Eight hidden treasures you can only find in Iowa
Mark Kuhn and his wife, Denise, maintain the All Iowa Lawn Tennis Club at their farm south of Charles City. It's a "whimsical replica" of Wimbledon's famed courts and lined using the same paint. Rodney White/Register file video
Editor's note: This story by former Register reporter Susan Stapleton originally ran in 2016.
Iowa sure is a lot more than breaded pork tenderloins, breweries on every bike trail, corn growing tall and pigs ruling the roost. It’s more than a state buffered by the Mississippi and Missouri rivers to the east and west. It’s more than that painter, Grant Wood, who depicted the American Midwest through his "American Gothic." More than gymnast Shawn Johnson and actors Ashton Kutcher and Elijah Wood.
Among the icons that make Iowa familiar and approachable are places off the beaten track that're worth a visit — places that rate exploration whether during a short road trip or an entire holiday weekend.
Here’s a look at eight hidden treasures found all across the state that can give tourists a reason to discover old places that make this state even more interesting.
The All Iowa Lawn Tennis Club, Charles City
Want to make a tennis road trip? Mark and Denise Kuhn built a grass tennis court on their Charles City farm in 2003. The couple spent 14 months building a tribute to Wimbledon, the grass tennis court in England, that now sits on the farm’s former cattle feedlot. There's no charge to play, but reservations are required.
All Iowa Lawn Tennis Club, 2667 240th St., Charles City; 641-330-4910
The Big Treehouse, Marshalltown
A massive treehouse with 5,000 square feet of space sits near Marshalltown. The 12-level treehouse built in 1983 features electricity, a microwave oven, a telephone, running water, a grill and 13 porch swings. Guests reach this treehouse by first crossing a replica of the 1901 M&ST L Railroad Bridge. Other notable pieces to this place include the Skywalk 2000, which wraps around the 10th level, a 60-step spiral staircase and a replica of the Rainbow Bridge.
The Big Treehouse, 2370 Shady Oaks Road, Marshalltown; 641-752-2946
The Salt & Pepper Shaker Gallery, Traer
This museum features the second largest collection of salt and pepper shakers in the world. Find 16,000 sets that showcase everything from kissers, minis and condiment sets cast in plastic, metal, wood, porcelain, ceramic, glass and more. Ruth Rasmussen started her collection in 1946 with cute pieces that feature “I Love Lucy” slippers, Betty Boop sitting on shoes and a cow riding a motorcycle. Tickets start at $3.
Salt & Pepper Shaker Gallery, 411 Second St., Traer; 319-231-7654
Des Moines' round houses
Head to Urbandale Avenue between 49th and 50th streets in Beaverdale for a look at four round houses built in 1946 and 1947 following World War II. Another 10 round houses call Des Moines home, including three on 58th Street, between University Avenue and Kingman Avenue. All take up less than 1,000 square feet.
The Matchstick Marvels Museum
Matchstick artist Patrick Acton removes the sulfur tips of his medium to make gigantic replicas of the International Space Station, Notre Dame and even the International Space Station, a hobby he’s worked for 36 years. A 13-foot replica of the USS Iowa and a 12-foot lighted model of the U.S. Capitol are among his works. Drawings and models of the pieces are on display as well as a video documentary on how Acton creates his masterpieces. Adults get in for $5, kids 5 to 12 for $3, and free for everyone under 5.
Matchstick Marvels Museum, 319 Second St., Gladbrook; 641-473-2410
The 'Sistine Chapel' at Galleria de Paco, Waterloo
You never have to travel to the Vatican to see Michelangelo’s “Sistine Chapel.” Instead, head to the Galleria de Paco in Waterloo for Paco Rosic’s recreation of the work made completely with spray paints over five months, all inside an Italian restaurant. He originally painted the ceiling of an abandoned building in downtown Waterloo, only to have it flooded in 2008 when the Cedar River crested. Rosic and his family converted the space into a restaurant with the art as a centerpiece.
Galleria de Paco, 622 Commercial St., Waterloo; 319-833-7226
Take a tour and learn more about the unique Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend, Iowa, which marked its 100th anniversary in 2012. Rodney White/Register file video
The Grotto of the Redemption
Some call the Grotto of the Redemption the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” Father Paul Matthias Dobberstein, who came to West Bend in 1898, spent a decade collecting rocks and stones and then spent another 42 years building the nine grottos that tell the story of the life of Jesus. Each is decorated with items, including semi-precious stones, a rock from the South Pole and petrified wood, according to Roadside America.
Grotto of Redemption, 208 First Ave. NW, West Bend; 515-887-2371
A meteorite in Estherville
Granted, seeing the entire 455-pound meteorite that plummeted to earth in Emmet County north of Estherville isn’t an option. But knowing that in 1879, the largest meteorite known to fall in North America landed in Iowa is a source of pride. Find pieces of it on display in the Estherville Public Library, the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and the Naturhistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria.
Estherville Public Library, 613 Central Ave., Estherville; 712-362-7731
Seven other interesting tidbits from around Iowa
- The largest walnut rocker in Iowa sits in West Amana next to the Broom & Basket Shop (816 Eighth Ave., West Amana). It weighs in at 650 pounds.
- Every street in Farragut, population 485, southwest of Shenandoah is named for an event or person in the life of the Admiral David G. Farragut, for whom the town was named. He was the first rear admiral, vice admiral and admiral in the U.S. Navy and died in 1870.
- Sabula, population 576, is Iowa’s only town located on an island. It sits on the Mississippi River south of Dubuque.
- Lee County south of Burlington is bordered on three sides by the Mississippi, Des Moines and Skunk rivers.
- Carter Lake is the only Iowa town west of the Missouri River. Visitors have to drive through Omaha to get to the town that sits next to Eppley Airfield.
- The Nelson Pioneer Farm in Oskaloosa features the only mule cemetery in the state.
- Muscatine is the only town in the world with that name