Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Part II: Discovering the Americana charm of Clear Lake, Iowa June 2, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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Clear Lake, almost Norman Rockwell like in Iowa charm.

Clear Lake, almost Norman Rockwell like in Iowa charm.

AMERICAN FLAGS, SEEMINGLY methodically planted curbside, present a patriotic flair.

Vintage lawn chairs for sale seem ideal for a local lake home or cabin.

Vintage lawn chairs for sale seem ideal for a local lake home or cabin.

Vintage weathered lawn chairs beckon.

Pink potted geraniums cluster around a lamp post.

Starboard Market, a highly-recommended local sandwich shop and deli. We, unfortunately, did not eat here because of the wait.

Starboard Market, a highly-recommended local sandwich shop and deli. We, unfortunately, did not eat here because of the wait.

An empty stroller sits outside a busy downtown deli.

Downtown Clear Lake features interesting historical architecture.

Downtown Clear Lake features interesting historical architecture.

This is Clear Lake, a northern Iowa community of nearly 8,000 along Interstate 35 that retains its small town Americana character in an historic downtown lined with quaint shops, eateries and more.

The lake draws visitors here. A park, boat launch, beach and dock are located at the end of Main Avenue.

The lake draws visitors here. A park and public boat launch, beach and dock are located at the end of Main Avenue.

Park on one end of Main Avenue and stroll your way to the lake, one of Iowa’s largest. Dip your toes into Clear Lake, which isn’t all that clear.

All of the cookies sold at Cookies, etc. are made from scratch using secret family recipes, divulged to only a few select employees. Monster cookies are the top seller.

All of the cookies sold at Cookies, etc.. are made from scratch using secret family recipes, divulged to only a few select employees. Monster cookies, left, are the top seller. The cookies my husband and I purchased were warm from the oven. Cookies, etc. ships. The shop also serves muffins, cinnamon rolls, specialty coffees, other beverages and smoothies.

And, even if it’s only 10 a.m., follow the advice and fresh-baked cookie aroma of Cookies, etc.: “Life is short. Eat cookies.”

Flowers and plants bordered two three sides of the corner Larson's Mercantile, a popular stop for shoppers.

Flowers and plants border three sides of the corner Larson’s Mercantile, a popular stop for shoppers.

Pop into the many shops, including the popular Larson’s Mercantile, like a step back in time into a five-and-dime.

Friendly owner Tom Wilson welcomes me to Collectors Wonderland, where I took pictures and purchased a vintage lamp.

Friendly owner Tom Wilson welcomed me to Collectors Wonderland, where I took pictures and purchased a vintage lamp.

Delight in shopkeeper friendliness, a seemingly signature trait of Clear Lake folks.

Lake Time Brewery is a must-stop for good beer and great conversation with the locals.

Lake Time Brewery is a must-stop for good beer and great conversation with the locals.

Hang out on the patio of Lake Time Brewery where the welcome is as comfortably enthusiastic as Cheers.

The Surf Ballroom draws musicians and music lovers from all over. It is the final venue played by Buddy Holly,

The Surf Ballroom and Museum draws musicians and music lovers from all over. It is the final venue played by Buddy Holly, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and Ritchie Valens before they died in a plane crash in February 1959 outside of Clear Lake.

This is Clear Lake, a destination get-away for my husband and me on our recent 33rd wedding anniversary. Situated only 85 miles to the south of our Faribault, Minnesota home, it was the perfect quick retreat into a rural lakeside community that caters to visitors like us and those who are more interested in recreational water sports or the historic Surf Ballroom.

Clear Lake retains its strong rural roots.

Clear Lake retains its strong rural roots.

Along its northern exit, Clear Lake appears like any other Interstate community with chain restaurants, hotels and gas stations. But take the highway toward downtown and the distinct characteristics of this town emerge. You’ll see its rural side in grain bins and fields.

You'll see lots of boats, like this one parked in a residential driveway.

You’ll see lots of boats, like this one parked in a residential driveway.

Boats point to the lake’s importance here.

The plan was to visit the iconic Barrel Drive-in on Saturday morning. However, it wasn't open yet and rain was falling. So the only image I have is this one, which does not show the drive-in.

The plan was to visit the iconic The Barrel Drive-in on Saturday morning. However, it wasn’t open yet and rain was falling. So the only image I have is this one, which does not show the drive-in, only its landmark chicken. The drive-in is known for its broasted chikcen and homemade root beer.

And long-standing eateries like The Barrel Drive-In showcase the uniquely local flavor of this place.

This art for sale at J Avenue pretty much summarizes Clear Lake.

This art for sale at J Avenue pretty much summarizes a visit to Clear Lake.

Clear Lake is worth a day trip or an overnighter with plenty to see and do. We certainly did not see and do it all. But we got a great sampling of all this Iowa community offers.

FYI: Please check back for more posts in this seven-part series from Clear Lake, Iowa. I’ll take you to the lake, the Surf Ballroom, a quaint chapel, the arts center and more.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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26 Responses to “Part II: Discovering the Americana charm of Clear Lake, Iowa”

  1. Almost Iowa Says:

    If my wife took the photo of The Barrel chicken, she would insist that I pose with the chicken. She always does that and it’s humiliating. When I tell her it is humiliating, she just says, “Yeah, it is..”. 🙂

    I love these photo essay, Audrey.

  2. Marneymae Says:

    I find that when I read the posts you’ve written about these small towns I would likely never have visited, some kind of longing is felt… an urge to see & experience the various town gems…
    My goodness, homemade root beer?!?
    I always appreciate your honoring of rural life.
    Thank you, Audrey

  3. Littlesundog Says:

    Oh, Audrey I love these posts on little town life. I love the architecture of the old downtown areas… and The Barrel Chicken photograph is awesome!! I love big statues like that! Your reply to Greg’s comment is priceless! You know I truly do include people in photographs to show scale, but mostly it’s more about “I’ve been to this place and here I am to prove it”!!

    • Both are good reasons for including people in roadside statue photos. But, knowing Greg’s sense of humor via reading his blog, I had to toss out that “scale” explanation.

      Glad you are enjoying this series from Clear Lake.

  4. Sweet Posy Dreams Says:

    Wonderful town portrait, and that’s neat to see the Surf Ballroom. But am I the only one to wonder why a shop called the Red Geranium puts pink geraniums outside their store? I guess pots of reds would be just too obvious.

  5. Katy Flint Says:

    You took some great pictures that capture Clear Lake perfectly! My aunt and uncle have lived in Clear Lake all my life and we always “do” 4th of July there, which is HUGE!

  6. Beth Ann Says:

    You have the ability to see beyond and capture the things that most folks don’t see. Can’t wait to see more from your trip—it will be worth waiting for I am sure.

  7. Katie Says:

    Thank you for featuring our beautiful town. You are a talented writer and photographer

  8. Don Says:

    I like the picture of the grain elevators in spite of the stoplights! The stories and pictures of rural small towns is making me all the more anxious to relocate! Keep up the good work!

  9. Jackie Says:

    Such a fun little town, as always you capture the details that grab our attention and reel us in. Cant wait to read the continuing posts on this sweet little town 🙂

  10. What a great photo tour of such a cute small town.

  11. Americana at its best.. It’s like turning back the clock to a more gentile time. Thanks for sharing it with us Audrey.


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