It had been a while since I had been in beautiful Van Buren County in southeast Iowa. And then it was only to pass through. I was young then and the beautiful scenery wasn't nearly as exciting to me as what awaited in the large city to the south.
Flash forward a few years and the beauty of Van Buren County was not lost on me. I breathed in the scents of a season changing, a crispness in the air and crops ready for harvest. While some fields showed the technology of progress others reminded me that a slower way of life may be just as rewarding.
The acclaimed “Villages of Van Buren,” 11 historical communities tucked in the corner of Iowa, have no stop lights and no fast food restaurants. What they do have is something much more difficult to find in our world of cities that never sleep and 24-hour shopping. Here you'll find peace.
It's not the $400 spa treatment kind of peace, or the private tropical island kind of peace, but a peace that seems to come from within the moment you enter the county. It's the knowledge that nothing in the Villages is pressing, that things come at their own pace and experiences are just waiting for you to sit and notice them.
I spent my afternoon driving, rather aimlessly, through Lacey-Keosauqua State Park, stopping when the mood struck. The sight of half a dozen wild turkeys along the roadside had me turning around to attempt to snap a photo. A fat momma raccoon and her roly-poly offspring benefited from my nature gazing as I was going slow enough to stop and allow them to amble across the road in front of me. A gorgeous A-frame cabin at the edge of the park had me mentally planning a family getaway.
When I could no longer ignore my stomach I drove into Keosauqua and caught sight of a cafe called Village Cup and Cakes. Not one to turn away from tasty baked goods I parked right outside. As it was mid-afternoon the cafe was quiet. The owner both took my order and made it. He has a way with a Reuben. I also indulged in a delightful red velvet cupcake. And I took my time savoring both. The Villages have a way of making you slow down.
I spent the night at the Bonaparte Inn. Before being lovingly and splendidly restored the inn was home to the Meeks Pants Factory and the Fairfield Glove Company. While the polished plank floors and the brick walls reminded me that the building was once a factory, my spacious room was understated elegance with a high ceiling, antique furnishings and king size bed. The flat screen TV and free wi-fi were the only 21st century trappings and I fell asleep in a quiet I hadn't experienced in far too long.
As I was the only guest that evening I wasn't sure what to expect on the breakfast buffet- but it wasn't the feast I encountered. The long buffet table held hot offerings including scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage and French Toast. Fresh fruits and pastries waited for my attentions on another table, while juice, coffee and tea were available on a third. As I enjoyed my bountiful breakfast my thoughts were interrupted by the noisiest contraption I'd heard that morning... an Amish horse and buggy clip-clopping along the pavement.
I had only a few hours before needing to head for home and there were a few stops that I wanted to make. Down the road in Bentonsport the oldest truss span bridge spanning the Des Moines River is now a scenic pedestrian walkway. Directly across from it is the Mason House Inn, the oldest steamboat hotel on the river. Flood levels are marked on the side of the building. The flood of 1903 was the worst, but it was the flood of 1851 that caused a boat to strike the building.
The village of Cantril is home to the Dutchman's Store, a Mennonite owned general store. Cars filled the street outside the store, license plates from Texas and Virginia mixing with those from Iowa and Missouri. Under the trees behind the store Amish buggies waited in the shade. I've been told the Dutchman's Store is a pilgrimage of sorts; you will find anything and everything here. Fabrics by the yard, food in bulk, meat grinders, ice cream freezers and local cheese, meat and produce. It beats Super Walmart any day.
The final place I stopped was the Milton Creamery. Using milk sourced from local Amish farms, the artisan cheeses produced here are among the best in the world- and they have the trophies to prove it. Samples of the Prairie Breeze Cheese and the squeaky curds had me pulling out my wallet to take a taste of the Villages home to my family.
While I had hoped to return for the upcoming Scenic Drive Festival a family wedding prohibits that. I've got my sights set on Christmas in the Villages in December. I can't wait to relax with my family and share the peace I found in the Villages of Van Buren.
Jody Halsted, Family Rambling