From Bald Eagles to Buffalo Bill Cody – LeClaire has Something for Everyone
River towns are often mythical places, especially along the Mississippi. Steeped in cultural and natural history, many still play a considerable role in the storied life of ‘Old Blue.’ Historically, the Mississippi served as the gateway to the West and crossing this serpentine waterway in the Midwest led to countless adventures. LeClaire, Iowa is arguably the quintessential river town, home not only to important River Pilot Houses but as birthplace to one Buffalo Bill Cody. Whether watching bald eagles snag fish during their winter residency, graceful white pelicans come spring, cruising Libations Lane or settling in for the night in a river pilot home of your own, you create your own history when you visit LeClaire.
The Cody Road Historic District serves as a wonderful starting point to your LeClaire explorations. The 9-block long region is lined with excellent examples of mid-to-late 19th century architecture. Here you discover as well as insights into the Mississippi’s heyday as you survey simple worker domiciles, more ornate bourgeois residences and several retail facades. Walking among the commercial buildings and one-story, brick structures transports you right back to the mercantile days of the 1800’s. The 60-building district is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Don’t miss the Old Mill House, one of the prestigious “Houses of Mississippi River Men.”
You’re not simply an observer when you visit LeClaire however, you can actually lodge in the Old Mill House. You can also visit many other famed river pilot houses, the homes of boat captains and river pilots who boarded the ships to negotiate the challenging Upper Rapids near LeClaire. Grasshopper’s Gift Shop, Crane & Pelican Café and LeClaire Olive Oil Co. are all housed in these unique historical structures. Each of these shops features unique gifts and other items. Crane & Pelican Café is set in a beautiful brick home that, like most river pilot houses, enjoys a commanding view of the Mississippi, best enjoyed from the back verandah.
Independent restaurants like the Crane & Pelican Café abound in LeClaire. Whether starting the day at Breakfast at Berries or grabbing a donut at Casey’s General Store, every day starts brightly here. Unique eats can also be found at the Hungry Hobo and the little deli, both known for outstanding made-to-order sandwiches. Evenings are equally interesting as diners settle in at Steventon’s, Faithful Pilot, Bier Stube and Blue Iguana Mexican Cantina, among many others. LeClaire is also home to a thriving spirits and wine scene, including the Mississippi River Distilling Company & Cody Road Cocktail House, Wide River Winery Tasting Room and Green Tree Brewery. And don’t forget the sweets, LeClaire’s are legendary, whether you and your family prefer Big Dave & Holly’s Dairy Sweet, Kernel Cody’s Popcorn Shoppe or The Shameless Chocoholic, to name a few. In short, you will never be thirsty or go hungry when visiting LeClaire.
Of course, many of LeClaire’s regular visitors never set talons or a webbed foot inside Happy Joe’s Pizza & Ice Cream Parlor or any other establishment. Every winter, scores of bald eagles arrive to overwinter as the river freezes up near Lock and Dam #14 on the southside of town. You don’t have to be a professional wildlife photographer to take impressive pictures of these majestic birds of prey. The avian odyssey continues in spring when, in addition to thousands of migrating songbirds and waterfowl, summer resident American white pelicans arrive to nest for the season. One can watch these gorgeous birds, possessing the second largest wingspan of any species in North America, complete their dramatic river dives for hours.
Birds are hardly the only travelers associated with LeClaire, of course. America’s greatest journeyman showman was born here in 1846. William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody painted a portrait of the “Old West” that continues to thrive today. Established in 1957, the Buffalo Bill Museum is an educational center that displays cultural history about local river pilots, regionally significant artifacts, Native American society and, of course, Buffalo Bill. Many of the displays feature one-of-a-kind curiosities, like the 1869 Lone Star Stern Wheeler, the only Western River-style wooden-hulled boat left in the United States. In addition to our greatest frontiersman, visitors can also learn about other LeClaire residents, like airplane “Black Box” inventor James “Crash” Ryan II. The new, interactive “Just for Kids” room is a great place for younger family members to play and learn.
The Buffalo Bill Museum, located in LeClaire, Iowa is excited to announce the opening of their new addition housing a replica 1920’s interior of a one room school house. The new school room addition is named The Robert Schiffke 1920’s Era One Room School House Exhibit in honor of the museum’s director. For a century, from the 1850’s to the 1950’s, one-room school houses in Iowa were thriving. The museum’s project is focused on what students would have experienced in the 1920’s. The replica contains authentic artifacts used in one room school houses located in Iowa. The exhibit encourages visitors to interact with objects found in daily educational techniques of that time. The Buffalo Bill Museum is pleased to be able to bring such a fine educational tool the region.
LeClaire’s cultural legacy goes well beyond Buffalo Bill. Antique Archaeology’s owner Mike Wolfe is also host of “American Pickers,” the popular antiques program on the History Channel. Mike’s shop is one of several antique and curiosity shops in LeClaire, a regional hub for Americana treasures. Antique collecting is a two-way conversation, Mike and Frank will be scouring Iowa for rare collections for their “American Pickers” program from May 27-June 9. You can contact them if you possess a potential treasure chest to explore.
Outdoor lovers will enjoy Hollyhock Park, Scout Park and one public parkland-style golf course, in addition to time beside the Mississippi River on the LeClaire Levee. The Levee is also where visitors embark on Riverboat Twilight River Cruises, an amazing opportunity to cruise 166-miles over two days with an overnight in Dubuque. There are also single day and 90-minute cruises available from late May thru mid-October.
A visit to LeClaire provides a lens into one of the most vibrant segments of American history, life along the Mississippi River. From visiting the instrumental Lock and Dam #14 to visiting the Lone Star Stern Wheeler to walking among the river pilot houses in the Cody Road Historic District, exploring LeClaire is an expedition into our national folklore. With colorful characters like Wild Bill Cody, exceptional wildlife viewing as well as charming riverside dining and lodging, it’s easy to see why LeClaire, Iowa has been listed as the “Best Place to Take an Out of Town Guest” 7 years in a row! Stop by www.visitleclaire.com to learn more.