In it's heyday, Keokuk, which is located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Des Moines Rivers, was quite a vibrant and prosperous river city and a serious hub of commerce.
As the economy has evolved, river cities like Keokuk have struggled a bit. Today, the population is at about 11,000. Sixty years ago - it was at nearly 16,000. Yet, I see reason for optimism. You can see that there are sincere efforts to revitalize and preserve important pieces of the town's history.
On a recent visit to Lee County, which included touring the Historic Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison, enjoying lunch at Dr. Getwell's, and visiting the National Cemetery, my buddy and I also spent some time checking out a few of the attractions along the riverfront.
The community has done a nice job making the riverfront district into a "destination" of sorts. It was raining on the day my buddy and I visited - so it was not nearly as pleasant as I imagine it is when the weather is warmer and sunnier.
Our nation's inland waterway system is critical to Iowa's economy - because so much of what we produce in Iowa is consumed elsewhere. It needs to be shipped out, so to speak. so the Mississippi River and it's many locks and dams are vitally important.
However, like many of our roads and bridges and other critical infrastructure, our locks and dams could also benefit from financial investments in long-term improvements.
The community has retrofitted some existing infrastructure used for rail to create a pedestrian look-out that provides great views of Lock and Dam 19 as well as the Mississippi River as a whole. The local tourism bureau has a little stop that includes restroom facilities. However, they were not yet open for the year when we stopped.
Photo'd above and below is the pedestrian walk-way that, at the end, provides a nice overlook of the Lock and Dam as well as the river. There were a lot of geese hanging out in the riverfront park near this historic cannon.
At the end of the walk way, there is a definite stop-point.
The end point is also a place that many people have affixed padlocks. Several of the padlocks contain loving messages or inscribed with the name or names of someone special. I presume this is symbolic of the the connected or "locked" nature of love or a relationship, but I would welcome a local's description of what this particular tradition is all about.
From this vantage point, you have a great view of the Lock and Dam and there was even a barge getting ready to head on down the river. I would encourage you to read more about Lock and Dam 19 and it's history and significance.
There are also some views of other infrastructure, such as the Keokuk Waterworks.
Elsewhere in the waterfront area, there are some great photo opportunities of the roadway and bridge going over the Mississippi River.
If you are willing to walk down to the water, you can also see some of the rail and waterway infrastructure from other angles. It is officially known as "Victory Park".
Head a little further south, and you will run into the George M. Verity River Museum. It was not open when we were there but I will have to add it to my list of future adventures for the next time I'm in the area. You can read a little bit more about this museum and be sure to add it to your adventure list next.
Nearby, we also found a statue of Samuel Ryan Curtis. Curtis was a Civil War general as well as a Republican member of Congress from Iowa. Learn more about this famous Iowan by reading his official National Parks Service biography.
The park also has a nice picnic shelter that I am sure can be rented for events. It's very near the Verity museum, which can be seen in the background.
On the way back to the car, I took a photo of this massive church. There are a lot of beautiful structures elsewhere in Keokuk and I will have to do more exploring next time I am in the community.
What did my friend and I miss?
As always, I welcome your suggestions of places to visit and profile in Lee County or any of the other 98 counties. If you have an adventure idea or would like to host the Iowa Adventurer, please drop me a note through my website.