It’s officially our most favorite time of the year! The cooler air is giving way to the crisp beauty of autumn colors. And one of our favorite spots to soak in the magic of this season is right in the backyard of Nashville, TN. With each bend of the road, the trees showcase their new colors of deep shades of reds and yellows, this is the Natchez Trace. The leaf peeper’s dream!
History of Natchez Trace
Its beauty is literally just the start of what makes this historical path so special. The Natchez Trace Parkway is a 444-mile scenic road that twists up from Natchez, Mississippi, into Northern Alabama and finally to Nashville, Tennessee.
It roughly follows the “Old Natchez Trace” which was a series of trails through the woodlands, forged by prehistoric animals and Native Americans. It was eventually utilized by Euro-Americans for trade up through the 19th century and received its name, the Natchez Trace. Mainly used for trade until the rise of the steamboat moved trade to the Mississippi River, the Natchez Trace was neglected. Interest in this historic route was revived in the early 20th century by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). They led the movement to preserve and honor the Natchez Trace’s heritage and history. Construction of this historic parkway began in 1938 but wasn’t fully completed until 2005.
What To See
The parkway stretches through 3 states and also boasts multiple easy-access pull-offs at historical spots and markers; memorializing Native American mounds, Chickasaw stand sites, and even the grave of the explorer Meriwether Lewis (Lewis & Clark expedition).
Another famous spot within the parkway is the Double Arch Bridge, just south of Nashville at milepost 438. The bridge was completed in 1994 and rises 155 feet above the valley of Birdsong Hollow and offers incredible views of the area.
When To Go
Natchez Trace is now one of the most popular routes in the region, attracting tourists from all over the country to travel its twists and turns. Whether you jump on your motorcycle or hop in your car, the colors and scenery of the season are sure to impress. We also recommend stopping off the parkway to explore our Backroad General Store Tour, whenever you need to fuel up or grab a bologna sandwich!
Every year during the last few hot days of summer, gear heads and moto nuts from all over the world flock to the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds in Davenport, Iowa for the world-renowned Chief Blackhawk Antique Motorcycle Swap Meet. What started with just a few motorcycle lovers some 51 years ago under a shade tree, exploded to attract thousands of people each year and has become the largest vintage motorcycle swap meet in America. Overnight, the fairgrounds are transformed into a little city with over 1000 vendors buying and selling anything related to antique motorcycles from the turn of the century to the 1970s.
For All The Pickers
Mike has had his spot at the swap meet for almost 30 years and never misses the opportunity to see his old friends and score rare treasures. He has loved motorcycles since he was little but the swap meet is where he fell in love with the history of the motorcycle.
“So many of these vendors are my mentors and this swap has been a true coming of age for me as a picker,” says Wolfe. “It’s a community of like-minded people that love transportation history and anything with two wheels.”
A favorite night of the swap meet is the motorcycle races. Here you can see riders race motorcycles that age from the early 1900s to the 1960s on a flat, dirt oval track.
One of the people that help make this swap the success it is, is Wanda Schumacher. “She wears a lot of hats but what I love about her the most is that she’s everyone’s mama and she takes care of us,” says Mike.
World Known and Loved
With that family-like atmosphere and an unrivaled selection of everything vintage motorcycle, it’s no wonder that this swap brings people from all over the world, over 20 different countries to be exact (and counting).
Visit www.chiefblackhawk.org for the latest information and dates for next year’s swap meet! We can’t wait to see you out there!
Most midwesterners can tell you a thing or two about corn, but did you know that we like to get lost in it too? Every fall, we look forward to pumpkins, changing leaves, cool autumn nights, and you guessed it—corn mazes!
Examples of mazes used in gardening and tiles.
History of Mazes
Mazes and labyrinths date back some 4000 years ago to the time of Ancient Greece and Rome. They were seen as artwork and thought to help realize one’s purpose, a type of self-awakening that one could find while being lost within the maze. Unlike corn mazes, which are cut into a pattern or theme each year, garden mazes were cut into geometric patterns (think of the labyrinth in The Shining). Those same geometric motifs can also be seen in ancient tiles, art, and more.
