2021 T-Bone Trail · Family Adventures · Museums and History · Northwest Iowa

The Ultimate Cherokee County, Iowa Education: Museums to Grill Masters

*We saw A LOT of Northwest Iowa this summer and it was all very unique with it’s own brand of beauty and hospitality with each stop on the T-Bone Trail. The history lessons we received on this trip were some of the most eye opening exhibits we’ve observed on The Iowa Gallivant and it was all paired with a beautiful day. Our trip was sponsored by the Cherokee Area Economic Development Corporation. Some of the meals, goods, and services were complimentary. The views expressed in this blog post are of our own. Now, let’s Gallivant!

If there’s a sweeter way to welcome someone to town then let me see it! The homemade cinnamon roll hello in NW-Iowa. Karen Clark’s hospitality strikes again!

Cherokee County, Iowa

There wasn’t a more beautiful sky the entire time in Western Iowa than when we zigzagged through Cherokee County. Blacktops rolling up and down through the rural landscapes, hilly countryside, constant white clouds hugging the blue horizon and changing by the minute with the steady breeze all day. Long trips through farmland, sunny weather, and prairies are all I need for a road trip at times. We got to partake in my favorite style of an afternoon drive and added a whole lot more to another Gallivant in NW-Iowa.

History & Roadside Attractions

When I heard there was a Cherokee County landmark that was referenced in one of the greatest American novels I knew I had to see it. Here’s the thing…It was referenced in Last of the Mohicans. Which takes place in 1700s New York. That got my interest way up and we had to stop! Click on the video below and see what we’re talking about….

That’s the kind of knowledge I want to drop at the next book club meeting.

Time to get a look into a very specific genre of history. It’s been a goal mine to visit this next place since the moment I heard that it had a museum open to the public. I wasn’t leaving Cherokee County without stopping at a certain museum. And many of you know that I love to check things off my bucket list. The MHI Museum of Cherokee was towards the top of my list and we finally made it happen.

I’ve seen pictures of the Cherokee MHI and yet when I saw the Kirkbride Buildings I was still floored to see this fortress-like entrance rising to the sky.

Rule 1: Don’t just show up and ask if you can take a tour. Call and see if they have any open times. 712-225-2594

Rule 2: This might be the most important rule. Absolutely no pictures of the people that are being treated here. It’s still an operational MHI and should be treated as so.

Rule 3: Stay on the designated path and don’t veer off to restricted parts of the facility.

Be respectful and know that you are in a building with a very important role in our state’s history and the field of mental health. Let’s keep Gallivanting…..

Yes, this will come in handy. It’s not there for ambiance. The extensive tunnel system is elaborate at Cherokee’s MHI.

See as many museums as you can with any kind of trip you make. Local museums need support and the best way to do that is to take a simple stroll through there grounds, halls, corridors, exhibits, and buildings. In this case, the tunnels. I heard about this facility’s unique museum in 2014 and it was something I had to see someday. That someday came this summer and it was way more than I expected.

Long tunnels of the mental health history in Iowa show what our nation was doing when it came to the care and research in these facilities.
Old switchboard, medicine, tools, equipment, technology, and even handcrafted dolls made by the those getting treated at Cherokee’s MHI.

Cherokee’s MHI is still very much in operation which makes visiting this museum even more interesting. Decades of what this facility has been operating with is absolutely fascinating. Many of the folks getting treatment here had excelled in the arts of all kinds. Paintings, crafts, plays, writing, and anything that helped them get through the daily life of their illness. Much of it on display here in Cherokee.

Doctor Ginzburg is one of the most influential figures that practiced at Cherokee MHI.
The most unexpected sites I thought we’d see here. However, it made perfect sense. This institute saw all facets of life and all the way to the end of it. The history of some of the caskets used here were part of the year to year life at the MHI.
That is exactly what you might be thinking. I straight jacket hanging on a hook that was once used on a regular basis.
The beautiful architecture looks much different from within the MHI.

