I spent this past weekend visiting my parents at the family farm in O'Brien County. It was my first trip to O'Brien County in 2018 and though it was very soggy, it was nice to be back and see some familiar faces and places.
Other than wandering around some of my favorite spots in Sheldon, I also spent some time in Archer, a community of around 125 residents. Like many towns in Iowa, it can trace it's history with the expansion of the railroad.
Archer is the closest community to our family farm and it's the town where I spent a considerable part of my childhood. Though my address was technically "Sheldon", my true hometown always seemed more like Archer. It's where I went to church. It's where I played basketball and slow-pitch softball. It's where I got my haircut. It's where I went to the bank until junior high. It's where the grain elevator is and where the local cafe was.
Like a lot of tiny towns in Iowa, many of the community amenities are now gone. Sadly, a lot of people I grew up with (both young and old) are also gone too. Yet, it's not all doom and despair. Archer is still a very clean community with a family-owned plastics plant and an independent grain cooperative. There are two churches that keep things close knit. This year, it marks it's 130th year. There was a nice quasquicentennial in 2013 to celebrate 125 years. It's been a pass-through town during RAGBRAI on a couple of different occasions.
Archer still has a public library, which is located in the old school. The school closed in 1979 and for many years served as the community center. The gymnasium was a place that produced a lot of good basketball players. Now, a local contractor utilizes much of the building for storage.
There is some modern playground equipment and a small picnic shelter.
Photographed above is the Archer United Methodist Church. I am a member of this church and attend when back home. The church has a large Lord's Acre Day celebration during the last Saturday of October each year. Below is the Archer Reformed Church. The two churches are across the street from each other.
Heading downtown, you will find that Archer has a post-office.
The brown building pictured below used to be the home of the Ye Ohl Coffee Shoppe. It is, sadly, not open. When it first opened in 2008, it was extraordinarily popular but then ownership changed and it was not as well run and ultimately closed its doors a few years ago. I believe Archer and the surrounding area could still support a cafe / coffee shop if the owners of the building would allow it.
Archer has an all-volunteer fire department, which is housed here.
Across the street is the building which housed the old Archer Cafe. It's been closed for over a decade.
The building below used to serve as a service station, with a garage, gas pumps, video rentals, and other convenience store items. I believe it closed in the late 1990's.
Archer is part of a very successful telephone and telecommunications cooperative. CML (Cleghorn, Meriden, and Larrabee) has a small building and tower in downtown Archer.
Archer Co-op Grain is one of the last independent grain cooperatives in the State of Iowa. That's pretty amazing. There are less than 10 left in all of Iowa. For years, they would often purchase my 4-H pigs and sheep during the O'Brien County Fair. My father serves on the board of this cooperative and it has been a mainstay in Archer for over 110 years. They continue to make facility improvements and changes on a regular basis. "Our roots and our branches are in Archer".
Nearby, is DK Plastics. They are a family owned plastics manufacturer. They have been honored for their rural entrepreneurship and even the governor and presidential candidates have stopped by. Check out their website to learn more about this unique local employer.
Archer is home to one of O'Brien County's maintenance shops.
Archer is also home to the Blue Monkey Gallery. It's a gallery located in the old bank building, which closed in the late 1990's. Several local artists utilize the building as a place to display and sell their art and other items. They are generally open on Saturdays and then by appointment. I enjoy stopping in whenever I am home and it is open.
Lissa Lane-Johnson is one of the main artists and she is also the leader of the Sheldon High School Summer Theatre, one of the few in the entire nation. They produce 6 shows in 6 weeks during the summer and it has been going since 1972. If you are in the Sheldon area during a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday this summer - be sure to check out one of their shows.
There are still some very obvious elements of the building that will remind you of its former bank days. There's the vault and the great flooring as well as the wooden drawers behind the counter.
The usually have a pot of coffee ready to go and they serve Fantasia Coffee. Iowa Adventurer profiled Fantasia a few months ago.
Generally, the place is brimming with creative work - from paintings, photography, and pottery to jewelry, cards, and much more. There's always new work replacing the stuff that went out the door to a new home.
As is popular in some larger areas, Lissa sometimes hosts brush and bottle parties - which is not unlike the wine and canvass or pints and palette spots I sometimes see in the Des Moines area, for example. These are fun social events.
Archer is fortunate to have this great artistic space. If you want to learn more about The Blue Monkey, check out their Facebook page.
Here are a couple other random images I snapped while wandering about Archer.
Archer holds a special spot in my heart. I always enjoy getting back to visit. I hope that next time you are in Northwest Iowa, you'll make a plan to visit Archer. I wish we had a cafe for you to enjoy but be sure to at least drive around and appreciate it's coziness.