Often surrounding a historic and beautiful county courthouse, town squares are vibrant parts of the community. Here are 10 historic squares to visit for shopping, history and dining.
Melodic bells ring on the hour from the 168-foot-tall Mahanay Bell Tower, the centerpiece of Jefferson’s downtown square. Finished in 1966, the tower’s bells play religious and patriotic tunes. Jefferson’s square is full of history, coffee shops and a variety of retail establishments. For entertainment, check out the History Boy Theatre Co., located just a block off the square. It features local actors producing shows that come straight from Broadway.
Quilt enthusiasts rejoice! In addition to Piece Works Quilt Shop, Winterset’s cozy square is home to the Iowa Quilt Museum. The museum opened in 2015 and aims to promote the art of quilting and quilting history through unique displays. Also, poke your head in one of the local home décor or clothing boutiques that dot the square.
The main tenant of Centerville’s square is The Continental Hotel. Once a popular resting spot for travelers, it’s now an apartment building housing a favorite local eatery, Lucile’s. Called “The World’s Largest Town Square,” Centerville’s commercial hub has a variety of antique shops, dining establishments and clothing boutiques that are unique to the community.
Art and culture devotees will love Fairfield’s plethora of ethnic restaurants, coffee shops and bookstores that make up its quaint downtown square. Visitors here also enjoy health and wellness emporiums, art galleries and vintage/re-purposed home décor boutiques. Visit on the first Friday of the month for the Art Walk, where the community celebrates culture and creativity, and the shops and galleries stay open late.
A bookstore with so much more, The Book Vault, located in historic downtown Oskaloosa, has books, unique gifts, a cozy ambiance and cooking demonstrations. Scout the square and enjoy the historic courthouse, and grab a coffee from Smokey Row Coffee House. Visit in late July for the Sweet Corn Serenade that offers activities for all ages and an abundance of sweet corn. Come during the holiday season to see the square "painted with lights."
6. Mason City
A sanctioned Iowa Cultural and Historical District, downtown Mason City thrives with festivals, sidewalk sales, holiday-themed programs and concerts. Rich with history, this square is home to The Historic Park Inn, famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s only remaining hotel. Treat yourself to a relaxing retreat at the Beehive Body Spa or a carefree afternoon of shopping. Just off the square, visit Music Man Square, a unique collection of attractions that celebrate native son and “The Music Man” composer, Meredith Willson.
Rooted in history, Eldora was the first town established in Hardin County. The county’s courthouse is front and center in the square and was constructed in 1892 for $48,000; that’s the same as $1 million today! Stop into the Elodora Welcome Center and Railroad Museum to learn more about the community's attractions and history.
Did you know that all storefronts in Pella are required to maintain architectural details consistent with the community’s strong Dutch heritage? The town square is no exception. Ornate detail on stores and restaurants make you feel like you’re in the Netherlands. Visit in May to see hundreds of thousands of tulips in bloom and attend Tulip Time, the festival that celebrates the town’s Dutch traditions.
Shops surrounding lush Central Park make Williamsburg home to one of the best town squares in Iowa. Native brick streets and shops encircle the park in the tradition of New England’s “town square” concept. Among the square’s vibrant shops is the Woolen Needle - famous for hand-dyed wool, yarn and reproduction cotton. Located just a few miles south of Interstate 80, Williamsburg is also conveniently located near the Outlets of Williamsburg and Fireside Winery.
First used as a school and then a church, the Washington County courthouse has a colorful history. Stroll around the historic courthouse on the community’s square and find shops brimming with fine home furnishings, vintage and reclaimed goods, and stylish clothing. In the summer, join residents for Thursday Night Live where live music performances begin at the conclusion of the farmer’s market.