I will go out on a limb and say that Decorah might be one of the prettiest towns in our whole state. I've been to the area many times previously, but admittedly, have missed out on visiting many of it's popular attractions. Once you are able to really dig in to what the area offers, you come away with an even greater appreciation.
When you think of Decorah, you might first think of Luther College or perhaps their famous Eagles, which have captured worldwide curiosity. You might be fans of their popular craft breweries, such as Toppling Goliath or Pulpit Rock, been in awe of the Seed Savers Exchange, or enjoy their rich Norwegian heritage and traditions especially at the annual Nordic Fest, which will be held later this month.
There's a lot to see and do in Decorah - both indoors and outdoors. On a recent Saturday, a friend and I made the drive up to far Northeast Iowa to spend some time in and around the community. From outdoor adventures amongst the vast natural beauty to indoor stops at restaurants and breweries, it will take several articles for me to adequately capture our day.
The main street through downtown Decorah is known as Water Street and there is a lot to visit. Yes, Decorah is a college town and a county seat but I am impressed that there is nearly zero empty store fronts. Even at approximately 8,000 residents, that's impressive.
Decorah is embracing their identity as a tourist town and have done a fantastic job putting up signs throughout the area that explain some of the buildings, history, and notable dates. Honestly, though, nearly every town in Iowa could do this even if they aren't a natural "tourist" destination. It would be a small investment of time and resources but you cannot put a price on telling your story and getting people to stop and appreciate it.
They also have a few of these structures around town which have some information about the community and immediate surroundings.
From a streetscape perspective, they have some beautiful light poles with flowering baskets hanging from them. I also found that they are working on some pollinator habit patches.
In several spots, I noticed some great murals and other public art.
The downtown is very clean and the buildings are very well kept up.
Perhaps one of the most famous buildings is the Hotel Winneshiek, which is on the Historic Hotels of America list. I would love the opportunity to someday stay in this handsome building.
But there is other grand architecture, too. The Winneshiek County Courthouse is beautiful in it's own right.
On another street, I found this gorgeous Bed and Breakfast and then a museum with a one-of-a-kind fence around the premises.
As you would expect, I found a couple of beautiful church buildings, including a huge Lutheran Church.
In the parking lot of the town's food co-op, the community's twice weekly (Wednesday and Saturday) farmers' market was set up. There was a modest census of vendors offering a wide array of goods and wares. There was also some live music and a man was working to register voters.
After wandering around downtown and the farmers' market, my friend and I drove over to the campus of Luther College. Luther, home of the Norse, is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) and is one of Iowa's top private liberal arts colleges. At just under 2500 students, the students, professors, and staff are obviously a big part of the identity and economy of the town.
The 175 acre campus is divided between a lower and upper part. From what I gather, much of the athletic facilities are on the lower part and much of the academic buildings are on the upper part.
I found a stately statue of Martin Luther on campus. It was sculpted in 1911.
There was also a beautiful bell on central campus.
I didn't get many photos, unfortunately, of the athletic facilities but here are a few shots of the academic side of the campus. My friend and I parked the car and did a little walking tour.
Check back over the next week or so for several more posts on my visit to Decorah. I've only scratched the surface! As you plan your own adventure to Winneshiek County, I think there is more than enough to see and do in the area to do a full weekend or even a long-weekend.
As always, I welcome your suggestions of places to visit and profile whether in Winneshiek County or any of the other 98 counties. If you have a good idea or would like to host the Iowa Adventurer, please drop me a note through my website.