Traveling to see Iowa’s history


When I was in sixth grade, we took a class on Iowa history. I don’t remember how often we had the class, but I do remember that at least once a week my whole class trooped down to the lunchroom in the lower level of the old Stanhope school building to watch a program on public television about Iowa history. Maybe on other days we listened to the teacher in our classroom.

I liked learning about my home state, even if some of that information came from public television on a basic black-and-white TV as I sat with my classmates on benches at long lunchroom tables.

Maybe because I was so enthusiastic about Iowa history when I got home, that summer my family took a trip to northeast Iowa to see some of those places I had learned about. It was probably just a few days we were gone. We took in places like the Little Brown Church, the Effigy Mounds, and the world’s smallest church in Festina, the Bily Brothers Clocks. We stayed overnight in Dubuque.

So we did a staycation before we even knew what that was.

I was thinking about that little trip one recent day when I couldn’t get out because of yet another snow storm. Sorting and purging books is as good an activity as any on such a day, and I came across a book titled “Oddball Iowa, a Guide to Some Really Strange Places.”

I don’t know where the book came from or why I have it, but it does have some truly oddball entries about our state. Since this is Iowa, there must be a category in the book about food. The World’s Largest Cheeto is in Algona, the World’s Largest Rice Krispie Treat was built on the ISU campus in honor of the Iowa State graduate of their home economics program who invented the very first Rice Krispie treat, and the World’s Largest popcorn ball is in Sac City. And in Fruitland is the World’s Largest watermelon slice.

Although not everything covered in the book is about the World’s Largest something, there is a statue of the World’s Largest bullhead in Crystal Lake. Perched on top of the welcome sign to Mallard is one very large Mallard duck, and in Pocahontas you’ll find the World’s Largest Pocahontas. It’s a 25-foot-tall concrete statue of the Indian maiden.

Considering concrete, you’ll also find the world’s first reinforced concrete bridge in Rock Rapids. When it was constructed in 1894, reinforced concrete was an idea so revolutionary it was copyrighted. And today almost all bridges are constructed using this method.

All these wonders are in just the northwest quadrant of our state. More later.