When professional baseball was getting warmed up, in the late 1800’s, they had teams in places like Chicago, St. Louis, Cleveland, Boston……and Keokuk. When the country was thrown into a brutal civil war, there needed to be strategic staging and training points for Union and Confederate soldiers awaiting deployment. Thousands of troops reported to points such as New York City, Richmond, New Orleans, Baltimore, Washington DC…….and Keokuk. Some of the world’s most important achievements in energy production are in places like southern Nevada’s Hoover Dam, The Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in China, Brazil and Paraguay’s Itaipu Dam…….and Keokuk. Yes, the extreme southeast corner of Iowa has seen its share of history and it’s only getting warmed up. And Team Goodvin was ready to take in as much as we could.
When the history craving itch occurs…..scratch it! And Keokuk is one of the best instruments to use for such a condition. However, we must get one thing out of the way. It’s obvious to anyone that Keokuk is in need of a renaissance. America’s “River Towns” were once the main economic centers that drove industry in all its forms for decades. The tertiary river and canals that vein through middle America were once the main highway system of the US while rivers such as the Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio and Arkansas served as the interstate system. These rivers and towns that sit on their banks are still very important, but times have obviously changed. The ports along Iowa’s east and west borders have experienced meteoric rises and a slow decline as our country changed. That’s not saying that towns, like Keokuk, don’t have potential. In fact, Keokuk is just the place for entrepreneurs looking for a new start. Keokuk may have already experienced its glory days, but the millennial generation is expanding their horizons on areas where they can purchase affordable commercial land and housing while creating a whole new industry and culture to areas. The motto of this town is “Make It Yours” and the wind could very well be on your side here in Lee County. Ladies and gentleman, I give you mighty Keokuk!
Keokuk’s hydroelectric power plant was once the world’s top electricity producers giving Keokuk the nickname “The Power City”. The above picture was taken from the old bridge that stretches across the Mississippi to Illinois. It is now used as an observance deck for anyone who wants to watch the world float by.
After a quick lunch at the Great Wall Chinese restaurant, we drove to what could be one of Iowa’s most scenic public parks. Rand Park sits atop of a bluff that overlooks the Mississippi. The historic Grand Ave neighborhood runs along Rand Park and has some of Iowa’s most impressive homes.
Keokuk played a major role during the Civil War. No battles were fought there, but it witnessed thousands of troops flow through the city to go fight in the southern states. Keokuk was also a supply line for the Union army and was home to five hospitals that treated wounded soldiers from both north and south. During the bloody years of the Civil War, Keokuk had the unfortunate hub for the temporary river traffic that brought in the sick, wounded, dying and dead troops to Iowa for medical treatment. Keokuk was once home to one of the country’s most outstanding medical schools, which made the Union’s decision very easy to setup medical facilities for the troops. The doctors and nurses worked night and day for many years. Though very talented, the world of medicine was not prepared for the carnage of this brutal war. Many of the wounded died while getting treated in Keokuk. Soon Iowa’s first and, this day, only national cemetery would be plotted. The countless white tombstones have names of both Union and Confederate soldiers and veterans from every era since.
It was time to head back to Iowa City. Naturally we took the long way home. We set out on Iowa’s Great River Road, a scenic byway that led us on the Mormon and Pioneer Trails. When we reached Ft. Madison, we decided to get on the main HWY home. Just outside of Donnellson, we found an oasis of family fun that will keep us coming back- Harvestville Farm!
Harvestville Farm turned out to be one of the best Iowa roadside attractions we’ve ever visited! It features a large showroom, in the main building, with art, crafts, locally made baked goods, snacks and candy. Outside is a whole world of children’s activities centered around a rural Iowa farm theme. Which is where we were. So……that works for them. You can bounce on a huge inflatable pillow, conquer the corn maze, play on the haystacks, splash into a corn pool……You need to get to Harvestville Farm. (Not pictured is the Blueberry-Zucchini Bread. It had a date with a large plate of butter and didn’t last long.)
There’s still much to see in Lee County and as usual we left with another “to-do” list for our return to Keokuk and the surrounding area. Like looking into Keokuk’s longtime professional baseball influence. The rise of the Hughes family that had a well know grandson named Howard. Visit the homes and areas that Mark Twain lived and came back to time and time again. My favorite part of the trip were the homes in Keokuk. And I’m not talking about the mansions on Grand Ave. The mansions were amazing, but I loved driving up and down the side streets of old Keokuk. Many of them made from brick and constructed in the 1800’s and early 1900’s. They have an aged look about them these days with many of them being a “fixer-upper’s” dream. The proud homes and buildings were built to last, though. Just like the city of Keokuk itself.