Out and about in Clarence, an Iowa Main Street community with some momentum


A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from Tami (I always welcome suggestions of adventures), the leader of Clarence's efforts within the Main Street Iowa program. Main Street Iowa is administered by the Iowa Department of Economic Development and Clarence, at just under 1000 citizens, is the smallest Iowa participant community.

Clarence is also a semi-finalist for a national grant, "America's Main Street", which would award them $25,000 toward additional progress. This grant is open to public voting and Iowa Adventurer encourages readers to help boost Clarence's changes of winning by voting.

Tami invited me to come up to Clarence, which is in Cedar County about half way between Cedar Rapids and Clinton. On a recent Saturday morning, I drove the nearly 3 hours to Clarence from West Des Moines to take the community up on their offer to visit. This was a great opportunity to see the town, pop into some of the businesses, and get a first-hand look at some of the exciting developments and projects in the works along the main road through town, which also happens to be the historic Lincoln Highway.

Upon entering the town and making my way to the area where many of the commercial businesses are, I immediately noticed a beautiful park. My understanding is that an old grocery store used to sit on this site. There's a nice flag, a goregous clock, the sign-post denoting it's Lincoln Highway history, and some benches to go along with the beautiful flowers and landscaping.

There is also a monument dedicated to community veterans.

Tami showed me the town's library, which has been recently re-done thanks to some local fundraising and gifts. It's an old home that has been re-purposed. It has a meeting room toward the back that is sometimes used as a community room for events.

Not far from the library, I spotted the American Legion building.

Back on the Lincoln Highway, there are some gorgeous and historic buildings that would be excellent candidates for rehabilitation. A few of the buildings are already in the process of being rejuvenated. I was quite enamored by the old bank building on the corner.

Presently, a lawyer in town utilizes the building.

In the window, I found a depiction of how it once looked.

Nearby, I found the Mill Creek Cafe but they are not open on weekends. My understanding is that it's quite worth the visit if you are in town on a week day.

There was also a freshly re-done building housing Onion Grove Mercantile. Check back for a future post highlighting this business as well as a few others in town. Incidentally, Clarence used to be known as Onion Grove at its founding because of the preponderance of onion farmers in the area.

Another restaurant in town, LT's Onion Grove, also utilizes the historic reference.

I also found a building that would largely be the beneficiary of "America's Main Street" grant dollars if Clarence is the top vote recipient. It's an old car dealership building that could hopefully become a mix use building with some apartments above and some retail or office space on the main floor. Perhaps, with it's historic nature and industrial elements, it will attract an entrepreneur with a great idea or maybe even a brewery?

The big white building below is an old "Odd Fellows" building - as evidenced by the letters in line with the third floor windows.

The building pictured below is now a salon and a chiropractic clinic but used to be the city hall.

The newer city hall is pictured below with garages to house emergency services.

Above and below are a few other shots of the downtown area.

EDIT: After initially posting, a reader named Vicky e-mailed to suggest a correction. Vicky said the mural that is painted on the chiropractor/beauty shop building was designed by Anne Munro with some asssistance from Debbie Harms. Bryan Caspary, an artist who farms just south of town, has done several murals locally - both in Clarence and in other communities. He's quite a talent. This particular mural, which Caspary restored and refreshed, pays homage to the town's past. Like many Iowa towns, Clarence's founding is in line with the expansion of the railroads.

Notice the Onion Grove on the back of the wagon below?

Tami also drove me out to Bryan's family farm to see a patriotic mural he created on one of his machine sheds.

This checkered flag mural found at Victory Lane Bar and Grill was also done by Caspary. Check back for a future post that will include a profile of this locally owned restaurant.

On the other side of town (west side), there is a relatively new veterans monument that is connected to the city park. A walking trail has also been added. The couple listed on this bench were largely responsible for providing the financial resources to ensure it would be erected.

This scaled down model was in the library.

The softball fields get some good use during the summer months.

The park also has a replica Statue of Liberty which was donated decades ago by the Boy Scouts.

On the west side of town I found a Casey's General Store and on the east side of town, I found another gas station.

The community has a nice senior center which is always a nice amenity.

North Cedar School District, home of the Knights, has a building in town too.

Pictured above is a funeral home and below, of course, is a grain elevator. Agriculture is the lifeblood of Iowa's economy.

I found a Purina plant too.

This large church was found in the middle of town.

There is a white and blue water tower.

This old creamery building has been recently re-painted and is the backdrop for where the farmers market is held every summer. The first one for the year will be in June.

As you are headed out of town to the west, I found a car dealership.

On the same side of the road as the dealership, there's Hound Dog Rock Shop as well as a private residence that includes a significant Elvis presence. Maybe they can re-brand that section of town the "Rock and Roll" byway? Stay tuned for a future post that profiles, in more depth, the Hound Dog Rock Shop.

It's clear that Clarence has some momentum. There is a core group of community leaders who are making things happen and bringing new life to some of the historic buildings. I am glad to see this. It's encouraging. As I mentioned earlier, look for a future post which features three of the businesses in town. Each is quite unique in it's own way. I always appreciate entrepreneurs, especially in rural Iowa, who are pursuing their passions and contributing to the economic vibrancy of their communities.

As always, I welcome your suggestions of places to visit and profile whether in Cedar County or any of the other 98 counties in Iowa. If you have a good idea or would like to host the Iowa Adventurer, please drop me a note through this website.

©2020 by Iowa Adventurer LLC