The MHI facility is vast and the museum shows the evolution of treatment this important landmark has been practicing for decades. It’s no shocker that some of the methods you see are somewhat upsetting to observe. The everchanging therapies, medicine, and techniques still progress today and you can see that its crucial that we keep the past on display. One of the emotions that I noticed throughout the tour is how much affection the local workers put into Cherokee’s MHI year after year. Employees of this MHI have exuded their expertise and all around care to the those getting treatment here for decades. Yes, there are straight jacket stories and images of what we call ECT shock therapy that are hard to grasp. We know that not every generational method adopted by the medical field turned into something beneficial for the patients or even the staff at some points. However, there are the stories of those who excelled here and were able to assimilate to their surroundings outside of the MHI. The joy of performing community plays, showing off their musical skills in public concerts, singing in the choir, and creating artwork were some of the most rewarding days for both the patients and the community that came to observe all of it. The stories of coworkers seeing each other for many years of employment and the kinship that it produced is always something I look forward to hearing about. Never underestimate the impact that a small-town museum can have on you. And this was just one of many historic moments that Cherokee County had ready for us….

Our tour guide for the next Cherokee County adventure! Erin Rydgren loves history and works hard to preserve the local sites and materials that the Cherokee area has produced. Go find her at the historic Cherokee Public Library that’s one of the few operating Carnegie libraries we have left in NW-Iowa. Schedule a tour of your own by calling 712-898-1059

The history of every community is precious in all forms it takes and in whatever style the museum. So many times we have driven past shuttered schools and wondered when the last day of class was in what can be a sad looking building that’s crumbling. They may have never been repurposed, but they’re relics of Iowa’s historic educational system nonetheless. Then there’s the communities that have strived to keep these institutions relevant in different ways. The school bells may not be ringing here anymore, but the classrooms are still full of educational ways to spend your road trip in Cherokee County. Let’s explore Grand Meadow Heritage Center!

Another beautiful picture of the Cherokee County countryside from the Grand Meadow Heritage Center.

Here’s the only two things I knew about Washta, Iowa before arriving to the Grand Meadow Heritage Center. It was a stop on RAGBRAI in 2015 and the town holds the Iowa state record for coldest temp ever recorded. The things you learn by reading welcome signs! Old Grand Meadow school was about to welcome some new pupils…

The classic brick structure of Iowa’s rural schools that still pepper the map all over the state.
Local history and artifacts from abroad are proudly displayed at the Grand Meadow school. And look at that rack of old jerseys and coats! Go Meadow Larks! Beat Correctionville! Ohhhhhhhh! Look what I started….
They may not have students, but the classrooms are still occupied. Creepy doll alert! Either you love’em or you don’t make eye contact with’em. There’s no in between.
Can you guess which picture was the old gymnasium? Each room, floor, stairway, and wall is utilized to keep you interested in the area’s history.
Yes! Yes, I do want to take my picture with an antique farming implement at an awesome local museum with Bill Anderson. That’s an entire Gallivant right there! Let’s go home and….Wait there’s a lot more to see.

The folks that keep these places operating are on my short list of international superheroes. The places they care for all took a giant hit from lack of foot traffic last year and they’re opening their doors again. Lord, we need these museums to keep getting attention for decades to come. If you have ever wondered what these old rural schools look like inside then I strongly suggest you hightail it over to Cherokee County and treat yourself to the Grand Meadow Heritage Center. By the way…I also strongly suggest you make that trip this September 11th-12th, 2021 for the 45th Annual Heritage Festival! Let’s keep moving and keep the history alive!

Hello, Jr. Pearson of Pearson’s Barns Museum in Marcus, Iowa! A group of us are about to get a premium ag-lesson. Make your appointment to see this spectacular collection by calling 712-229-4809

There’s collections that fit in a couple cabinets or cupboards. And then there’s collections that fit inside a few machine sheds or barns! This would be where Jr. Pearson comes in and shows you around his amazing buildings full of the antique world of farming.

The ag-wonders are around every corner and they all have a story to tell. And Jr. can tell you the history and story behind every piece of equipment in his collection. And there’s a lot of them!
Are you seeing the wide array of collectables here? There’s even old fashion hearses! That wagon jack on the bottom right was manufactured in 1822 and is the oldest item in Jr.’s collection. Go wish it happy 100th!

You know what’s my favorite part about this amazing display of farming history? Jr. let’s the public come in and see these beauties and he doesn’t have to. Private collections don’t always open their doors to just any’ol road tripper passing through, but this place does. These rare implements, tools, and equipment have been purchased from places all over the country and brought back here to Marcus for very safe keeping. The history of agriculture is the history of Iowa itself and Jr. Pearson is keeping it shined-up and preserved for visitors and locals alike in Cherokee County. Let’s move onto the county seat and see an Iowa first!

