Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

What I’ve learned about Forest City, Iowa May 28, 2015

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Downtown Forest City, Iowa.

Downtown Forest City, Iowa, on a recent dreary Saturday.

“YOU’RE REALLY NOT FROM HERE, are you?” Monte Topp surmised after telling me that Forest City is home to Winnebago Industries.

I could feel the lack of recognition flicker across my face, prompting that comment from Monte, who lives just to the east in Fertile, Iowa. “No, I’m from Minnesota,” I said. And I’m not a camper, I thought, but didn’t speak.

Still, I should have recognized Winnebago Industries as “the leading United States manufacturer of motorhomes and related products and services.” I’m certain the Winnebago Industries Visitors Center and Museum would have educated me, as would a tour of the manufacturing plant. But, since I wasn’t particularly interested, my husband and I didn’t stop while on a brief visit to Forest City.

Another interesting name. The Cow Palace is apparently a livestock auction house.

Another interesting name. Forest City Cow Palace is apparently a livestock auction house.

Monte might not be pleased with my lack of interest. But he laughed when I suggested his name, Monte Topp, sounded like that of a rock star.

My first glimpse of Heritage Park of North Iowa, driving into Forest City from the south.

My first glimpse of Heritage Park of North Iowa, driving into Forest City from the south.

He also mentioned that Forest City is home to a mega Winnebago campground. And besides Heritage Park of North Iowa where I met him, Monte suggested touring the Mansion Museum, which was closed when we were in town.

Waldorf College is located in Forest City with this building directly across the street from the Winnebago County Courthouse.

Waldorf College is located in Forest City with this building directly across the street from the Winnebago County Courthouse.

Later I learned from Minnesota Prairie Roots reader Erin, who attended Waldorf College in Forest City some 20 years ago, that Oak Knoll, the college president’s house once decorated in swanky 70s décor; The Lodge, a “hidden gem” hotel and restaurant where some of the rooms once served as horse stables; and Pilot Knob State Park, the second highest point in Iowa and with an historic stone tower, would also be interesting places to visit. (Thanks, Erin. I always appreciate reader tips.)

What a stunning building, left, in the heart of downtown Forest City. It appeared abandoned and in need of repair.

What a stunning building, left, in the heart of downtown Forest City. It appeared abandoned and in need of repair. Just consider the potential for this architectural beauty.

Yes, I should have done my homework in advance. But, as often happens with my regional travels, minimal planning is involved. It’s just drive and see what one discovers. And, no, I don’t have a smart phone or a laptop to instantly connect me to information while traveling.

BONUS PHOTOS:

This collection site for cans for Relay for Life and for toys for needy kids shows me this is a community that cares.

This collection site for cans for Relay for Life and for toys for needy kids shows me Forest City is a community that cares.

On the way out of town, I spotted this machine shed style building, home to Borderline Pizza and Taco Jerry's.

On the way out of town, I spotted this machine shed style building, home to Borderline Pizza & Video and Taco Jerry’s.

FYI: Click here, and then here and, finally, here to read my first three posts from Forest City, Iowa. Check back next week as I begin a series of posts on a recent visit to Clear Lake, Iowa, to the south and east of Forest City. I’ll also take you to Lake Mills in a future post.

© Copyright 2015 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

 

Honoring rural life at Heritage Park of North Iowa May 20, 2015

“COME BACK ON SATURDAY,” Monte Topp advised. “There’ll be 25,000 people here.”

“No, thanks,” I said.

Heritage Park of North Iowa is hosting Tree Town Music Festival opening this Thursday.

Heritage Park of North Iowa is hosting Tree Town Music Festival opening this Thursday.

And that is how I learned about the May 21 – 24 Tree Town Music Festival in Forest City, Iowa, with Saturday headliner Blake Shelton. Yes, the Blake Shelton, whom even I, not a fan of country western music, know as a judge from The Voice.

But Monte wasn’t talking much music when I met him at Heritage Park of North Iowa last Saturday morning. He was focused instead on the weekend Steam School which drew folks from around the country to learn the ins and outs of operating steam engines.

Gathered to learn about steam engines.

Gathered to learn about steam engines.

Steam engine tractors.

Steam engine tractors. It takes a full day to move all of the steam engine tractors out of a massive building on-site.

Checking out a steam engine tractor during Steam School.

Checking out a steam engine tractor during Steam School.

A sampling of steam engine tractors were lined up across the road from the historic church.

A sampling of steam engine tractors lined up across the road from the historic Beaver Creek Church.

