*Another bucket list item checked off in Western Iowa and it was thanks to Kossuth County for helping me do it. Or should I say thanks to old Bancroft County? We’ll get this worked out later. Our trip was sponsored by the Algona Area Chamber of Commerce. Some of the meals, services, and goods were complimentary. The views expressed in this blog post are of our own. Now, let’s Gallivant!
That’s right, folks. Kossuth County didn’t become this big on its own. It had to absorb old Bancroft County to the north and bring Iowa’s county count from 100 to 99. Don’t worry, we still have 100 county seats because Lee County has two. That’s a different story and region all together so let’s stick to NW-Iowa because getting to Bancroft was on my bucket list ever since I read the story of Kossuth years ago. I’m a sucker for obscure history and this county peaked my interest long before the T-Bone Trail ever started. But, it was the trail that got me there and that’s another bucket list item checked off! Let’s take cover from the hot sun and see some of Algona’s history…
Get Some History
There’s not very many folks I’ve met that know about the WWII POW camps that dotted the map in Iowa and beyond. Algona has a museum that maintains and exhibits the history of Camp Algona and the plight of the German prisoners that were housed in Iowa. This is a very important part of Iowa’s role in WWII and how our nation handled the POWs from the axis powers. Make time for the Camp Algona POW Museum when you get within horseshoe throwing distance of Kossuth County.
Imagine flying into Algona, Iowa and imagining that the strip you’re about to touchdown on once had hundreds of German prisoners and many US Army guards and personnel in the surrounding acreage. These are the historic areas that get us to stop like clockwork on our road trips and we are extremely grateful for everyone that keeps this museum operational and keeping the doors open for all of Algona’s visitors. You can go see the airport, where Camp Algona was locate, but it’s history is housed in town.
The Camp Algona POW Museum shows the story of what life was like for this NW-Iowa community during the war years of the 1940s. It was a tough period for the entire country and the introduction of enemy prisoners to the daily lives of folks in Algona was a shocking alteration to what they were used to before war broke out. However, the Kossuth County area put the POWs to work towards the allied war effort on local farms and industry that utilized the influx of extra hands available to them. Much of the heartland’s youth were already overseas and away from the farms they helped tend to, especially during planting and harvest seasons. The POWs went to work and helped produce record amounts of product that went into processing during these years. There was even cases of POWs enjoying the Iowa land and its people so much, they moved back to the area after the war. It was an awful time for hundreds of millions across the globe, but their are stories out there that illustrate glimmers of goodness in the middle of the most destructive time period in human history. A poem to Mom, a painting of a loved one back home, or contributing to a successful harvest that will be feeding and energizing the soldiers that are trying to overrun your comrades. Just a mere sample of what was created by the German POWs of Camp Algona. There was another impact they had on the area as well. A scene that took years to complete and a scene that has been enjoyed by many for almost 80 years.
I will always admire people that exude positivity and inspiration for their community and places that house important history. I showed up to the Kossuth County fairgrounds to observe a piece of Algona’s POW history and received much more of a welcoming than a finger pointing in the direction of the nativity. I met someone who has devoted endless energy to keep this priceless artwork relevant while searching for the history of the POWs who created it.
Each figurine was formed and completed with great detail over the course of Horst Wendlandt’s imprisonment, who was leading the efforts. He had assistance from other inmates and it helped to occupy there time at Camp Algona. There’s little good that comes from war and much of the world’s most amazing pieces of art were destroyed during these years. Some by the destructive nature of bombings, fires, and collapsed buildings. Much of it destroyed intentionally by the Nazi-SS during their occupation of territories in Europe, Soviet Union, and North Africa. These acts are irreversible and mankind will never lay their eyes on some of history’s most revered pieces of art and architecture again because of this timeframe in the mid 20th century. However, it’s crucial that we preserve the beauty that was created during a period of massive destruction. You can honor one of those pieces of modern art in Algona, Iowa and imagine its importance to the future onlookers hundreds of years from now. Marvin and the crew tend to make such memories happen.