The City of Cherokee is home to the Sanford Museum & Planetarium and it’s the perfect break for a warm summer day of gallivanting!

I always get a kick out of small-town Iowa being groundbreaking in something and especially when your mind automatically goes to the metro areas at first. Where was Iowa’s first planetarium? The state capital of Des Moines? Nope! Iowa City, Ames, or Cedar Falls where the three state universities are? Nope, nope, and nope! Iowa’s first planetarium started welcoming folks to Cherokee in April of 1951 and this town has been expanding imaginations ever since. Make some time for Sanford Museum & Planetarium when you’re in town and lean back for a relaxing view of the world.

Just one of many educational moments here at the planetarium.

The domed structure is the first thing you notice when you arrive to the Sanford. There’s plenty of ways to enjoy the planetarium as you receive a fun education no matter what age you are. Calming and enlightening the whole time under the dome.

Keep on going through the Sanford after your time in the planetarium! Sanford Museum shows us history and archeology from ancient times and all the way to the 21st century. Iowa hero, Peggy Whitson’s NASA uniform on display with her story from Ringgold County to breaking records in outer space. And look at the Victorian era exhibit known as the Sanford Room that goes back inside Iowa during the mid 19th century. The East Gallery changes it’s look on a regular basis, which means we better head back to see more artifacts and artwork!

That’s one heck of a way to get out of the sun for awhile and support a local museum at one time. The planetarium offers loungers to stretch out on as you look up to the screen and the lesson shining down on you. Multiple levels with interactive ways offered to keep younger museum goers just as entertained as the rest of us. Don’t be afraid to join them while you’re at the Sanford Museum & Planetarium!

Stay Active

I believe that Iowa’s prairie preserves are some of the most important patches of land in the entire state. They’re in more places than a lot of travelers and locals realize. They supply more than a beautiful opportunity to snap some pictures or see wildlife that relies on them. Our prairie preserves are living, growing, and wonderful ways to literally step back in time. Especially when you make your stop at T.H. Steele Prairie State Preserve in Cherokee County.

Near the outskirts of Larrabee is this preserve with it’s protected grass and other vegetation that thrives here.
Wild flowers and prairie grass that’s ready for you to enjoy and explore. Watch out for that rabbit hole, Gigi!

One of the many reasons why Steele Prairie Preserve is so special is that it has never been tilled. The prairie you enjoy here has been dancing in the Iowa sun for countless generations of wildlife, insects, and humans alike that called this area home. This is the walk through history you may not have expected and it’s here in Cherokee County for you to absorb. Nature, preservation, and history in every visit to our public preserves.


How about a place you can lay your head that has a pool table, movie theatre themed entertainment center, full kitchen, large dining room, living room, bar, multiple bedrooms and bathrooms, poker table, two porches, party room, many flat screen TVs, and well…..a lot more. You may say that it would take a barn to house all that stuff. Guess what. That’s exactly what we’re talking about. And I haven’t even gotten to all the other buildings in this beautiful wonderland known as The Grainery Lodge!

The rural escape with tons of entertaining ways to enjoy a gathering in just a few a miles from Cherokee! 1969 500th Street 712-261-6685
Look at this giant in lodging!

Sometimes I don’t look up the websites or social media pages of places we’re going to be staying in. I want that surprise factor to be triggered when I arrive and that is exactly what happened when I inched down the lane towards the Grainery. A huge lodge fashioned from an old barn that started as “little” renovation project among friends. Next thing you know you have one of Iowa’s most amazing places to stay and a venue to that can host a very memorable party or several styles of events.

The beautiful decor and amenities don’t seem to end as you make your way to multiple levels that extend all the way to the top of the Grainery! And we felt right at home the entire time.
Plenty of ways to keep your family and guests entertained inside and outside at the Grainery.
Comfortable beds and furniture with inviting ways to relax and enjoy every square inch of this unbelievable facility!

