Iowa is full of fascinating historical landmarks. We have compiled a list of the most famous historical landmarks in Iowa that are worth visiting if you love history.
Yup, Iowa sure is full of historical landmarks that’ll enhance any visit to Hawkeye State, but it can be hard to know where to start aside from booking your trip there.
We’ve compiled a list of several famous landmarks in Iowa worth visiting if you’re a history buff.
Most Famous Landmarks in Iowa to Visit
Herbert Hoover National Historic Site
The Herbert Hoover National Historic Site is Iowa’s only presidential library and museum. It tells the story of Herbert Hoover’s life, work, and legacy as one of America’s most influential, if controversial, presidents.
Hoover was born on August 10th, 1874, in West Branch, Iowa, to Jesse Clark Hoover, a blacksmith and schoolteacher from Ohio who migrated west two years before his son was born.
The family lived on a small farmstead until they moved into town when he was six. His mother taught him about world geography by drawing maps for him with crayons or making clay models of countries that he could name to teach him how different cultures interact. He also had a keen interest in science.
Hoover was eventually elected to the Presidency in 1928 by a landslide, running as a progressive Republican who was hell-bent on lifting all Americans. Sadly, this streak would vanish towards the end and after his presidency, partly due to ineptitude.
He is best known for organizing relief for occupied Belgium and France during WWI, heading up the U.S. Food Administration, and struggling to helm the U.S. during the “Great Depression.”
His presidency ended after one term when he lost his re-election bid in 1932, due mainly to America’s economic depression and the allure of FDR’s New Deal. In 1933 Hoover donated his historical papers and memorabilia to Iowa Wesleyan College in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, where he began his college career in 1891.
The Hoover War Collection has been a part of the university since 1934; it is now the world’s most extensive private historical collection devoted solely to World War II, its aftermath, and the relief to war-torn nations Hoover organized after that conflict too.
Hoover died on October 20th, 1964, at age 94. The Herbert Hoover National Historic Site was dedicated on August 10th, 1975. Although the historical site is technically located in West Branch, Iowa, it will forever be remembered as Hoover’s home and a cornerstone of his presidency.
The historic site is open from 9 AM to 5 PM every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. The historical site also hosts the annual Herbert Hoover Alumni Celebration every year on August 10th. The historical library is open to the public Monday-Friday from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM and Saturday from 9 AM to 5 PM; closed Sundays and holidays. Free admission.
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Iowa Old Capitol Museum
The Iowa Old Capitol Building in Iowa City was built in 1842 and served as the capitol building for the state until the capital was relocated to Des Moines. It was replaced by the building we now know as the State Capitol in 1857.
The reason for this relocation was that much of the Old Capitol Building was destroyed in a fire. It’s been preserved to tell its story and named a National Historic Landmark.
The building features historical artifacts from Iowa’s past that showcase how people lived before electricity or automobiles were invented. The museum also provides educational programs for students of all ages interested in learning more about Iowa history.
The Old Capitol Museum is open every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day, and Independence Day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets can be purchased for $5 on the first floor of the State Capitol Building in Room 123 or the Iowa State Historical Museum Office in Room 124.
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Fort Des Moines
Fort Des Moines is a historical landmark in Iowa and one of Iowa’s best places to visit. Before World War I, it was initially built to be the first military training camp for African Americans, as black and white troops still served in segregated units. It would be a training camp for the new Women’s Army Corps during World War II.
The fort was an important military, historical and cultural site for nearly 50 years before it closed in 1946. It reopened again as a historical landmark in 1960 and now serves as a museum that showcases the history of Fort Des Moines and its role in American History, from black troops serving in World War I to the Civil Rights Movement.
Fort Des Moines has been recognized by state and national historical societies with awards. This includes Iowa’s Most Endangered Properties List (2011), National Register of Historic Places (1992), and Iowa Historical Society Award for Restoration Planning (2001), among others. In 2016, Fort Des Moines was designated a National Historic Landmark.
