McGregor walking tour interesting and informational
By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor
McGregor’s updated historic walking tour booklets were officially unveiled May 10. Already, they’ve been put to good use.
Friday morning, I was sitting down at the riverfront when I overheard some people talking about the log cabin, at the end of Main Street, as you enter town, where founder Alexander MacGregor’s first two homes were located. Having recently taken the walking tour, I knew they were reading information from the booklets. Curious to know about what brought them on the tour, I introduced myself.
The couples were Jan and Mike Vlasak, originally of Branson West, Mo., and Jim and Dianna Russo, of Marion. They said they have visited McGregor many times, but had yet to take the walking tour. As they were on the very first stops, I let them go on their way, off to discover some of the interesting things I’d encountered over the past two days.
The idea to take the walking tour was spontaneous. I attended a presentation at the McGregor Historical Museum May 10 and heard the booklet’s organizers—Maureen Wild, Rogeta Halvorson, Michelle Pettit and Lynette Sander—speak enthusiastically about the process. Aside from majoring in journalism, I also majored in history in college, so hearing other people get excited about history always gets me excited. I thought, “Taking the tour would give me the opportunity to quench my own thirst for knowledge and gain perspective on one of the communities I cover, while also sharing that with the North Iowa Times readers.” Here is some information you might find interesting or helpful if you decide to take the tour:
1) In McGregor, sometimes things take longer than anticipated. Originally, I planned to knock the tour out Thursday morning. But there are a lot of stops (101 in all, although many can be combined into fewer stops) and, when you stand along the street with a camera and a book, people get curious about what you’re doing. I was stopped a few times by business owners and citizens alike, curious to know what the new booklets looked like and what information was listed for their business or home. The tour took me several hours, over two days, to complete.
2) The route might not be what you’d expect. You begin the tour at the end of Main Street, on the even-numbered side, then work your way up the street to the McGregor Public Library (making a stop on A Street along the way). The tour then takes you back into the residential area, to check out some of the city’s historic private homes, like the Huntting Mansion (322 Kinney St.) and the T.J. Sullivan Home (121 Center St.) The tour then continues down the rest of Main Street, out toward Gazebo Park, to St. Mary’s Catholic Church, the Ringling House on Walton Ave., then back into town down the odd-numbered side of Main St. The tour winds up along the riverfront before taking people on a final stop at McGregor Heights to learn about the American School of Wildlife Protection.
3) A few of the noted locations are for sale or rent. Some of the city’s historic homes are currently up for sale, while other historic buildings are ready to be rented. Even within the last year, as the booklet was compiled, there has been some business turnover, so visitors will have to rely on street numbers rather than business names for some stops.
4) The oldest house in town is on Main Street. Located at 623 Main St., the Samuel Olmstead Home was built in 1849, making it the oldest standing home in McGregor. Olmstead met town founder Alexander MacGregor in 1837 and worked for him in the ferry business for 14 years. Two of his half brothers, Phineas Page and David, were the first settlers in 1840 of what was Monona Township, and Phineas Page was the founder of Monona.
5) The city has had numerous mortuaries. Four stops list a mortuary or funeral home as one of its former inhabitants. The O.C. Buck Mortuary was built in 1850 at 142 Main St., currently the site of The Olde Time Shoppe. Other locations include 310 Main St. (Past 100 Years) and 219 Main St. (Creative Enz Salon), which was the home of Pilkington Funeral Home, built in 1858. At 625 Main St., the 112-year-old Daubenberger Home is currently the Thornburg-Grau Funeral Home.
6) The North Iowa Times has had numerous locations over the years. Aside from its current location, which was once Bergman’s Opera House, the NIT was originally located at 126 Main St., currently Little Switzerland Inn Bed and Breakfast. For a time, the NIT was also located in the building that now houses Paper Moon. The paper was first published in Oct. 1856 by A.P. Richardson and F.W. Merrill, making it Iowa’s third oldest continuously-running weekly newspaper. That’s a tradition I’m proud to carry on, and hope the town appreciates that history too.
If you’re interested in taking the historic walking tour, or would just like to brush up on your local history, booklets can be purchased at the McGregor Historical Museum, as well as other businesses around town.