Mt. Vernon is a cultural and historic gem just east of Cedar Rapids. I spent a Saturday there in June, and the downtown area is a delightful mix of art studios, antiques shops, an organic food store, bars and restaurants. The town offers not one but three registered national historic districts: the downtown business area, a neighborhood of Victorian homes, and the entire campus of Cornell College.
It’s a thriving community that entices visitors with frequent festivals and events. Recent events have included a “Chalk the Walk” festival and a chocolate stroll. Next up is the annual 4th of July Antiques Extravaganza (7 a.m. to 4 p.m.) featuring the Lincoln Highway Antiques Show and nine local antiques shops.
|Polly Ann's Antiques|
Mt. Vernon has several unique restaurants, but I recommend the Lincoln Café. The restaurant boasts “honest food” with a focus on local, seasonal ingredients. When I got there at about 1 p.m. every table was full. I nabbed the lone stool at the counter and ordered a salad made with pears, walnuts, and Maytag blue cheese tossed with fresh greens and balsamic vinaigrette dressing. It could not have been more perfect. The walnuts were toasted to perfection, and each ingredient came in just the right amount. Everything tasted so fresh…when I was finished, I wanted to lick the plate.
I also ordered dessert, described by the waitress as “sea-salt pecan brownies with buttermilk ice cream, chocolate sauce, and toasted macadamia nuts.” Who could resist such a thing? The fudgy brownies were cut into tiny bite-sized pieces and covered with homemade ice cream. It was so rich that I couldn’t finish it all.
After lunch, I definitely needed a walk, so I spent some time on the campus of Cornell College. Set on a wooded, 129-acre hilltop, it’s a lovely place to stroll. Cornell was the first college campus to be listed entirely on the National Register of Historic Places. Its student population is small – about 1200 – and the college is known for its “one course at a time” approach. The school was founded in 1853, and many of the buildings are from that era.
Brightly painted Victorians and other well-loved historic homes with large trees and flower gardens fill the residential neighborhoods surrounding the campus and downtown area. It’s worth an hour just to drive – or walk – through the neighborhoods.
There’s more to see in Mt. Vernon and neighboring Lisbon, including a museum in each town, parks, art galleries, and specialty shops. Just west of Mt. Vernon is Palisades-Kepler State Park, which offers a stone lodge built in the 1930s, camping, cabins, trails, fishing, and picnic areas. And right next to the park entrance, don’t miss the barn painted with a reproduction of American Gothic (and other scenes). Painted by local artist Mark Benesh, it’s really quite impressive.
Carole Gieseke, Iowa Girl on the Go