I’m so glad I got to write about Iowa.
A (very) brief history . . . you might want to grab an atlas.
Iowa (the name is derived from the Ioway tribe who once lived in that part of the North American continent) was admitted to the Union in 1846 as the twenty-ninth state. It borders Minnesota to the north, Wisconsin and Illinois to the east, Missouri to the south, and South Dakota and Nebraska to the west. The Mississippi River carves its eastern border and the Missouri River its western, at least in part. The terrain is mostly uninspiring, but there are rolling hills (some more gentle than others) in the eastern half and even hilly hills in the northeast where I understand you can ski in the winter if you can’t make it to the Rockies or the Alps.
Farming (agriculture) has been the number one industry in Iowa since the beginning. You’ll find mostly corn (the field variety—not sweet) or soybeans growing on more than 30,000,000 acres of rich farmland. The Iowa soil is black—really black. Beautiful! Iowa ranks first in corn, soybean, and pork production (I knew that) and egg production (I didn’t know that). Iowa City was the first capital, but in 1857, they moved it to Des Moines. Better location, I guess, but Iowa City got to keep the beautiful Old Capitol Building which sits prominently on the University of Iowa campus.
Most of the early settlers in Iowa were immigrants from Europe (the United Kingdom, Scandinavia, and Germany). Many of my ancestors spoke Swedish when they arrived in Iowa in the latter part of the nineteenth century.
I grew up in Ottumwa (yes, Radar O’Reilly’s hometown), about 85 miles southeast of Des Moines. The Des Moines River divides the city in half. You were either from the somewhat hilly north side (my mom) or the not at all hilly south side (my dad—after they married in 1948, they settled on the south side). Somewhat ironically, the Des Moines River also passes through Algona (where My Mother's Friend takes place--it’s much grander in Ottumwa, though). The population of my hometown was around 33,000 when I was a youngster, and it was a wonderful place to grow up.
During World War II, a U.S. Naval Air Station was established at the city airport. Lt. JG Richard Nixon (our 37th president) was stationed there for several months, and he and his wife, Pat, lived in an apartment building that was just a block from our church. (They were north siders.) During my visit to First Lutheran’s Archives in 2018, I discovered a document from November 1944 that listed all the church members who were serving or had served their country during WWII. There were 108 names listed (including my dad’s), evidence of the impact of a world war on one congregation in a small city in southeastern Iowa.
Of course, the war had a huge impact on Algona, too (as you’ll read in subsequent posts and certainly when My Mother's Friend is finally published). Ottumwa may have had a Naval Air Station, but Algona had a U.S. Army prisoner of war camp, perhaps a bit more “exotic” than a Naval Air Station. Next week, you’ll learn more about Camp Algona.
Here are a few Iowa-flavored movies you might want to watch if you haven’t for a while (or ever): Field of Dreams, Bridges of Madison County, The Music Man, The Fighting Sullivans, and The Straight Story. I finally made it to the Field of Dreams movie set near Dyersville during my research road trip in 2018. Of course, it rained that morning, but it was still fun to be there.
Yes, it was nice to write about Iowa. It took me home.
Blessings to all.
Sally Jameson Bond is retired and lives in Southwest Virginia with her husband and two dogs. My Mother’s Friend is her first novel. You can find her web site here: www.sallyjamesonbond.com..sallyjamesonbond.com