Saturday, July 21, 2012


Last weekend I traveled through Eastern Iowa with my Mom, hunting down ghost buildings from the past. My Grandfather was a collector of anything and everything, and as of late I have been enjoying his real photo postcards. A moment in time is captured in these simple pieces of paper. Over 100 years later I get to peek at the storefronts and main streets at they appeared then. I decided to see if any of these landmarks remained in the small towns of Iowa, and although many have disappeared over the century, some traces could be found. My first stop was Wadena, Iowa.

Below is how the town appeared in the year 1908.

And this is what the main street looks like today.

In order to enter town from the south on W51 you must cross a bridge. This view has changed dramatically as you will see.

Initially the town Mill was on the left side of the bridge, where a large church now stands. On the right hand side there is a large white barn, that still stands to this day.

The bridge itself had to be replaced when a milk truck managed to loose control and get wedged in the bridge. The driver survived, but the damage was severe and forced the town to destroy the bridge and build a much less ornate replacement. You can learn a lot of history when you talk to locals!

The quilt you see on this barn is a wonderful excuse itself to tour through Iowa - you can see them peppered throughout the state. For more information follow this link.

One of my favorite postcards from Wadena shows the Frey Hotel. There is an "X" marked on one of the rooms, and the correspondence on the back states "This is where I eat and bunk". It is dated 1907.

Here is the Frey Hotel today, as far as I can tell it is simply residential.

Directly across the street from Frey's Hotel is one of my favorite buildings from my trip. I actually spent some time with the owners, who were kind enough to look at my postcard pictures and point out what is what and what is gone, which was a big help.

The owners have had this building for the last 60 years, and it has been a grocery store for most of that time. Now it is their home.

Such an amazing building, and you can see just a tiny bit of it to the right in the postcard that I have of the Wadena Bank from 1908.

Sadly, this bank is no longer there, in it's space is a small gas station that is the one spot in town to buy essential food stuffs and basic goods.

I spoke with several other locals at the town watering spot, Barney's, which building can be viewed on the first postcard that I posted. We were there to early to eat, but they are said to have a great hamburger. I do know they have a fun jukebox (I played CCR "Bad Moon Rising", Johnny Cash "Man In Black" and Kiss "Strutter") and lots of friendly town folk willing to share local stories and history.

It was here that I found out about Wadena's claim to fame, the "Iowa Woodstock" of 1970. After a three day music festival set to be held in Galena, Illinois was cancelled the promoters brought the concert to a small farm outside of Wadena. This tiny town of under 300 people swelled to over 50,000 as music fans flocked to hear the likes of Little Richard, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Albert King, The Guess Who, Poco, The Everly Brothers, Leon Russel, Johnny Winters, The Chambers Brothers and more.


I know it is hard to read at this size, so this will help:

I will post more pictures of my trip soon (and more from Wadena) but I wanted to spend a little time here with Wadena. I recommend if you are ever in the area to make the effort to go to Barneys and see the posters and pictures on the bar wall. You can hear all about it from the folks who where there, and put some coins in the jukebox to boot!



Chad said...

Nice post! Tune Town once had a CD purporting to be a bootleg of a Flying Burrito Brothers show from Winona MN. I didn't buy it and now I'm kicking myself because maybe they did tour this region in the early 70s!


I am not sure if Gram Parsons would have been in the band for this, Wikipedia says he left after the album Burrito Deluxe which was released April 1970 and the concert was the end of July and August. If he was, that makes this even more remarkable!!!


Chad said...

Yes, I got the same impression after some additional reading: Parsons would not have been in the band by this point. But it would have been an amazing event either way.