove has moved away from the “Quilts of Valor” program and now gives “Quilts of Honor” (our designation) to WWII vets that we are searching out in Houston County. Longevity is high in our area so there are quite a few still among us!!!!

  2. Almost Iowa Says:

    A strong sense of patriotism is natural to small towns because the people who live there have a strong sense of place. In the metro, neighborhoods used to be like that but these days it is hard to have a sense of place when you have only lived there for a few years and don’t know your neighbors.

  3. Erin Honken Says:

    Hi Audrey, 20+ years ago I was a student at Waldorf. I remember Forest City as a great, sleepy little town. The residents and businesses were very welcoming (and tolerant) of the college kids! I never saw the inside of the courthouse – thank goodness!

    If you go back – check out:
    Oak Knoll the college President’s house — very 1970’s swanky décor, maybe they’ve remodeled by now…
    The Lodge (hotel & restaurant) Some of the rooms used to be horse stables. It’s a hidden gem!
    Pilot Knob State Park — there’s a great old (1930s?) stone tower, its the 2nd highest point in Iowa!

    • I should have talked to you BEFORE visiting Forest City. But this was an impromptu route, as our journeys often are. We were surprised that downtown Forest City didn’t seem more thriving. But then we did only a quick drive through before stopping at the courthouse. I’ll have one more post from this Iowa community. Thanks for the tips.

  4. It’s good for me to remember that the Civil War stretched far beyond the confines of the South all the way into the great Midwest. I so enjoy your tours into these small cities and towns, Audrey, thank you. Our country is rich with history everywhere.

    • Thank you, Barbara. The sacrifices made by Union soldiers are well-remembered here in the North. There’s a Civil War soldier monument in my community, too, although not as lovely as the one in Forest City. And my area has a Cannon City Civil War Roundtable that meets once a month to discuss all things Civil War.

  5. That is a beautiful courthouse and I love the patriotism the town has. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Janelle Parry Says:

    Dear Audrey,
    As a past VFW Preident my heart goes out to the small towns and communities honoring our soldiers and remembering what the upcoming holiday is about. I agree with the earlier statements, as I attending many memorials that the small towns with a sense of fellowship really take this to heart. Your pictures make me want to visit Forest City and absorb the history.
    Just as a fun side, watching an old “Andy Griffith Show” last night they mentioned getting gussied up for Decoration Day.

    • Janelle, thank you for stopping by with your insights and also for your service to your VFW. My small town Memorial Day roots extend back to attending a community service every year in my hometown, reading “In Flanders Fields” there and places poppies on a wreath and then going to the local cemetery.

      Decoration Day, huh? I admit I don’t know anything about that, although I have heard of it.

      • Janelle Parry Says:

        According to the stone Memorial you took the picture of, it was to honor the dead of the Civil War. It must have been before it was all balled up into one observance day. I just love the mystery of history.

      • Of course, it’s right there on the stone. Duh. Mind not thinking this a.m. Thank you.

  7. Littlesundog Says:

    I just love this small town patriotism! Last year we were in my sister Juli’s little town in Nebraska for Memorial weekend. I was surprised that so many people from the small village and surrounding community attended the fund raising breakfast, cemetery services, and many stood around visiting for over an hour after. I met some great folks that day. And I felt proud to attend.

  8. Thread crazy Says:

    Here in our town we always have a celebration and remembrance of our vets in town which concludes at the local cemetery on Memorial Day with a fly-over of WWII bi-wing airplanes. You can set your clock by the arrival time of the planes…always sends a chill up your spine to witness such a sight.


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