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Michelle’s Antique Roadtrip: Cruising and Antiquing in Southeast Iowa

by Michelle Staley (06/08/12).

I noticed straight away that walking into Busenbarrick Fine Jewelry-one of the many historic buildings in downtown Winterset, Iowa, was like stepping back in time.

Last month, my good friend Phyllis and I took a three-day trip to Iowa. I live in the Kansas City area, and to be perfectly honest, Iowa was not on my Top 10 list of states that I wanted to visit for my antiquing trips. Now, I cannot wait to return.

We began our journey on a Friday morning with Des Moines as our only known destination. It is about a four-hour drive from where I live, but just as we crossed the state line into the Hawkeye State, we noticed a sign for the Tourist Information Center and a restroom. Since we could use both services, this was our first stop. We stocked up on maps, information brochures and other sightseeing necessities, including several antique shop brochures.

As we got a little further up the highway I noticed a sign “Covered Bridges of Madison County.” It just so happens that “The Bridges of Madison County” by Robert James Waller is one of my favorite books, and therefore this was the first of many unplanned detours we would take on our trip.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: A signed, first edition, first printing of “The Bridges of Madison County” can sell for around $100.

These bridges in Madison County, Iowa, were built in the late 19th century and were covered as a means of preserving road planks, as it was cheaper to replace the roofs on the bridges than replace the road surface. Originally, there were 19 covered bridges but only six are still around. We saw four of the six, including the Holliwell Bridge, which was shown in the movie. I found the covered bridges to be pretty spectacular and the scenery surrounding the back country gravel roads was simply breathtaking.

I noticed straight away that walking into Busenbarrick Fine Jewelry-one of the many historic buildings in downtown Winterset,m Iowa, was like stepping back in time.

Besides being the birthplace of John Wayne, Winterset, Iowa, has a beautifully restored downtown area. Most of the buildings have plaques on the front giving the history of each structure. I was drawn a local jewelry store and upon entering this historic building, I noticed straight away that walking into Busenbarrick Fine Jewelry was like stepping back in time. Not only do they sell jewelry of all types, but you can also purchase sterling silver hollow ware, Fenton glass and other fine home wares. I could have spent all day browsing the downtown shops but most were closed, as it was getting late in the day.

The Holliwell Bridge—one of the original 19 covered bridges of Madison County, Iowa. Built in the late 19th century, they were covered as a means of preserving road planks, as it was cheaper to replace the roofs on the bridges than replace the road surface. Originally, there were 19 covered bridges but only six are still around.

Saturday we woke up ready to hit the antique shops. We had mapped out a course based on the brochures we picked up and plugged everything into our GPS guidance system.

The first shop we went to is the Majestic Lion Antique Center in Des Moines. Jerry and Betsy Munn opened this multi-dealer, 35,000-square-foot antique mall 16 years ago. They also own an equally large flea market adjacent to the antique shop.

This shop was massive and had more locked display cabinets than I have ever seen in one shop. I generally will not trek to the front of a shop to ask to have a display cabinet unlocked unless I see something I simply cannot live without. The Majestic Lion owners have addressed that issue by placing call buttons all over the shop so that you can simply push a button and an employee will come to you with keys in hand. I love this idea, especially since shops are getting away from having employees available on the floor to assist customers.

The Majestic Lion owners have addressed locked-display-cabinets issue by placing call buttons all over the shop so that you can simply push a button and an employee will come to you with keys in hand. I love this idea.

We have all seen the anodized aluminum tumblers, and many of us remember drinking from them as kids. My Granny would make me milk shakes in my favorite blue tumbler using a couple of scoops of ice cream and simply pouring milk over it. It would get so very cold that the outside of the aluminum tumbler would become frosted. This is how I have always made milk shakes and I still have a few of her tumblers. Anyway, I digress. Iowa has numerous dairies and I found a display in the shop with several of these anodized aluminum tumblers with a note stating that they were old stock from the Anderson Erickson Dairy and came filled with cottage cheese.

