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Venturing over Siouxland’s Border, Steen, MN

22 Aug

I spent part of a recent day visiting an Iowa State Preserve in Siouxland near the South Dakota border which is also not far from the Minnesota border. While heading  home I saw a sign that said, Steen, MN, six miles. I made a detour. After living in Iowa for a number of years I have not ventured into Minnesota. No particular reason, I just never got there. When I hit the outskirts of the small community I had not even realized I had crossed a state border.

A sign at a park welcomes visitors to Steen, Minnesota Thursday Aug. 3, 2017. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Steen is a tidy little community. Originally settled by one Ole P. Steen who fought for the North during the Civil War as a calvaryman. Like many of Iowa’s early communities, Steen was created, 1888, because the Illinois Central Railroad needed a railroad station. Today it’s population is a little over 170 people according to the 2014 census. Many communities that start as a railway hub eventually hit a peek as that hub moves to another community. After having spent a bit photographing various aspects of the community, a pick-up stopped next to me and a man popped out introducing himself as mayor. He was quick, and handed me a little booklet about the community’s centennial which occurred in 1988. A man proud of his hometown and a place he calls home.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

Siouxland History in Harrison County, Welcome Center Missouri Valley

12 Aug

A few weeks back as I was getting out exploring some new areas to me in Siouxland, I finally visited the Harrison County Welcome Center outside of Missouri Valley. The Welcome Center and its museum originally started as a personal project of a Preston Niles who moved there and started an orchard and then a store and finally a small museum as it was situated on the Lincoln Highway, Route 30, that travelled across the country from east to west. The Welcome Center and its small village and museum has so many items and pieces of history that it’s easy to spend a couple of hours reading about all the items.

The Welcome Center and Harrison County Historical Museum near Missouri Valley, Iowa Friday, June 16, 2017. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Situated outside is a long wooden culvert that was used during the WWII era when metal was in short supply for drainage for communities. Talking with a docent she informed me that when more recent work began around the museum area, the culvert was discovered. And rather than throwing it into the landfill, added it to the other historical items, such as a Bible from the Civil War era, that is from the local area surrounding Missouri Valley.

A Bible from the Civil War era on display at the Welcome Center and Harrison County Historical Museum near Missouri Valley, Iowa Friday, June 16, 2017. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Docents at the Welcome Center and Harrison County Historical Museum explained that during WWII with a short supply of metal because of the war, wooden culverts were used for drainage in the area near Missouri Valley, Iowa Friday, June 16, 2017. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

During a massive flood of the Missouri River during 2011 the docent told me some structures were lost and items from those individual displays were put together in a newer building that is more flood resistant than the former wooden structures, although not as historic in nature. And on a hot day, as this particular day, visitors can also try out some cider that is made there. Evidently part of the original owner Niles had an orchard and beside selling its fruit, also made non-alcoholic beverages from the fruit.

The Welcome Center and museum area is certainly a nice place to spend half a day acquainting oneself with local history and understanding some more of Iowa’s development in Siouxland.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

Former Railroad Days in Siouxland, Wall Lake

10 Aug

I have found driving around Siouxland that many small communities sprung up in the state’s early days, the late 1800’s and early 1900’s primarily founded on the railroad passing through the community as others continued their trek west and the country expanded. One of those communities is Wall Lake, with a population roughly around 800 people that was tallied in 2014.

With most small communities the railroad was a lifeline in and out. Fostering more growth, but inevitably taking away that growth once the railroad ceased its operation.

The former Chicago Northwestern railroad depot in Wall Lake Iowa Iowa Friday, May 12, 2017. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Esther Bielema, a local historian, explained that the railroad functioned in the Wall Lake area up until the 2000’s when after a flood and train tracks were damaged that the current ownerUnion Pacific did not do any repairs. Later local residents got together and refurbished the depot and turned it into a history outpost for the community informing visitors the railroad’s past presence locally.

Older photos displayed on a wall in the former Chicago Northwestern railroad depot in Wall Lake, Iowa, Sunday July 16, 2017. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

A photograph on a wall shows patrons of the later 1800’s in the now refurbished former Chicago Northwestern railroad depot in Wall Lake, Iowa, Sunday July 16, 2017. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Brian Bielema formerly worked for the railroad for 37 years and recounted a wealth of history and information about the depot and events a bygone era.

Former railroad man Brian Bielema sits in the now refurbished Chicago Northwestern depot in Wall Lake, Iowa, Sunday July 16, 2017. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

The sad thing though is that small communities in Iowa will one day lose these historians and the history that accompanies the communities may be lost as others do not learn about the place they live and the history of its coming into existence. A dilemma faced by many smaller communities as younger people move away and the towns shrink.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

Living History, or seeing it, in Siouxland, Wisecup Farm Museum

6 Aug

While visiting southern Siouxland this summer, I came upon another little slice of historical memorabilia. I find it surprising but also wonderful that there are so many museum’s of all stripes in western Iowa. Some in cities and small towns, but others created by people trying to preserve the past and help people understand what pioneers and early settlers lives were like prior to this 21st century. The Wisecup Farm Museum outside of Missouri Valley has a number of restored pieces of farming equipment as well as a one-room school house, a small chapel and homestead. A lot of stuff “stuffed” within the confines of a small space.

