Do all roads lead to Chelsea?
The town of about 265 people in Tama County can brag that it is on the map of three different routes: The Lincoln Highway, Iowa's Czech Trail, and the Iowa River Valley Scenic Byway.
The Lincoln Highway was our country's first transcontinental highway. It predated the Eisenhower Interstate System and was, during it's heyday, a heavily trafficked road. Since it cut all the way across our state, a number of the cities along the way benefited greatly from that traffic and the money that those travelers spent on fuel, food, hotel accommodations, and entertainment.
Over the past three years, Iowa Adventurer has stopped in other towns along the route including Belle Plaine in Benton County, Colo in Story County, Clarence in Cedar County. All three of those towns (and many others along the way) play up their history and association with this famous route. These days, there are a number of different groups in Iowa and beyond that work to promote Lincoln Highway tourism and in some cases the preservation of the history and landmarks along the way.
Vítáme Vás do Chelsea translates in Czech to "We Welcome you to Chelsea". Prior to my visit, I was well aware of the Lincoln Highway and that Chelsea was on the route. What I didn't know is that Iowa had a Czech Trail and that Chelsea was also it until I rolled into town and noticed the little brown sign. Naturally, there's a lot of Czech heritage in this area of Iowa as Cedar Rapids, just up the road on Highway 30, is home to the National Czech Museum and Library.
According to Travel Iowa, our state's official tourism department, the trail is about 30 miles and they suggest either driving by car or riding it by bicycle. In addition to Chelsea, the Czech Trail also includes the communities of Elberon, Clutier, and Vining. There's even a downloadable brochure that is quite nice. It seems like you could make a whole day out of hanging out on this particular trail.
As you might guess from the name, the Iowa River meanders just south of town. Unfortunately, over time, it and the nearby Otter Creek has also done much more than smoothly float on by.
On occasion, it has jumped the banks and caused enormous flooding damage in town. A quick search on the web will yield some pretty depressing pictures and articles. However, there is a public area south and west of town that includes some sizable conservation work. There is a lot of information on the web about the Iowa River Corridor Project and it appears to be both a flood mitigation project and a wildlife habitat area, among other things.
On this this particular day, my rationale for coming to Chelsea was less about traveling on one of the byways and more so for my visit was to experience the incredible Periwinkle Place Bed and Breakfast (or maybe better said...Dead and breakfast). I wrote an entire blog post about my experience staying there and it's worth the read. Better yet, it'd be wise to call them up and make your own reservation.
In addition to a very cool bed and breakfast that is in a historic funeral home, Chelsea is also home to a few other businesses or public entities. For example, an old brick building houses both the library and the city hall.
Across the street is a bar and grill that seems to have a good following. I didn't have a chance to pop into The Silver Dollar Sports Bar & Grill, but it's on my list for the future.
Next door is the town's fire department.
Chelsea Savings Bank offers banking services in town.
There is a spectacular Catholic Church as well as a couple other buildings as part of the campus. I didn't go inside but based on some of the pictures on its Facebook, it looks to be quite stunning. I've said it before and I'm sure I'll say it again, they sure don't make church buildings like they used to.
Chelsea is also home to a United Methodist Church, though their footprint is a bit smaller as compared to the Catholic Church.
As you'll note in many of the photos, there's agricultural structures popping up in the skyline. Agriculture is the lifeblood of rural Iowa and that is certainly the case in this area. Heartland Cooperative has a location here in town.
There's also some railroad tracks that go through town.
This old processing building no longer appears to be in use. It's a beautiful red color. In a larger city, something like this might get converted into trendy lofts. I'm not sure what other options exist for re-use here. Although, rural Iowa does have a housing shortage.
I was quite drawn to this old garage building. Frankly, I think it would make an amazing brewery building. Is there anybody in the area looking to start a brewery?
I love the old advertising mural on the side.
I spotted what appeared to be an old school or gymnasium. I know that there is no longer a school in Chelsea, but I wonder if the building is still used for a public purpose? It's next door to a park with some various playground equipment and amenities.
There's also a ball field in town. I was most impressed with this nearby tree. It's practically art work.
Back in the downtown area, there are a couple of other buildings. Some are in better shape than others and some are in differing states of use.
For example, this cool old brick building with the red front and yellow stars appears to Mistletoe Market. I believe this is also owned by the same lovely couple that owns the Bed and Breakfast as they also have a holiday personas as Mr. and Mrs. Claus. Again, you can read about them on my previous Chelsea post.
Between that grouping of buildings and another group of buildings is a green space with some landscaping. I'm sure at one point there were other buildings there, but making a park out of it is better than just having it be an eyesore.
I don't know if these below buildings presently have a use. I couldn't tell. They look like they certainly might still have some life in them. That said, as the remote work economy continues evolve and many workers can work from anywhere, rural places are going to become more popular landing spots. If Chelsea ever put in a co-working space (as long as it had good Internet), a building like this with an apartment or two on the top floor could be interesting.
There's also a business that appears to be a convenience store without the gasoline pumps. A big sign out front was advertising fishing bait.
Elsewhere in town, I spotted a few other buildings that were in varying stages of use and condition.
Chelsea has a water tower.
I found a lot that was offering spaces for campers and RVs to park.
If the RV life is not for you, Chelsea is also home to a number of quality single family dwellings.
Whatever road or route you roll into town on, there's a lot to appreciate about Chelsea.
You can stay a night at the Periwinkle, find a meal at the Silver Dollar, head out exploring the Iowa River Corridor, or see what other businesses might be open. It's a great town with quality people.
Personally, I'm exceptionally bullish on the future of rural Iowa and rural America. We are on the cusp of seismic societal changes. If 50 percent of our workforce can work at a job that can be remote, they can work anywhere. We may not see places like Chelsea attract people from urban clusters like Chicago, New York, and San Francisco, but we could see communities like Chelsea attract from the Des Moines and Cedar Rapids areas. The lower cost of living, good schools, fresh air, friendly people, and opportunities for home ownership make Chelsea and hundreds of other towns in Iowa like it quite appealing. There's a lot to like about a town like Chelsea and I enjoyed my visit. I'm already looking forward to my next stop back in Tama County.
As always, I welcome your suggestions of places to visit and profile whether in Tama 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 site.