A Little About Grant Wood Country

Hello and welcome to the blog!  Today’s little drive was not very far from home – in fact, just a few miles down the road.  But the destination is an interesting part of Iowa’s history.

Gothic TrekkerJones County, Iowa is the birthplace of Grant Wood, the artist who is most famous for his painting, “American Gothic”.

Back in June of 2012, I went for a camping trip in Eldon, Iowa and visited the house used in the famous painting.  Grant Wood’s sister, Nan, and a dentist were the two somber looking individuals portrayed.  Little did I expect back then to end up living near Wood’s birthplace.

Proclaimed “Grant Wood Country”, Jones County is a farming community with rolling hills and the meandering Wapsipinicon River.  Grant Wood was born on a farm near Anamosa in 1891.  He loved the farm life, his chores, and the animals.  But Grant’s earthly father died in 1901.  Running the farm was too much and Grant’s mother relocated the family to Cedar Rapids, first to a house at 1544 A Avenue NE.  My buddy Jeff rents an apartment in that house and with a little research I confirmed that indeed, the famous artist once lived there as a boy.

Grant Wood homeThe family moved to this white house in 1902.  Grant Wood graduated in 1910 from Washington High School… which in those days was in downtown Cedar Rapids.  (I attended the same high school but after it was relocated to the current location.)

Grant Wood lived in Cedar Rapids (at least most of the time) until 1934.  After a brief service in the Army from 1917 – 1918, he moved back to Cedar Rapids and worked for the Cedar Rapids Community School District as an art teacher.

Carriage House

 

In 1924, John B. Turner and his son David Turner, offered artist Grant Wood a rent-free place to live at 5 Turner Alley, behind the old Douglas mansion.  The beautiful mansion, located along 2nd Avenue on the southeast side of town, was purchased to be used as a funeral home.  Grant lived on the upper floor of the “carriage house” which he transformed into his art studio and living quarters.  The downstairs was a garage for the mortuary’s “business vehicles”… It sounds a little creepy!

 

Wood tombstone

Tombstone is easily visible high on a hill facing the river. Park on an upper drive.

Grant Wood later moved to Iowa City and became a teacher at the University of Iowa.  He died in 1942 of pancreatic cancer and is buried in Riverside Cemetery in Anamosa just on the other side of the road from the river dam.

Although the funeral home building was sold to the Cedar Memorial company in 1978, the carriage building remains to this day and the studio is open for tours.

 

There is another piece of Grant Wood history of interest in Stone City, Iowa which is located near Anamosa.  Stone City was once a thriving town with rich deposits of dolomite limestone.  Grant Wood also had an art colony in that town.  But as concrete became the building material of choice, limestone usage dwindled and the once booming town diminished and is now “unincorporated” (meaning that the area is controlled by the county).

General Store Pub2

Still in existence is a wonderful attraction. The Jones County General Store and Pub is featured in one of Grant Wood’s paintings, “Jones County, Iowa”.  I drew a green arrow next to the building.  If you are in the area, you will want to dine here; this awesome eatery is very highly rated.  I chose the Friday night fish fry and it was amazing and very reasonably priced.  Sis is looking forward to checking out this cozy and charming restaurant on her next visit.  You’ll see more about Stone City in the spring as I camp and fish nearby along the Wapsi River.

Kept up with Jones

Sign along Highway 1, south of Highway 151. Just a bit beyond the trees is the farm where Serena and I lived in the van for a summer.

 

Thanks for checking out this bit of Iowa history.  As winter ends and spring begins, there will be more travels and stories to tell.  Take care!

Brad, Serena, and Jesse James
Jones County, Iowa