One Night in Cedar Rapids

(From the Boston Public Library's Print Division via Flickr/CC BY 2.0 >>)

(From the Boston Public Library’s Print Division via Flickr/CC BY 2.0 >>)

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — If you’ve seen the 2011 film “Cedar Rapids” starring Ed Helms, John C. Reilly and Anne Heche, don’t expect to see much of the movie’s setting here in Iowa’s second-largest city. It was actually filmed in Ann Arbor, Mich.

The real Cedar Rapids is still recovering from Iowa’s record floods in 2008, which inundated much of downtown and low-lying neighborhoods on either side of the Cedar River, including Czech Village. (The National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library, which was damaged during the floods, is currently hosting a special exhibition featuring the “280 dazzling pins [former Secretary of State Madeleine] Albright wore to emphasize the importance of a negotiation, signify high hopes, protest the absence of progress, and show pride in representing the United States,” according to the museum.)

I didn’t have that much time to explore Cedar Rapids. As I pressed westward on the Lincoln Highway, this was just a one-night stopping-off point for my trip. The one downtown feature that’s hard to miss when driving through town is the Quaker Oats complex, where towering grain elevators serve the company’s large cereal mill, which opened here in 1873.

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Windmill, Golden Dome Mark Lincoln Highway’s Mississippi Crossing

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This Archer Daniels Midland coal storage facility in Clinton, Iowa, is hard to miss. (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

CLINTON, Iowa — There are two ways to cross the Mississippi River heading west on the Lincoln Highway from Illinois into Iowa. U.S. 30’s Gateway Bridge, a suspension span, provides a faster way through the area. But it skips Fulton, Ill., the town where the Lincoln Highway previously crossed on a bridge dating to 1891, later torn down and replaced.

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The Windmill Cultural Center in Fulton, Ill., sits adjacent to the town’s Mississippi River levee. (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

Today, there’s a giant Dutch-style windmill that sits atop Fulton’s Mississippi River levee at the foot of 10th Avenue at 1st Street, where a the Windmill Cultural Center is located. Dutch settlers originally came to this spot along the Mississippi in 1835. Many more, including members of the Dutch Reformed Church, started coming in higher numbers in the 1870s. (The city hosted its Dutch Days in May.)

Today, you can take the 1970s era Mark N. Norris Bridge to connect with U.S. 67 to head into the heart of Clinton, formerly the “Lumber Capital of the World,” and link back up with U.S. 30 to head west. (My hometown, Grand Rapids, Mich., is the “Furniture Capital of the America.”) Clinton’s Sawmill Museum is on Grant Street, along Clinton’s Mississippi River levee.

Sawmills in Clinton processed lumber that came downriver from Minnesota and Wisconsin along the Mississippi. That processed lumber was then taken by rail to Chicago and points east, or to points farther downriver. But Clinton’s lumber boom went bust in the 1890s.

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