Many county seats in Iowa (a county seat is where the courthouse is located) have a downtown square with the courthouse being the element that all of the buildings of commerce surround. Iowa Adventurer has stopped in many of these communities over the past several years and just off the top of mind, I can remember appreciating the city square layouts in Forest City, Chariton, Knoxville, Jefferson, and Albia, among others.
However, in Red Oak, which is the county seat of Montgomery County in far southwest Iowa, the beautiful downtown is actually anchored by an idyllic park that seems like it has been plucked right out of small town central casting. The entire downtown is now on the National Register of Historic Places, as its application was accepted by the Department of the Interior in 2016.
According to the town website, the park, known as Fountain Square Park, was adopted in 1857. I'm not entirely sure what they mean by "adopted" in this case but perhaps that is when it was platted? Perhaps someone locally will be able to clarify for me? This park is home to a wide array of tastefully arranged memorials, benches, picnic areas, playground equipment, and much more. Of course, as the name suggests, the fountain is one of the main elements of the park. It is a rock lined structure with rocks in the middle and a pool of beautiful blue water.
Throughout the park, there is nice concrete sidewalks with benches that are spaced around. Many of the benches are in memory of an individual or couple or placed there by an organization, such as the American Legion Auxiliary.
You can wander the grounds and appreciate the various war memorials that have been placed around. This particular monument has some age to it and lists men who died in service during War War I.
However, there are newer looking monuments that remember local heroes from World War II, the Korea conflict, and Vietnam. You can see a full list of the monuments on the park's webpage.
There is a large boulder placed in the park but I'm not entirely sure if it also a memorial or if it is just a beautiful piece of local natural beauty on display.
In one corner, you can enjoy a picnic in a covered shelter. There's also a small playground area that appears to be nicely maintained.
Another corner of the park has a slightly elevated stage that can be used, I'm sure, for live entertainment.
The architectural and landscape details, from the beautiful flowers to the ornate light poles, make this a beautiful and relaxing place.
While I was exploring the grounds, I spotted a squirrel. He caught my eye because he was black. I've seen black squirrels in various parts of Iowa but it's always something that catches your eye because you don't see those every day (at least I don't).
With the lush manicured lawn and the giant old shade trees, it's truly a destination to admire and appreciate. I commend the town for the obvious great deal of pride they have for this landmark.
I will need to get back sometime to fully explore the town and especially the square full of businesses. I really love that they are all nicely painted and appear to, at least from the exterior, be nicely up-kept. That certainly is not the case everywhere in Iowa. Kudos to the community and businesses.
As we begin to contemplate the future after this COVID-19 pandemic, the idea of remote work is becoming more attractive to both employers and employees. If office-based employees can have the freedom to do their job from anywhere, they may seek out communities that are less congested and have a lower cost of living. A town like Red Oak could be exactly the kind of place that is attractive to both native Iowans looking to come back home or future Iowans looking for a safe new place to raise their families. The towns that get creative and aggressive in advertising to these remote workers are going to benefit. If I were Red Oak, this park and historic downtown is exactly what I'd lead off with. It is absolutely idyllic.
As always, I welcome your suggestions of places to visit and profile whether in Montgomery 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.