Iowa is home to a number of different "World's Largest". Sac City is home of the "World's Largest Popcorn Ball", Brandon has a huge frying pan, Audubon has a bull, Strawberry Point has...what else...a strawberry, and I-80 near Eldridge has the largest truck stop. There are many more in Iowa and I'd encourage you to check out this handy list made by the fine folks at Travel Iowa. The landmarks all make for fun reasons to visit a community and help form the identity of the town or location where they reside. They are a way to bring people to town and hopefully while they are there, they'll find a restaurant to dine at, a hotel to sleep at, or a local retailer to shop at. I've long said that my hometown of Sheldon, once known as the Marigold city, needs to lean into that and construct the world's largest marigold.
In north central Iowa, you can visit the welcoming community of Crystal Lake, a town of about 250 people. In addition to being home to a nice lake, some businesses, and a lot of nice people, they have also laid claim to another one of Iowa's "World's Largest". Here, you can visit, admire, and get your photo with the "World's Largest Bullhead".
Last year, when things were still green and we weren't all social distancing from each other, I made a visit to Crystal Lake. Of course, I stopped by to see the big fish but I also drove around the town and found a lot to like.
They even highlight their "claim to fame" on their town sign and light pole banners.
The big bullhead sits along the south shore of the lake known as Crystal Lake, which is actually on the north end of the town Crystal Lake. It's quite a structure. The fish sits several feet off the ground atop a rocky platform.
According to research I found online, the statue was erected in 1958 and then restored in 2007. It is apparently 12 feet in length though I'm not sure how much it weighs.
From any angle, it's quite a sight to see with it's whiskers drooping down.
This sign, just a few feet away, suggest that if you caught a 12 foot Large Mouth Bass...you'd be able to keep it.
According to the Iowa DNR, Crystal Lake (the lake) is about 264 acres in size and is about 18 feet deep (at it's deepest). Crystal Lake is noted to be the headwaters of the Iowa River, a relatively major body of water that drains into the Mississippi River.
Like a lot of rural Iowa these days, commercial-scale wind turbines have significantly altered the landscape. You can see a number of them around Crystal Lake. Agriculture is still the lifeblood of the area, of course.
On the night I visited, I found a couple of boats out enjoying an evening on the lake.
There's a sign that says to swim at your own risk. I am guessing that means that there is no lifeguard on duty.
I also did find others enjoying the trails and other recreational areas around it. There are some great spots all around the lake if being outdoors is your thing.
These people were doing some fishing at the Crystal Lake Roadside Park.
I was especially impressed by the park on the east side of town known as simply Crystal Lake Park.
This particular park offers a number of fantastic amenities from a Frisbee golf course and playground equipment to picnic tables and camping spaces.
You can enjoy a picnic on a table or rent out a shelter house.
Perhaps most impressive of all the amenities, you can enjoy terrific views of the lake and beyond.
Back in town, I spotted another campground area that seemed to be at or near capacity.
I spotted a couple of other parks in town, including a city park.
There's also another park, Kluver Athletic Park, near the water tower where you can find an old ball field.
Back closer to the Bullhead, you can take a look at an old Rock Island train car. I couldn't find much about it when I researched online. However, there is reference to the Rock Island Railroad being in Crystal Lake in this old Rock Island Employee Magazine.
The downtown part of the city was pretty sleepy on this particular Sunday evening. However, there are a number of different buildings lined up. They are in varying stages of use and condition.
I was quite impressed and enamored by all of the American flags. Very nice touch. There appears to be a lot of upstairs to these buildings and I don't know how they are being utilized. However, they look like they could be converted into a number of apartments with some investment.
I don't know what the use is for this corner building but it is quite attractive. I presume it may have been once a bank? If it is currently not in use, it would make a great building for the town's future co-working space. As the future of work evolves and it becomes easier for a job to be located almost anywhere, rural Iowa is set to benefit with it's lower cost of living, quality schools, and enhanced sense of community.
Of course, there is a post office and a city hall. From their Facebook page, I learned there is a library and a senior center as well.
There are a number of other buildings along the block.
I don't know if this building with the red metal bottom is a cafe or if the building with the upstairs trellis is used for anything but they are obviously look to have quite nice potential.
I also found an emergency services garage. The local fire department has a nice Facebook page to check out.
I also found a couple of plows parked under some trees that I am sure get some use in the winter time.
I don't know if the pumps are still in service, but this former convenience store did not appear to be still open for customers.
I found a big beautiful brick United Methodist church.
I found another church building but I'm not sure if it is still in use as a church.
However, there is a beautiful brick structure on the back of it that is quite lovely.
I found the town to have a number of different housing options - both single family dwellings and multi-family units. It appears that this old school building is now used as housing, which is good to see. In my travels around Iowa, I see too many old schools that need to be re-purposed. Housing continues to be a need throughout all areas of Iowa and old school buildings are a good idea for that, if they have not been too neglected.
Elsewhere, I found another multi-family structure.
There is a number of nice homes around town.
Obviously, agriculture and manufacturing our critical to the economy of rural Iowa and that is the case in Hancock County. However, Crystal Lake is also blessed with some incredible natural resources and parks that can draw plenty of outdoor enthusiasts. I'm not the camping and fishing type, but if you are, Crystal Lake appears like it would be an excellent place to visit.
As always, I welcome your suggestions of places to visit and profile whether in Hancock 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.