While Iowa's population has grown more and more urban through the years, there are small towns all across our state that have a claim to fame. Sometimes it's welcomed and sometimes it's not.


I guess I should start with my relative. Jesse James is said to be a distant relative anyway, like it or not. His biggest connection to Iowa is with the town of Adair where, according to My County Parks, he pulled off the first successful train robbery just outside of town in July of 1873.

West Branch

Much closer to Cedar Rapids is something everybody in our area knows. West Branch is where the only Iowa-born president resided. Herbert Hoover was born right here and lived in West Branch until leaving as an orphan when he was nine-years-old. He would later become our 31st President, serving at the worst possible time. He was in office from 1929 to 1933, the first four years of the decade-long Great Depression. A large part of West Branch is now part of the National Park Service, in his honor.

Jasperdo via Flickr
Jasperdo via Flickr

West Bend

The Grotto of Redemption in West Bend is one of those places that pictures just can't do justice. It's often called the "Eighth wonder of the world," and is the biggest man-made grotto in the entire world.

Clear Lake

Clear Lake is infamous for two things that are very much related. It's home to the famous Surf Ballroom which is also the place where Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper performed for the final time before a plane crash that night would take all their lives.

According to Biography, Buddy Holly was tired of cold bus rides and hired a local flying service to take him to the next show in Minnesota. The other two seats were going to be for a member of Buddy's band, Tommy Allsup, and future country legend Waylon Jennings. A coin flip gave Allsup's spot to Ritchie Valens and Richardson talked Waylon into giving up his spot because he wasn't feeling well.


Undoubtedly the most famous actor born in Iowa, John Wayne is a big screen legend. His birthplace and museum reside in Winterset. The museum is the only one in the world dedicated to the western star.


Known as the Ax Murder House, this house in Villisca is where eight people were murdered in the spring of 1912. Josiah Moore's entire family of six and two guests were all killed. The murders were never solved. Now you can stay in the house overnight. Thanks, but no thanks.


In the Cedar Rapids area, and especially his hometown of Anamosa, we LOVE Grant Wood. However, this time, we center on Eldon, home of the American Gothic house. Soon, the famous pose from American Gothic will come back to life in the streets of Cedar Rapids.


Rocky. Rocky Marciano, that is, was killed in a plane crash in Newton. He's the only heavyweight boxing champ to ever retire undefeated. He held the title from 1952 to 1956. He won 49 straight in his career, 43 by knockout.

Marciano was killed the night before his 46th birthday in August of 1969. He was on a plane bound for Des Moines and his pilot tried to land near Newton. Famously Dead says the plane hit a tree and crashed into a field, killing the boxing legend.

Rocky Marciano
Keystone, Getty Images


Star Trek fans from across the globe flock to Riverside each year for Trekfest and to celebrate the future birth of Captain James T. Kirk. The event celebrates 50 years this summer. This year's event is June 24 and 25.


Time to talk gangsters. According to Roadside America, the infamous Bonnie and Clyde robbed the First National Bank in Stuart in April of 1934. History reports they were killed by police in Louisiana a month later.

Do you live or know of a small Iowa town that has a claim to fame, be it good or bad? We'd love to hear about it. Leave your comment(s) below.

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