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Iowa State Capitol
The Iowa State Capitol is located in Des Moines, Iowa. The building was completed in 1869 and has been the seat of government for the state of Iowa since. The construction cost was $1 million, or about $13 million today.
New York architect A.H. Upjohn designed it after winning a contest sponsored by the General Assembly following an embarrassing fire that destroyed most of the previous capitol building on January 12th, 1857.
The legislature first met in the uncompleted structure on December 2nd, 1868, where Governor Samuel Jeptha Bushnell presided over his last session before he left office on December 9th, 1868, due to term limits set forth by the new state constitution adopted just two years prior.
Samuel Merrill was the second governor to hold office in the new capitol building. The Iowa State Capitol is on the National Register of Historic Places and contains many historical artifacts around Iowa. It is a fascinating place to visit for a history, architecture, or political buff.
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Amana Colonies is a historical landmark in Iowa. The Amanas are the most significant and last religious communal society founded in North America. They were also among the most successful, with over 10,000 members at their peak.
For much of its existence, Amana was an isolated community that practiced traditional crafts such as weaving and shoemaking to sustain itself economically while maintaining a strict self-reliance ethic.
The group’s leadership had been concerned about the encroachment of modernism since 1881 but did not adopt formal written rules against it until 1924.
However, they maintained a conservative form of dress (no neckties or short sleeves for men) well into the 1940s. From 1941, there was some interaction between Amish communities and the outside world, which was becoming more connected through increased automobile use.
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Julien Dubuque Monument
You may not know it, but Iowa has nine major historical landmarks. Some are well-known, and some are less known; however, they all have a story behind them. One such historical landmark is Julien Dubuque Monument in Iowa City, IA.
A monument honors Julien Dubuque, a trader who arrived from France in 1788 and became an American citizen. The memorial is situated at the corner of College Street and College Ave on what was once an Indian mound. He established Mine La Motte, IA, a mining operation that still operates today.
Unfortunately, in 1810 at age 53, Julien was killed by an Osage Indian while trying to recover some stolen horses. Historians believe that the grave of this early champion of American industry is buried beneath their fossilized footprints.
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The Field of Dreams
The Field of Dreams is a baseball diamond in Dyersville, Iowa; this field is arguably most famous for being the subject of the 1989 namesake film “Field of Dreams” and its 1993 sequel “Field of Dreams II: Angels in the Outfield.”
The films were based on W. P. Kinsella’s “Shoeless Joe” novel. In 2009, it became a historic site on the National Register of Historic Places. The Field of Dreams is located just outside Dyersville (about two hours southeast of Des Moines and three hours northeast of Chicago, Illinois) in an area known as Indian Ridge Farm near Tama County Road.
Historical markers at both entrances to the property from this road commemorates James B. Raynor, the historical figure after whom Murtaugh’s character is modeled in Shoeless Joe.
While in Dyersville, travelers should also visit Lyman’s Dairy Store, featured in the movie and located blocks from the Field of Dreams site (it has become a trendy tourist destination).
“Field of Dreams” is partially set during the early 20th century, in a post-war period marked by optimism regarding science and technology. This led to significant U.S. transportation, communication, manufacturing, and medical advances.
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Terrace Hill Historic Site
The Terrace Hill Historic Site in Iowa is a historical landmark once the home of Iowa’s seventh governor, Samuel Merrill. It’s also known as the Hubbell Mansion or Allen House and still serves as the official residence of the incumbent Iowa Governor.
The house is located at 2300 Grand Avenue in Des Moines. The design of this home is the Second Empire style (or Napoleon III style), and it is 18,000 square feet.
It sits on a hill overlooking downtown Des Moines and has a 90-foot tower with a commanding city view. The building’s steeply pitched mansard roof has overhanging eaves and ornate turreted towers.