Bird’s eye view of a maze pattern cut into a corn field.
The First Corn Maze
Corn mazes don’t date back nearly as far as ancient labyrinths—the first corn maze was built in 1993 by Don Frantz and Adrian Fisher in Annville, Pennsylvania, on 3 acres on land and almost 2 miles of paths. It also received the title of “World’s Largest Corn Maze” by Guinness Book of World Records (which has now been held by the Cool Patch Pumpkins for their 60-acre maze in Dixon, CA since 2014).
Popular around Halloween, haunted corn mazes are sure to get your blood pumping!
Haunted Corn Mazes
Looking for a little more excitement? No problem, there are haunted corn mazes too! Hosted at night, carefully walk through the dimly lit pathways and hold your breath while you approach the next turn—you never know what or who will pop out!
Here are some of our favorite corn mazes so whether you’re coming to see us in Iowa or Tennessee, you can get in on the corny fun!
If you find yourself taking the pilgrimage to visit us out in LeClaire, Iowa—-we have the perfect road trip for you to take! Our shop in LeClaire sits right on the Historic Great River Road—-a National Scenic Byway that stretches from northern Minnesota all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico—winding through 10 states, 3000 miles, and countless small river towns.
Created in 1938, the Great River Road National Scenic Byway is the longest designated roadway and one of the oldest at that! A lot like other famous byways; the Blue Ridge Parkway and Route 66 for example—the Great River Road has received an All-American Road designation. In order for a roadway to receive such a title it must be nationally special and feature one-of-a-kind sights and experiences that do not exist elsewhere. The idea is that the roadway itself is the destination, pretty cool, right?
The Great River Road is made up with a series of different roads and highways that roughly follow every bend and curve of the mighty Mississippi River (look for the white signs displaying the green pilot’s wheel logo). The entire route takes about 36 hours of straight driving but one of our favorite sections of the Great River Road is just a couple hours drive starting from our shop in LeClaire and takes you up north to the “Driftless” areas of Iowa. These areas, unlike most of the Upper Midwest were bypassed by the last continental glaciation—which left rolling hills, underground water sources, caves, bluffs, and made way for the Mississippi and surrounding rivers and creeks. Welcome to the Great River Road, the Main Streets of the Mississippi!
Imagine driving down the highway with rolling green hills and fields, speckled with grazing cattle and horses and then right before you eyes—the scenery shifts. You’re now looking right at the Mississippi River lined with trees and cliffs. This is Bellevue, Iowa which actually means “beautiful view.” This gorgeous little river town has a population of about 3k and is a true Iowan hidden gem. Take in the sights from the towering bluffs at Bellevue State Park—the perfect spot for family hiking and camping! And after working up an appetite, grab a seat at Richman’s Cafe for some mouth watering comfort food. Our favorite is their breakfast burritos and don’t forget a slice of pie (a la mode of course).
Guttenberg is most known for its well preserved pre and post civil war architecture. Especially, the large number of limestone structures dating from before the Civil War and some built as early as the mid-1840’s! Not only is the architecture historical here but so is the history of the Mississippi River! Lock and Dam No. 10 is located in Guttenberg and is also home to the sole remaining lock master house on its original site on the Upper Mississippi River. Now a museum, the Lockmaster’s House was where the lock master of Lock & Dam No. 10 was required to live! Tour the home and imagine what it was like to oversee this section of the mighty Mississippi! Another favorite spot of ours is the Guttenberg Gallery & Creativity Center—a local gallery that supports local artists by exhibiting and selling their work! It also doubles as a community art studio for children and adults. During May-August, enjoy the “Paint Your Own Pottery” studio and much more!
For most Iowans, Dubuque needs no introduction. This city is well known for it’s family fun experiences, historic sites, art museums, theaters, etc.! It’s also home to the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium—a family favorite that melds together river history, science, & wildlife for a one of a kind experience! See just how big catfish can get in the Mississippi and Pilot a river boat, all in one visit! Located directly across the river in Dubuque, IL is home to one of our favorites, Timmerman’s Supper Club. Grab a drink and let’s keep traveling north!