The inventory at the Majestic Lion was very impressive. It has a wonderful selection of massive antique rosewood furniture as well as antique items from around the world. It is a very nice, neat and clean store with inventory displayed nicely. I saw your everyday antique shop inventory but also regional pieces, such as farm implements and dairy items.

Something else I really like about this shop is the fact that there is seating for customers spread throughout the store. When you have a location this large, being able to sit for a minute every now and then makes for a very pleasant shopping experience.

The Majestic Lion Antique Center is the only antique shop we visited in Des Moines. The GPS and I had a falling out after she sent me driving in circles for about 10 blocks, so she quickly got turned off. We decided to head south out of Des Moines and shortly arrived in Pella, Iowa.

Pella was established in 1847 when 800 Dutch immigrants settled the area. Tulips line the main streets and the town square, providing a kaleidoscope of color. The town was bustling with visitors and most of the antique shops on the square were filled to capacity, making it difficult to navigate your way through them. Phyllis got herself a coffee and found a bench outside while I wandered from store to store.

Anodized aluminum tumblers, which are perfect for making easy milk shakes, were used by Iowa dairies to deliver cottage cheese.

What I loved about the shops in Pella is that the vast majority of their inventory has a Dutch theme, with numerous antiques from Holland. Unfortunately, I was asked not to take photographs in any of the stores, but it was very interesting seeing such a concentration of Delftware, as well as interesting spice containers, art and ice skates. The shapes, styles and colors were anything but plain. We won’t even get in to the food and pastries.

We spent Saturday night in Knoxville, Iowa, called the “Sprint Car Capitol of the World.” It was late in the day when we got in to town, so we did not get to see much except for the Knoxville Raceway and the town square. I noticed that every small town we drove through had an amazingly beautiful courthouse in the town square. In many of the towns the courthouse was the only building downtown that was not in disrepair and most places had at least one large turreted building sitting on a corner of the square. In total on the trip, we circled six different town squares.

It was time to head home on Sunday so we stayed on two-lane roads heading south and west, knowing we would eventually hit good ole I-35 eventually. The countryside is beautiful I can see what inspired the artist Grant Wood—as you crest a hill and look around, you see a patchwork of greens, yellows, browns and blue, and picturesque farmhouses nestled into cozy nooks of color—although we did not make it to the “American Gothic” house to have our picture taken.

I wish that we had been able to locate more antique shops on the trip. Having poor communication skills with your GPS device does not help much. The dealers and shop owners that did I visited with indicated that business was good—much better than the same time last year—which we all found very encouraging, but you could tell that the poor economy had taken its toll by the number of empty buildings we saw throughout our trip. There were also quite a few stores that seemed to still be in business but were closed on a Saturday, for whatever reason.

If you get the opportunity, I highly recommend visiting Iowa, at least the southeast portion of the state. I plan on getting back up there so discover more of this beautiful state and maybe find an antique or two. Among the pieces I purchased on this trip were a small chalkware Dutch boy head, and some Delftware tile (circa 1800s) for my Delft tile collection.

Michelle Staley, who insists that collectors are the happiest people, is an antique collector and dealer. Her shop, My Granny’s Attic Antiques, Collectibles and Memorabilia, is in Lenexa, Kansas.

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3 Responses to “Michelle’s Antique Roadtrip: Cruising and Antiquing in Southeast Iowa”

  1. Garden Barn says:

    Would love to have you stop by my shop next time you are this way!
    I am just south of Des Moines, my web site with map is http://www.thegardenbarn.com
    My shop is located in a historic 1886 barn.
    Enjoyed your article!

  2. John Aspley says:

    Who knew Iowa had cool things to offer! Do you ever make it to the High Point Furniture Market?

    We have a 200,000 square foot antique mall that is open year-round to the public. Come visit if you find yourself in the area! Thanks for the article!

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