The building sits on 164 acres of land and has been restored to its original 1859 appearance over the years. The site offers tours and historical reenactments depicting life during this period and includes a children’s museum with hands-on exhibits. This historical landmark is open year-round for visitors to explore!
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Sergeant Floyd Monument
The Sergeant Floyd Monument commemorates Sergeant Charles Floyd, Jr., the only member of the Corps of Discovery to die on the journey. A quartermaster for the legendary expedition, Floyd would become famous after he died for the journals he had written about the trip.
Perhaps the most poignant entry in his journal (certainly about this monument) was written on July 31st, where Sergeant Floyd noted: “I am verry sick and has ben for Sometime but have Recovered my helth again.”
Less than a month later, on August 20, 1804, Floyd died due to a suspected inflammation or rupture of his appendix. Even with today’s advanced medical knowledge, it would’ve been nigh impossible to cure this ailment by the time Floyd had noticed something was wrong.
Floyd’s gravesite suffered from weather erosion and was moved several times. The last time happened in 1895 when the Sergent Floyd Monument was built to honor him. That statue is located along US-75 in Sioux City, Iowa.
The 100-foot obelisk, made of heavy Kettle River sandstone, stands at today’s Park Cemetery as a memorial for Sergeant Charles Floyd Jr.
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Dodge House-Historic Museum
Built-in 1869, The Grenville M. Dodge House is a historic house museum in Council Bluffs, IA. General Grenville Dodge was involved in developing the railroads across the American West and being a Union Army General. He lived in this historic house for 22 years until his death.
In the fall of 1961, General Grenville M. Dodge’s home was designated a National Historic Landmark to recognize his significant contributions to society. The General’s home is the only National Historic Landmark in Council Bluffs. The home is known to be the second National Historic Landmark in the state of Iowa.
The home is one of the most painstakingly preserved historic homes in the United States and features a wide variety of fine antiques owned by General Dodge and his family.
The museum’s hours of operation are Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, with the last tour at 4:00 pm.
Tours are done on demand, so your tour will start when you arrive. There are no pre-scheduled tour times. Please allow 1 to 1 1/2 hours for the entire tour.
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Effigy Mounds National Monument
Effigy Mounds National Monument is the only place in North America where you can see both prehistoric and historical Native American earthworks in one place. This site was designated as a national monument in 1949, with an area of over 1,200 acres.
The historical significance of this location has been recognized by being placed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1966. The Effigy Mounds are shaped like animals and birds to represent spiritual beings or totems for different tribes.
These animal shapes were built by ancient people who lived here from roughly 600 – 700 AD until European settlers arrived in Iowa after 1800 AD, forcing the natives away from their lands with bullets and bayonets.
The best-known effigies are located at Eagle Point and comprise the Great Serpent Mound. Small effigy mounds also represent birds, reptiles, and more abstract designs.
The historical significance of the grand serpent mound is that it’s believed to represent a giant snake constricting a thunderbird, which means an important Native American cultural story from ancient times about the struggle between good and evil.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What Famous Landmarks Are There in Iowa?
Iowa, a hidden gem in the heart of the Midwest, has several must-visit landmarks for every traveler. The iconic Bridges of Madison County and the impressive State Capitol Building in Des Moines are two of the top attractions to explore. These landmarks provide a perfect blend of history, architecture, and natural beauty, making them essential stops on your next Iowa adventure.
What Are Most Historic Landmarks in Iowa?
Iowa boasts numerous historic landmarks that are worth exploring on your travels. Be sure to visit the Amana Colonies, a group of seven German settlements established in the 1850s, which offer a fascinating glimpse into the state’s past. The Sergeant Floyd Monument in Sioux City, dedicated to a member of the Lewis and Clark expedition, is another essential stop. Finally, the impressive State Capitol Building in Des Moines, with its beautiful architecture and storied history, provides an unforgettable experience for history enthusiasts. These landmarks will leave you with a greater appreciation for Iowa’s rich heritage.
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