One of Mike’s favorite Iowan towns, McGregor is a must see. This town features one-of-a-kind sights like the Effigy Mounds National Monument. Here they have preserved more than 200 prehistoric mounds built by pre-Columbian Mound Builder cultures. Numerous mounds are shaped like animals; including bears and birds. Get a birds eye view of the Mississippi from a 500 foot bluff at Pikes Peak State Park—-you can also hike and camp this park and take in all of the natural beauty of this Driftless area. Maybe something a little more spooky is what you’re looking for—-let’s go to Spook Cave Campground!
Don’t be fooled by the name, Spook Cave is far more fun than scary! This is a flooded cave that was discovered in 1953 and opened for business in 1955. Here you can rent a cabin or hut and enjoy the great outdoor with fishing, swimming, paddling, hiking, boat rides through Spook Cave, and relaxing around a campfire. Don’t forget to explore downtown McGregor too! Go back in time at River Junction Trade Co.—-which specializes in old west clothing, dry goods, accessories, and more! Another favorite shop of ours is Paper Moon—shop a unique selection of gifts and books we guarantee you’ll love.
Out last stop on our Great River Road Trip has a population of just 429 and is known as “Iowa’s Best Kept Secret.” Nestled right in the bluffs of the Mississippi, this area boasts numerous outdoor activities like; fishing, angling, hiking, camping, and more. Learn more about this unique topographical area at the Driftless Area Wetlands Centre—they host fun, interactive educational experiences for families of all ages! Also, don’t miss the Marquette Depot Museum an learn all about this town’s railroad history and historic railroad artifacts!
Have you ever heard about a town being built on top of a cave? We’re not talking about your average cave — more like the largest natural opening of a cave in existence. A cave that’s so unique that inside it is the world’s longest underground suspension bridge above subterranean rivers 100 feet below ground.
This sounds like a set constructed for a fictitious spelunking film, but it’s not. This place is real, and it’s called Horse Cave, Kentucky.
The town was founded around 1850 by Major Albert Anderson on land surrounding the scenic entrance to Hidden River Cave. The reason why the town grew on top of the cave was due to the water access inside making it a livable location for settlers.
In 1888, Dr. George A. Thomas purchased a home by the cave entrance, and eventually purchased the cave for just $375.00. He saw the cave as a source of both water and an electrical power source.
A hydroelectric system was created to gather water from the cave using a wooden tub which was hauled up to a springhouse by a bucket trolley. This created an enthusiastic buzz in the surrounding communities that Horse Cave began offering tours from 1912 through 1943.
However, groundwater pollution from sewage led to the cave’s closing in 1943. For 50 years Hidden River Cave had been all but forgotten.
In 1992, cleanup efforts Hidden River Cave’s large sinkhole entrance began. With that, so did exploring and mapping the cave. (Still today the complexity of the passageways is still a mystery).
Today, twenty-one types of cave species have been discovered including clear crayfish and eyeless fish! Hidden River Cave had transformed from one of the most polluted to one of the most biologically diverse cave ecosystems in the world.
In fact, in 1867, “Father of the National Parks”, John Muir, talked about traveling to Horse Cave in his book, ‘A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf’ calling the area, “a noble gateway to the birthplace of springs and fountains and the dark treasures of the mineral kingdom.”
Since seeing is believing, we’re are going to help you plan your own weekend escape to one of Mike Wolfe’s favorite towns to visit, Horse Cave. Read on to discover his top picks for where to stay, eat, pick, and explore in town.
WHERE TO STAY
Let’s travel back in time to the wild frontier with a unique stay at the Horse Cave KOA Holidayin one of their Conestoga Wagons. You wouldn’t know it from the outside, but the interior of these wagons features modern amenities like electricity and heat! You also have the option to rent one of the Treehouses at KOA too! Enjoy views of roaming hills and pastures from 20 feet off the ground. The KOA also offers campsites and cabins rentals. A little further down the road, you’ll have the opportunity to check in to the Historic Wigwam Village. Built in 1937, these unique structures feature original hickory-and-cane furnishings and sleep 2 to 4 guests.