A variety of “antique” or former period farm machinery is found at the Wisecup Farm Museum in Missouri Valley, Iowa Wednesday, June 21, 2017. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Antique Minneapolis Moline tractors form a line at the Wisecup Farm Museum in Missouri Valley, Iowa Wednesday, June 21, 2017. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

I appreciate the aged and no longer viable farm equipment I encounter because it was in use and the tech of the day while I was growing up on a farm. Farming today is as high tech as a number of other industries with satellite guided tractors and sensors to help farmers get the best yield from their tillable fields.

But it’s nice to know the what and how farmers got to this point. But it’s also nice that individuals find it important to share the past and help educate those of today. It’s been written that people are condemned to the past if they don’t know it. But that is another discussion for a better philosopher than myself.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

Cruising Siouxland on the Queen II, Okoboji

2 Aug

On a recent visit to the lake region of Iowa in Siouxland which includes the communities of Arnolds Park, Okoboji and Spirit Lake, I finally was able to take a cruise on West Lake Okoboji on the Queen II. When the lakes region around Arnolds Park and Okoboji became a resort area, a boat named the Queen brought visitors out onto the lake and showed off the region. The Queen II continues that history.

The Queen II prior to leaving for a cruise around West Lake Okoboji in Arnolds Park, Iowa, Monday July 24, 2017. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

A passenger gets a better view of West Lake Okoboji from the Queen II during a cruise at Arnolds Park, Iowa, Monday July 24, 2017. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

The cruise gives a nice background history to the immediate lakes region and for those wanting to know more they can visit the Maritine Museum in Arnolds Park.

Capable of holding about 200 passengers, the skipper this day, Lance Freed, gave some general introductions then played some canned information that was informative and effective.

Lance Freed skippers the Queen II during a cruise around West Lake Okoboji in Arnolds Park, Iowa, Monday July 24, 2017, something he has been doing for 17 years. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Originally owned by farmers, the non-tillable area was sold off to various individuals who began selling plots of land to those who wanted a place on a lake. The then cottages, although still called that, were modest and small. Now some of them are multi-million dollar vacation homes, one is estimated to be worth $12 million. And the land itself around the lake, depending on which side, east or west, can run from $10,000 a square foot to $17,000 a square foot. Not your granddaddy’s little summer getaway.

Passengers taking a cruise on the Queen II around West Lake Okoboji in Arnolds Park, Iowa, Monday July 24, 2017 can see mutli-million dollar homes, euphemistically referred to as cottages, which line the lake shore. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

But for the average Joe and his family, people can bring their boats, fish, waterski and pursue other summertime activities on or around the water and still enjoy a nice day out. I personally like being near the water but am not exactly a water person and not one to get in it and splash about. But on a warmish day with a breeze, it is hard to beat and just fun to learn a little more history about the area.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City,

Nothing Exotic in Siouxland, Persia

30 Jul

It’s always fun coming across communities with names that is associated with a different visual landscape. I visited Vail, Iowa a year or so ago, and as expected it didn’t look anything like its more famous Coloradan counterpart.

Recently I came upon the town of Persia, Iowa and seeing its name was curious if there were any similarities to 1001 Nights fairytale.

An early Iowa settlement is Persia, Iowa Friday, June 16, 2017. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

The community has about 300 residents and like most Iowan communities was founded in the the 1880’s when railroads were making a push through the area headed west. Some online searching didn’t help me find the reason for the community’s name, although I stumbled upon another gentleman’s query into the small community sometime in the late 1990’s. He was from Iran and driving cross country and stopped in to ask about the community’s name and its beginning.

A small compact place, I found a few people out and about while in the downtown area before I left and continued my sojourn to Highway 30 and another community I wanted to visit before heading home. So many places and so much history, but sometimes finding it is not always easy.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

 

Exploring southern Siouxland, Missouri Valley

26 Jul

I like driving about in Siouxland as I look for places to visit that I have not been to before, and the southern part of the area is a place I need to explore some more. Recently I stopped into Missouri Valley and walked about. It is nestled next to the Loess Hills region of Siouxland which draws a number of visitors throughout the year as it is only one two places on the entire planet, the other being in China, that has these particular earth formations called loess soil.

It was an extremely hot day that I picked to visit but sometimes one just has to make the best of it. The downtown area and main drag is actually the Lincoln Highway or Rte. 30 that passes through. The area retains some of its earlier historical feel with covered walks and brick sidewalks. Part of the community sits on a hill and looks out over the Loess Hills area and gives a bit more dramatic presentation. Sunset would be a perfect time to take in those views and maybe fall a better season to explore the area on foot a bit more.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

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