Holy smokes! I wasn’t looking to host a huge gathering, but I nearly called everyone I knew in NW-Iowa when we showed up to the Grainery! A barn that has it all and it’s positioned in the middle of Cherokee County’s beautiful countryside. The big’ol barn with countless bells and whistles would be enough to keep folks happy, but the Grainery doesn’t stop there. Another big building for your party, wedding reception, family reunion. Or how about this…CLASS REUNION! Multiple outdoors areas to gather including a walking path through the land with plenty of scenery. Every stroll you take here, both indoors and outdoors, uncovers more space for numerous ways to have numerous events of any kind! It’s not uncommon for people to have their weeding rehearsal, wedding, and wedding reception ALL at the Grainery. And ALL in different areas of this sprawling facility. ALL this with modern equipment, kitchens, sound systems….You know what a great party sounds like. The Grainery has it. There’s also the atmosphere and feeling of being at the farm the entire time you’re here. Folks, stay tuned to TIG and see what else we have to say about the Grainery because there’s even more to show you about our stay here!

Let’s Eat Steak!

It’s time for a big T-Bone steak on the T-Bone Trail! We have the Cherokee County Cattlemen to thank for this delicious supper. They brought the heat, beef, and a lot of enthusiasm to our evening in Cherokee. Click on that video below and see what they grilled up for us and the guests joining us on the trail!

I love it when the grill shows up and the steaks get sizzling!

Oh yea! Did I mention that there’s a patio that you can back a huge grill onto at the Grainery? Well, there is and the Cherokee County Cattlemen took full advantage of that convenient layout.

No tricks with the photography on this T-Bone. That was a huge steak from the local cattlemen!

Local leaders and folks who just plain love Cherokee County came to the Grainery for supper and why wouldn’t you when the Cattlemen are cooking! Juicy Iowa Beef getting grilled over hot charcoal under the blue skies of Western Iowa. Tell me that doesn’t sound amazing right there. Add some great company and Bill’s homemade potato salad! Oh, baby that was awesome! And I always love the combo of baked beans to go with that tender flavor of steaky goodness with my summertime meal. The tandem of Cattlemen that came to grill steaks for all of us did a very good job and it was another classic way to enjoy a day in this wonderful county. Two courses of beef in one steak. You gotta love a beautifully cooked T-Bone!

Bonus Beef

Better stop at the local locker and get an inventory of what could land inside our cooler!
I had no doubt that we’d find some steaks at the Cherokee Locker and neither did the customers that were loading their truck with a huge bundle of beef that was processed right there on site. We love Iowa’s lockers and we know just how much they mean to the local community. This is buying local, eating local, and shopping small at its finest.
Lunchtime in Marcus! We stepped into the local Pizza Ranch and took a look at the selections on the buffet. Great thing about Pizza Ranch is that you can request something to be added. to the selections. I’ll give you one good guess when it comes to what we asked for! A proud Iowa company that can really beef up your pizza.

This turned out to be a very welcomed Cherokee County summer school fieldtrip! Our hosts knew that we seek opportunities to learn about local history wherever we go and they came up with a plan that peaked our interests all day long. All the museums, prairie, roadside attractions, and the lodge we stayed in supplied historic features of Cherokee County. All of it with beautiful weather, great food, thick-cut steaks, welcoming locals at every turn, and many miles of rural blacktops to explore. And we haven’t even covered the Commercial Historical District in Cherokee! What??? Now, we need go back for sure!

Be sure to like the T-Bone Trail-Western Iowa on Facebook!

Get information about the Grainery Lodge on their Facebook page.

Like the Cherokee Area Economic Development Corporation on Facebook.

Like Western Iowa Tourism Region on Facebook.

Like the Iowa Beef Council on Facebook and keep up with info, updates, events, and promotions!

See everything we’ve covered on The Iowa Gallivant in the Northwest Region of Iowa!

A remarkable ending to a remarkable day in Cherokee County. Did I mention they had meat sticks and wine waiting for me when we got to town? Well, they did. I like Cherokee County….

3 thoughts on “The Ultimate Cherokee County, Iowa Education: Museums to Grill Masters

  1. Jay Jay…in all seriousness…thank you so much for visiting my home. It really has meant a lot to my friends and family (not only in the Cherokee, O’Brien and Clay areas…but ALL of Western Iowa). Glad we are friends and blogging buddies. Keep Galivanting! 😉

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