Now that you are unpacked, let’s head downtown.
WHERE TO EXPLORE
Did you know thanks to the construction of a hydroelectric system in the 1890s, Horse Cave became the first city outside of Louisville to have electricity? They were also the first city in the state to have incandescent street lights! Much of that charm remains in Horse Cave’s Historic District which has more than 50 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
What’s also unique about downtown streets is how narrow they are — at just 30 feet wide! When Major Albert Anderson founded Horse Cave, he laid out the streets with linen tape to accommodate the horse and carriages. Those narrow streets are still part of the town’s charm today — so watch your mirrors!
While you’re walking down Main Street, you can trace the pathway of the cave under your feet! Along the pathway of the cave is the award-winning Horse Cave Stories Cell Phone Tour that tells the story of a town that grew on top of a cave.
In Horse Cave’s Downtown Shopping District, you’ll find a dozen small businesses beneath colorful awnings. If antique and vintage home decor is your thing, check out A Walk Through Time which is considered the smallest “big store” in town covering 2,000 square feet. Inside you can find just about anything, and if you can’t find what you’re searching for, shop owner, Emry Riley, knows how to track it down.
“Every time I stop by Emry’s shop I end up spending hours talking to local pickers who gather around on the couch and table up front sharing stories and catching up,” says Mike.
Don’t forget to pick around Emry’s wife’s shop, GeeGa’s, offering a more feminine collection of vintage home decor pieces. Caveland Antique Mall is another great shop full of treasures from around the region.
Local art is a great souvenir when traveling. Stop into Sims Studios & Art Shop, this studio has been part of the community for almost a decade! They offer custom framing services, art restoration, art classes, portraits, and more.
“Jesse’s Frame shop is more like an artist retreat,” says Mike. “It has a lot of really amazing local art and a great vinyl selection…ask him to spin you a few.”
If you feel like taking a 5-minute drive out of the downtown area, you’ll find the Kentucky Down Under Adventure Zoo. This Australian-themed animal park offers interactive experiences like feeding kangaroos and Rainbow Lorikeet birds!
All that shopping and animal feeding can work up an appetite! Let’s check out some places serving delicious local dishes.
WHERE TO EAT
Dennison’s Roadside Market has been a Horse Cave favorite since 1992. This family-owned business offers seasonal and local produce like fruits and vegetables and even homemade jams and jellies. Inside you’ll also find Chaney’s Ice Cream, Penn’s, Country Hams, and more. They even offer berry picking when in season. We’d recommend filling up on food here to take back to your campsite and cook up some delicious meals after a day of exploring the caves.
Now that you’ve eaten and have reclaimed some energy to explore, let’s get you ready for the caves!
HOW TO EXPERIENCE THE CAVES
The centerpiece of the town is Hidden River Cave. It’s the largest privately operated cave in Kentucky. You can take a 50-minute guided tour, zip line across the cave entrance, or even rappel down the limestone face of the cave! Sunset Dome, named for its unusual lighting effects, contains the greatest unobstructed floor space found underground to date. Adjacent to the cave is the American Cave Museum, where you can learn more about the history of how the cave was discovered.
We’ll let you in on a secret: there are eight major caves within 45 miles of Hidden River Cave including Mammoth Cave National Park, the longest in the world. Seize the opportunity to get a close-up view of stalactites, stalagmites, and other formations created by water and time.
Hidden gems towns like Horse Cave, Kentucky are a great reminder to always remain curious no matter where you are, because you never know what is waiting to be discovered above or below the surface. Don’t forget your flashlight!
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Nashville’s Big Back Yard is celebrating the accomplishments of its first year! Launched entirely via Zoom meetings during the pandemic, with the assistance of spokesman Mike Wolfe, History’s American Picker, and the community leaders of 12 small towns, this grassroots movement was created to increase travel and tourism to the region while capturing the interest of people in pursuit of a simpler way of life.
To date, Nashville’s Big Back Yard achieved more than 270 million media impressions, engaged more than 50,000 social media followers, and received hundreds of inquiries from people drawn to rural living, remote work, and an affordable lifestyle.
Read the full press release below for more information.
NASHVILLE’S BIG BACK YARD LOOKS BACK ON ONE YEAR
LEIPER’S FORK, Tenn., Sept. 30, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — Launched entirely via Zoom meetings, and with the assistance of spokesman Mike Wolfe, History’s American Picker, Nashville’s Big Back Yard is celebrating the accomplishments of year one. A regional movement of 12 rural Middle Tennessee communities and The Shoals of North Alabama, the organization is taking stock of the year’s success.
With an aggressive PR and social media effort and a grassroots approach to marketing, Nashville’s Big Back Yard achieved more than 270 million media impressions, engaged more than 50,000 social media followers, and received hundreds of inquiries from people drawn to rural living, remote work, and an affordable lifestyle.
NBBY’s comprehensive website achieved in-excess of 100,000 UVM’s and pageviews combined. The site showcases all the towns in the Big Back Yard with robust content – stunning photography, professional videos, real estate information, tourism and relocation stats, and detailed contact information.
Nashville’s Big Back Yard is the result of lengthy conversations during COVID-19 spearheaded by Leiper’s Fork philanthropist Aubrey Preston and led by community leaders in a region long known as a destination for musicians, artists, and other creative talent. Debbie Landers serves as the organization’s executive director.
NBBY was created to increase travel and tourism to the region and capture the interest of people in pursuit of a simpler way of life. Nashville’s Big Back Yard includes the Middle Tennessee towns of Centerville, Clifton, Collinwood, Hampshire, Hohenwald, Leiper’s Fork, Linden, Loretto, Mount Pleasant, Santa Fe, Summertown, and Waynesboro in Middle Tennessee and The Shoals region of Northwest Alabama – Florence, Sheffield, Muscle Shoals.
Mike Wolfe’s participation as a spokesman is inspired by his passion for the backroads of America and a love for Tennessee, where he resides in the Big Back Yard. Wolfe’s involvement, including a video endorsement, helped catapult the initial launch of NBBY to more than 90 million PR impressions and multiple thousands of social media engagements.
“Initially, NBBY was launched as a result of COVID-19’s devastating blow to our nation’s public health and economy, which led people and communities to think about who we are and what we do,” said Preston, who has spent more than 25 years working on rural preservation efforts including the popular Americana Music Triangle. “The success of our first year confirms what we already knew. The land is calling people back, and Nashville’s Big Back Yard has an abundance of land, water and world-class music. It’s a great place to visit and an even better place to live. We’re inviting people to come and play in our big back yard.”
Looking ahead, the Big Back Yard partners anticipate their first in-person meeting in November to celebrate the one-year anniversary and the success of Nashville’s Big Back Yard, a movement created entirely via Zoom.
Nashville’s Big Back Yard is made up of 12 small towns under a population of 5,000 between Nashville, TN, and Muscle Shoals, AL. This watershed region is anchored by the historic Natchez Trace Parkway and has endless outdoor adventures and activities, historic landmarks, quaint small towns, and unique places to stay.
Here are just a few of the many experiences waiting for you.
Dinner In A Cave — Tuscumbia, Alabama
Dinner in a cave, live music, southern hospitality, and a ride in the back of a pick-up truck await you at the Rattlesnake Saloon in Tuscumbia, Alabama. The saloon, which is located in a cave, has been featured in national and international travel publications.
The venue is open Thursday through Sunday for lunch and dinner and live music rings through the cave on weekend nights. The natural cave setting offers extraordinary acoustics.
The crowd-pleasing menu features cheeseburgers, homemade chips, onion rings, deli sandwiches, and many other items. Adult beverages are available after 5 p.m. The visitor parking area is located above the cave, so visitors are transported to the venue via the “pick-up truck taxi.”
Visit The Hit Recording Capital of The World — Muscle Shoals, Alabama
In 1961 a young recording pioneer named Rick Hall connected with a talented young singer-songwriter named Arthur Alexander. They recorded the single “You Better Move On” together in an abandoned tobacco warehouse in Muscle Shoals, and it became an international hit! Rick Hall went on to build FAME Studios on Avalon Avenue and this song marks the global “big bang” of the Muscle Shoals sound.
Set Up Camp On The Natchez Trace — Hohenwald, Tennessee
Thousand Trails Natchez Trace RV Campground is a beautifully wooded RV Campground in Hohenwald, TN right off the Natchez Trace Parkway. This picturesque campground features 830 acres of stunning views, hiking, boating, canoeing, fishing, and more. Amenities on the property include a large swimming pool, mini-golf, a restaurant, and a 3-mile lake where anglers can fish for bass, shellcracker, and crappie.
Choose from over a dozen cabins to stay in, bring your own RV, or pitch a tent if you love to sleep right under the stars.
Take a pontoon tour of the lake, play volleyball, basketball, tennis, or billiards. With a library, wifi and laundry all your needs are met onsite. Pets are welcome so bring your furry best friends they will love the dog park!
Explore Local Historic Roots — Mount Pleasant, Tennessee
Brothers, Pat and Mike Green fondly remember growing up in Mount Pleasant, TN. In the 1960’s they left their quaint town for college and did not return. Now, both brothers are retired and live in neighboring Columbia, TN. This past March, they decided it was time to return to their roots and invest in the revitalization of their beloved hometown.
They purchased a much neglected historic building in the middle of Mount Pleasant’s Historic Downtown District. While cleaning out the building, they were surprised to find an old metal sign that said “The Mt. Pleasant Record”. Even though the building was listed on the historic register as c.1940, they decided that more research needed to be done.
They discovered deeds that date back to 1883 and a fire map from the Maury County Archives listed the property in 1899 as a general store, in 1905 & 1910 as a saloon, and in 1919 as a printing business. This building was the home of the Mt. Pleasant Record, which for over 50 years, was the town’s weekly newspaper.
Mike and Pat, both well-known area businessmen, plan to open an art gallery in early October at this location, and in honor of its past, name it The Mt. Pleasant Record Art Gallery.
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Chad Pregrake, the founder of the Mississippi River clean-up organization, Living Lands & Waters, is heading for dry land to show you his plan on how to reintroduce Bison back to LeClaire, IA by repurposing an interstate bridge.
Once upon a time, both Illinois and Iowa were prairie landscapes where hundreds of thousands of American bison roamed free. Bison are a keystone species that are essential to maintaining the integrity of the food chain and plant life in the prairie biome.
However, due to overhunting and development, bison populations dropped to near zero at the end of the 1900s. It wasn’t long before the native prairie landscape was replaced by agricultural and industrial landscapes.
In an effort to reintroduce and grow the American bison population in the Midwest, one man is making it his personal mission to heard these animals home to their native grounds by repurposing a big piece of existing infrastructure — an interstate bridge.
As the Illinois Department of Transportation begins a preliminary study to replace the Interstate-80 Bridge, Living Lands & Waters’ Founder, Chad Pregracke, has one question: What will happen to the existing Interstate 80 bridge when a new replacement is built?
Pregracke wants YOUR help to transform it into the world’s longest man-made wildlife crossing for pedestrians…and bison.
THE HISTORY OF THE I-80 BRIDGE
Completed in 1966, the bridge connects Interstate 80 across the Mississippi River at the Quad Cities near LeClaire, Iowa, and Rapids City, Illinois. Now named the Fred Schwengel Memorial Bridge, it carries an estimated 42,000 vehicles daily. In 2020, the Illinois Department of Transportation began a preliminary study to replace the bridge.
For over a decade, Chad Pregracke has waited for the opportunity to repurpose the I-80 bridge for locals and visitors to experience the beauty of the Mississippi River and the Quad Cities.
“I grew up in East Moline, Illinois, spending summers as a commercial mussel diver on the Mississippi River with my brother,” says Chad. “I’ve spent most of my life in the river with my Living Lands & Waters crew pulling trash out of the water. When I dreamed up this idea for repurposing the I-80 bridge, I realized I could help rewrite the river’s reputation in a new way. Repurposing infrastructure is a trend in the United States. What is deemed ‘old’ becomes ‘new,’ and in turn transforms and enhances the quality of life in these communities.”
And Mike Wolfe agrees! As a resident of LeClaire, he celebrates the long-term benefit of a project like has for his riverfront community. Mike has joined Chad’s team as vice president of the Bison Bridge Foundation.
“This is another project from the incredible mind of Chad Pregracke,” says Mike. “As long as I’ve known him, he has always had a passion for preserving the Mississippi River. It has been in his blood from an early age. Chad’s mission on and off the river has always been to have a conversation about its history and significance. His passion for the environment and his community is contagious. This project has the potential to bring the Quad Cities to the next level.”
HOW TO SEE THE BISON
The idea is to have the bison and community safely separated from one another. One side of the bridge will be repurposed for foot and bicycle traffic, and the other will be repurposed for wildlife crossings. The two sides of the bridge will be separated by a barrier that will allow for safe wildlife viewing for humans and safe passage for bison.
The foundation also plans to steward a small herd of American Bison to roam and live on the bridge as well as the 100 acres of grazing land located on the Illinois and Iowa sides of the river.
OBTAIN NATIONAL PARK STATUS
“The Bison Bridge is like no other currently in the United States, says Chad. “It’s a land bridge, consisting of wildlife and recreational crossing connecting the Illinois and Iowa riverfronts on the Mississippi River. We have the right team and with the right support, we hope to turn it into a National Park site for visitors to enjoy for generations.”
With over 42,000 cars a day traveling over the Mississippi on I-80, the Bison Bridge will attract locals and visitors alike for the chance to experience all the river and the region have to offer.
HOW YOU CAN HELP MAKE THE BISON BRIDGE A REALITY
In order to get the Bison Bridge project considered for approval by the State of Illinois, Illinois Department of Transportation, and the Federal Highways Administration, Chad, Mike, and the rest of the team need your support. Or better yet — your signature!
The goal of collecting 50,000 signatures will help Chad make his case to the Department of Transportation. Having signatures and letters of support will demonstrate that there is community involvement and support for the proposal to repurpose the I-80 bridge.
Securing a designation would create a public space on the Mississippi River for visitors to enjoy for generations.
Mason City, Iowa is home to the only remaining hotel in the world designed by world-famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. Completed in 1910 and restored in 2011, The Historic Park Inn continues to welcome guests from around the world to experience this truly, one-of-a-kind stay.
Three hours northwest of Antique Archaeology LeClaire rests this historic hotel and next door bank. 100 years ago, this midwest town of fewer than 27K, brought one of the greatest architects of all time to break ground here and show the world that they had a vision for more.
Today, this one-of-a-kind experience was so memorable for Mike Wolfe when he passed through town, that he wanted to invite you to do the same. Here’s the story.
Why Mason City
What contributed to Mason City’s good fortune at the turn of the century was a big boom in the farming market, cement plants, and brick and tile factories. Not to mention, the community was also thriving off of four additional rail lines newly running through town via St. Paul, Chicago, and Milwaukee Railroads. By expanding these tracks westward, Mason City was suddenly not just seen as a central hub for transporting — but also a desirable place to settle down and build a home.
In fact, between 1870 and 1890, the city’s population doubled bringing with it a need to create homes for citizens, their families, and an established downtown district. The era that quickly followed between 1910 and 1920 is often considered the “Golden Age of Building Construction”. This brings us to Frank Lloyd Wright’s arrival at Mason City.
The Wright Way
Frank Lloyd Wright was an American architect who designed more than 1,000 structures over a period of 70 years. His approach towards organic architecture helped challenge the world’s perception about what a home could really be by incorporating a harmonious balance of the arts and crafts movement and nature into his work. (You may have heard of Falling Water just outside Pittsburgh that is partly built over a waterfall.)
Wright believed that a structure should reflect the climate, landforms, and lifestyle of the region. His attention to detail, hand-crafted design, and use of natural materials helped him create spaces to honor the native landscape of the project. Wright was also a fan of creating open, flowing spaces while directing your eye towards a central focal point using natural materials like wood, stone, brick, and terra cotta.
In 1908, Wright received the commission as the architect of The Historic Park Inn Hotel and City National Bank after receiving praise from Mason City developers for his work on an incredible stone structure he had built in Wisconsin using Prairie School style. This style emphasizes and celebrates horizontal lines rather than vertical.
The layout of Prairie School-style structures often stretched and spread across an entire lot, have flat or low hipped roofs featuring overhanging eaves made of brick, wood, and/or stone.
Today, The Historic Park Inn Hotel is the last standing example of five hotels Wright built.
Later in 1912, Wright’s architectural influence would also lead to a new residential development in Mason City called Rock Crest-Rock Glen. Today the area is a National Historic District and recognized as the largest grouping of Praire-style homes in The United States.
Walk Inside To Take A Journey Back In Time
After two years of construction, the Park Inn was ready to welcome guests. The hotel was ahead of its time when it first opened in 1910. It was revered for having luxuries that would have been rare for many to experience during that time, such as sinks with hot and cold running water, mahogany furniture, and brass beds.
One reporter described their first impression of the hotel as having a “bungalow effect”. Stating that the ventilated doors, quiet broad lines, harmonious proportions, and stained glass made them feel like they were living in a Craftsman home.
In 1914, The Park Inn Hotel became the prototype for the famous Imperial Hotel he built in Tokyo, which took six years to complete.
The Park Inn had a central lobby, dining room, kitchen, bakery, and pantry on the first floor, and guest rooms on the second and third. The law offices occupied the building’s second floor and featured a waiting room and lobby.
Today 27 rooms are available to guests, and many of the former amenities are still enjoyed by guests today. A popular activity at the hotel is playing pool on the 100-year-old billiard tables or enjoying cocktails at the hotel bar.
Don’t Forget To Visit The City National Bank
There’s one more section of this historic building that you need to experience — The City National Bank. It’s the earliest multipurpose structure of the 20th century in Mason City and also opened in 1910 along with the hotel.
Wright documented that all of the materials and techniques used were honest and authentic — no shortcuts, veneers, fake columns, or anything artificial just for effect. In hopes of bringing some colorful life to the muted downtown scene, Wright made a last-minute addition of brightly colored Grueby tiles at the top of the bank.
The design of the bank imparted a feeling of stability and security. It featured offices, a cashier’s room, centrally located vaults, and storage. The three skylights in the boardroom have remained in place for over 100 years.
If you’re on the street looking at the colorful second-story windows, Wright plays a deceptive trick on the viewer. By adding high buff brick walls and large horizontal clerestory windows it appeared as if there was a second floor — however, the true intention was to bring natural light into the bank and create a sixteen-foot high ceiling.
Why The Historic Park Inn Matters
In 1996, the Park Inn, a place that was once so cherished, was fighting for its life. After 60 years of severe deterioration, even after being named one of Iowa’s “10 Most Endangered Properties” it still couldn’t’ seem to escape its wrecking ball fate without some true grit, passion, and much-needed funding.
That’s when the folks of Wright On The Park, a non-profit of local citizens made it their mission to preserve, restore and maintain the hotel.
In 2011, one hundred and one years after its original opening, The Historic Park Inn Hotel once again became a thriving business and support for Mason City tourism due to the successful community campaign of Wright on the Park.
They got to work replacing the cracked terra cotta, broken bricks and cleaning the years of dirt off those once brightly colored Grubey titles. The exterior was restored to the original design, and its interior was rehabilitated, allowing it to keep its title as the last standing hotel designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Wright’s role in architectural history and passion for Mason City’s bright future is a source of great pride not just for the local community, but for Iowa and the world.
The passion that the Mason City community has for protecting and preserving its legacy and history is one that we admire. We hope someone who is reading this is inspired to start their own preservation project in their town because when we allow a place like The Historic Park Inn and City National Bank to live on as tangible pieces of our past, we can make sure they have a place in our future.
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