The Kossuth County Historical Museum is inside the main business district of Algona and it’s one of the rarest museums you’ll enter when you’re gallivanting through Iowa. This museum was once a two story schoolhouse and has been continuously operating in some form from the days it was hosting Algona’s pupils to what is now Kossuth’s house of history.
One of the most enjoyable parts of every visit to Iowa’s county museums is meeting the folks who work them. The vast majority of the workers are volunteers and they do it because they love the community they’re preserving. Kossuth County is no exception to this wonderful way of seeing the area through decades of history. The Kossuth County Historical Museum is right around the corner from the Camp Algona POW Museum and makes for a great tandem of history when you’re enjoying downtown Algona. And the history lesson doesn’t stop here….
I was taking a drive through the northern reaches of Kossuth County and I got the urge to stretch my legs. One thing I always tell travelers is to pay attention to those brown signs with white lettering. Big or small, they lead to some amazing places and can get you enjoying a long walk in the great outdoors. I love these places and I’m making more of an effort to explore these public lands during my travels. This refuge jumped out at me and I knew I would be under the Kossuth County skies for a much needed break from driving.
Only in Kossuth
There’s unique shops, scenery, personalities, and buisnesses in every community. We stopped by some of these great places in a past gallivant and we had to come back for seconds. There’s always time for an oppertunity to baby your pets and you can do that in a very entertaining way here in Algona!
Let’s Eat Steak!
We first came to Billie Jo’s Bar & Grill a few years ago during a RAGBRAI scouting mission. On that Gallivant I went face first into their hot dog and cheeseburger combo called the 4th of July burger. It made it onto our Best Between Bread series and now Billie Jo’s was back on TIG and this time for Western Iowa’s T-Bone Trail!
Perfectly aged steaks are a true gift to the beefy world of amazing dinners. Billie Jo’s is very proud of their Ribeyes and the one that I would tear into was waiting for a good home for 28 days. A common time period for premium aged steaks and I could taste the care and patience that went into it. Billie Jo’s was bursting with customers and the servers were keeping up with the rush of people coming in. My steak, apps, and salad arrived with expeditious grace and an entertaining personality to go with the whole experience. Not to mention that the meal was another great one that I got to enjoy at this fast paced restaurant in Algona. Click here and watch our video from Billie Jo’s Bar & Grill!
AmericInn & Suites-Algona welcomed a very active family to wind down after another summer day in NW-Iowa. We’ve had some great stays at this hotel chain during our past Gallivants and we were back again! From what I can recall, this was the fourth time we’ve checked into an AmericInn over the years and Algona’s was just as comfortable and relaxing as we expected. And for the second day in a row!
There was no worries when we pulled up to the parking lot at another AmericInn & Suites on the T-Bone Trail. We have come to look forward to our stays here and that’s because we’ve never had a bad day, afternoon, evening, or night at this member of the Wyndham hotels family. Algona’s had the clean rooms we knew they’d have and plenty of ways to keep us entertained at night and fed in the morning. This property is an easy few minutes of a drive to State Street and all of Algona. We splashed our way into the night and awoke to the comfort of a great night’s sleep in our room with the AC cranked all night. I even got three loads of laundry done in their guest laundry room! Boy, we needed that bad in the middle of a three week road trip through Western Iowa. Thank you, AmericInn & Suites for another great stay on TIG! The entire staff rocked while we were here!
I loved how we mixed in some newly discovered places and areas with locations we’ve been to before in Kossuth County. I spent much of 2020 wondering when I was going to see towns like Algona again. As much as I love diving into a new area, I found it very relieving when it came to revisiting places we loved discovering in past road trips. I thought about these places often and I don’t mind saying that it can be a little emotional when returning. Kossuth County showed more of it’s HUGE land mass to us on this trip while leaving many square miles left for another Gallivant or several. And I won’t be able to resist myself when it comes to checking in on the local folks I’ve met over the years. Here in Kossuth County and beyond. Something tells me that a Christmas season trip to Algona would be a very fulfilling one….
Book your stay at the AmericInn & Suites-Algona on their website.
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