Yet, he found time to take my husband and me inside two expansive buildings to view massive steam engine and vintage tractors. This member of the Heritage Park board knows his stuff. Names and dates. A quarter of a million dollars to purchase that steam engine tractor and another $250,000 invested in its restoration. One-of-a-kind. Only one left. If you want to know anything about anything steam engine, ask Monte.

A Wallis tractor was among the many tractors stored in a massive building.

A Wallis tractor was among the many tractors stored in a massive building.

A tractor seat.

A tractor seat.

Monte Topp, who hails from Fertile to the east of Forest City, is a John Deere guy.

Monte Topp, who hails from Fertile to the east of Forest City, is a John Deere guy.

We threaded our way around hulks of machinery in spaces so dark I could only take a few photos. Heavy scent of oil overwhelmed as did thoughts of yesteryear at this 91-acre site dedicated to preserving America’s rural history.

Several log cabins are on site, including this trapper's cabin.

Several log cabins are on site, including this trapper’s cabin.

I peered inside a partially open door to see that this building is appropriately dubbed the doll house. It's filled with dolls.

I peered in a window to see that this building is appropriately dubbed the doll house. It’s filled with dolls.

There are even, to my automotive machinist husband's amazement, two buildings devoted to flywheels.

There are even, to my automotive machinist husband’s amazement, two buildings devoted to flywheels.

One of my favorite buildings, a corn crib.

One of my favorite buildings, a corn crib.

A rural heritage park would not be complete without a barn and windmill.

A rural heritage park would not be complete without a red barn and creaky windmill.

A sampling of smaller steam engine tractors were lined up across the road from the park's historic church.

An overview of the grounds. I was about to open the door on the grey house when I realized someone lives here.

Buildings—ranging from a church to log cabins to barn, barbershop, jail, school, farmstead house and much more—create this impressive park. As luck would have it, we were not there when the park was open to the public and had to settle for an exterior walk-around.

“Come back this afternoon,” Monte advised as his phone rang.

We couldn’t. But that doesn’t mean we won’t return another time.

FYI: Click here to read my first post from Heritage Park. And check back for one more photo story, this one from downtown Forest City.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Small town Iowa: Where kids still fly kites May 19, 2015

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One of two kites spotted upon arriving at Forest City.

One of two kites spotted while approaching Forest City.

APPROACHING FOREST CITY, Iowa, from the south Saturday, bursts of color broke through the grey of morning fog. Kites. Two. I suspected they were to attract customers to a business. But I was wrong, as I would soon learn from Monte Topp.

Steam engine enthusiasts await instruction during Steam Engineer School at Heritage Park in Forest City, Iowa.

Steam engine enthusiasts gather during Steam Engineer School at Heritage Park.

My husband and I met Monte when we pulled off the highway into Heritage Park of North Iowa, a 91-acre site dedicated to the preservation of America’s rural heritage. On this Saturday, the park was hosting Kite Day and a Steam School to teach the basics of steam engine operations, mechanics and safety.

Because of the weather, only a few people flew kites Saturday morning.

Because of the weather, only a few people flew kites Saturday morning.

Directly across the chain link fence from the main grounds, dedicated enthusiasts gathered to fly kites. It was, said Monte, Forest City’s annual Kite Day. But with drizzle and fog making for less than ideal flying conditions, participation was minimal. We saw only three kites launched.

As we toured the grounds, this frog kite began to ascend.

As we toured the grounds, this frog kite began to ascend.

But still, I was not disappointed. I was impressed. Impressed that Forest City and other north Iowa communities (according to Monte) set aside a day and a place to safely fly kites. On this Saturday it was Forest City’s turn to host. The municipal airport even closed for the event, Monte noted.

The vivid colors of this kite were a welcome visual jolt in the grey sky.

The vivid colors of this kite were a welcome visual jolt in the grey sky.

In this day when lives are ultra focused on technology and team sports, I find it comforting that the simple solo act of flying a kite holds such value in northern Iowa. There’s something about flying a kite that connects you to the sky in a way that’s powerful and poetic and freeing. Powerful wind tugging at string gripped in hand. Kite dancing. And then the soaring, oh, the joyfulness when everything comes together and a kite rides the wind.

Kids and kites.

Kite Day is all about kids and kites.

It’s lovely. Simply lovely in a way that roots you to the land, yet frees you to dream, to believe, to reach. I hope these north Iowa kids realize just how fortunate they are to live in communities that understand the value of kite flying enough to host Kite Day.

FYI: Clear Lake, Iowa, to the southeast of Forest City hosts a Color the Wind Kite Festival each February. Held on frozen Clear Lake, the event features about 50 kites, including stunt kites.

Check back tomorrow for a tour of Heritage Park in Forest City.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling