Eldon, Iowa


Most people will give you a blank look when you mention Eldon, Iowa, but show them a photo of “American Gothic,” and they immediately recognize the painting.  It’s one of the most familiar images in American art.


Eldon, Iowa, in the southeast corner of the state, is where you will find the actual house that inspired the artist, Grant Wood.  The story goes that Wood was visiting Eldon in 1930 for an art exhibit, and he and a friend were taking a driving tour around town.  Wood noticed the little white house and sketched it on an envelope.  Later he painted the now famous “American Gothic” in his studio in Cedar Rapids.  Wood’s sister, Nan, and his dentist, Dr. Byron McKeeby, were the models for the woman and the man.


Today the American Gothic House Center is a state historic site.  A visit includes the opportunity to see the exterior of the house and grounds as well as tour the adjacent Center that opened in 2007.  There you can learn about Grant Wood and the history of the house.  There’s also a gift shop with a quality inventory of books and souvenir items.  Admission for everything is free, but donations are welcome.


Don’t leave without creating your own American Gothic parody.  The Center provides clothes and props to dress up – then stop laughing at each other, go outside in front of the house, and strike a serious pose.  Employees can either snap a shot with your camera or use theirs and charge you a few dollars for a print.


If it’s been awhile since you’ve enjoyed an old-fashioned roadside picnic, this would be a good time to have one.  Eldon is a small town, and dining options are limited.  On Main Street, you’ll find a community park with some nice shade trees and picnic tables next to the railroad tracks.


In addition to the picnic area, the former Rock Island depot sits on the edge of the park.  Today it’s a museum of railroad history.

The American Gothic House Center is the star attraction in Eldon, Iowa.  It’s an interesting and fun visit, and I can now check that off my list!

American Gothic House Center                                                                                                                300 American Gothic Street                                                                                                                 Eldon, Iowa


Metamora, Illinois

A trip to Springfield, Illinois is the ultimate Lincoln experience, but for an abbreviated version, travel to Metamora, just eleven miles east of Peoria.  It’s Lincoln lite, one of many opportunities to visit a central Illinois town that has a connection with our 16th President.


Metamora features an 1845 court house where Lincoln practiced law on the Eighth Judicial Circuit.  Twice a year, Lincoln traveled from one county seat to another in a fourteen-county circuit.  Court was held in each community for about 3-5 days before moving on.  Lincoln and the other lawyers riding the circuit represented the local people in court.

This building is one of two original courthouses remaining from the Lincoln circuit days.  (The other courthouse is in Mt. Pulaski and dates from 1848.)


The Metamora courthouse is a state historic site and nicely restored.  It’s a two-story building  – the downstairs features exhibits on local history and the early court system, including life on the Eighth Judicial Circuit.



Upstairs, the courtroom has been restored to the era when Lincoln appeared there.  It’s a fascinating look at the court system back then, with the testifying witness standing in a box, facing the judge and jury. (The square on the floor is a tobacco spittoon.)


Among the original artifacts is the table used by Lincoln during the 1860 Presidential campaign.


The trim board was notched out to accommodate Lincoln’s long legs.


A guide tells you about one of Lincoln’s more well-known trials that took place in the courtroom.  On October 10, 1857, Lincoln attempted to defend Melissa Goings, a seventy-year-old woman accused of killing her abusive husband.  Most people felt sorry for her and didn’t want to see her prosecuted.  During a break in the proceedings, Mrs. Goings escaped.  A bailiff accused Lincoln of chasing her off, but according to local legend, Lincoln responded, “I did not run her off. She wanted to know where she could get a good drink of water, and I told her there was mighty good water in Tennessee.”  No one went looking for Mrs. Goings.  In the park across the street from the courthouse, there’s a statue of Lincoln and Melissa Goings.


Lincoln and Douglas sort of had a debate in a nearby park, and a boulder commemorates that spot.  The two men couldn’t get their calendars lined up for an actual debate so they gave speeches on separate days in the fall of 1858.  Douglas spoke on September 30th, and Lincoln on October 4th.


We’ve memorialized Lincoln in a lot of different ways, and here’s an interesting one.  Take the Metamora-Washington blacktop about five miles out of town to see a Lincoln Circuit Marker.  Back in the early 1920s, members of the DAR, along with the Lincoln Circuit Marking Association, decided to place markers on the county lines of the Eighth Judicial Circuit.  A total of nineteen were placed, with fourteen remaining today.  Lincoln scholar Guy Fraker wrote that the markers resemble an eight-foot-tall chess piece.  That’s an apt description.

After a visit, I’d have to say that Metamora offers a satisfying little slice of Lincoln history.  You’ll enjoy it!

Anderson Japanese Gardens Rockford, Illinois

This is a particularly beautiful place to visit in the Spring and again in the Fall.  The grounds offer koi-filled ponds, garden paths winding through the foliage, and stunning waterfalls.

At times there isn’t a lot of flowering plants.  I learned that the concept of a Japanese garden includes a minimum of flowers, and what few there are represent the fleeting nature of life.  That’s why a Spring visit is so special – the iris, rhododendron, and azalea are that fleeting moment.


This site all began with John R. Anderson, a Rockford businessman who had a long-time appreciation of Japanese culture.  After visiting the Portland Japanese Garden in Portland, Oregon, Mr. Anderson was inspired to have a garden of his own.  He went right to the top, and in 1978, hired renowned landscape designer, Hoichi Kurisu, to transform twelve swampy acres of his backyard into a Japanese garden.  The Andersons later donated their grounds to a non-profit organization.




It’s a lovely, tranquil area to wander around.  Turtles, ducks, and lots of koi share the space with all the plants.  The day I was there, kids as well as adults were taking in the nature and thoroughly enjoying themselves.


The grounds include a traditional Tea House.  A scroll on the wall inside reads, “Every day is a good day.”


One of my favorite areas was the West Waterfall. Here the three elements of a Japanese garden – stone, water, and plants  – offered a spectacular show.

The symbol for the Anderson Japanese Gardens translates to . . .  “At this moment I realize only contentment.” Plan a visit to the gardens, and feel that peaceful seclusion from the outside world.

Anderson Japanese Gardens

318 Spring Creek Road

Rockford, Illinois