Our first stop is Santa’s Castle in Storm Lake. This holiday-themed museum is housed in the former Carnegie Library and features 22 displays of more than 100 vintage mechanical characters that once graced department store windows at Christmastime.
They date as far back as the 1920s—the grand era of department stores—and have been restored to working condition. That’s no easy task, considering each piece is operated by its own set of electric motors, levers, gears and timers, which, of course, also date back to the 1920s.
Model train enthusiasts will especially enjoy the model train display that runs on 250 feet of track and fills an entire room.
After our dose of Christmas past, we head to the Harker House. It’s sure to catch your eye with its imposing widow’s walk and full-length shuttered windows. Both reflect the French architecture Storm Lake’s leading families chose for their homes in the late 1800s.
A step inside is to take a step back in time to 1875, when the Harker family moved into their newly completed home. The table is lavishly set with yellow rose Haviland china and silver napkin rings. The furniture, almost all Victorian walnut, is original—purchased in Chicago and shipped to Storm Lake by train.
The ceilings are 11-feet-tall, the draperies elegant and, well… I could go on, but you get the idea that this is a glimpse of the way “the other half” lived back then.
On to the lakeshore! At 3,200 acres, Storm Lake is the fourth largest natural lake in the state and rated in the top five Iowa lakes for fishing. The walleye provide great sport in spring and fall, and through the ice in winter. Catfish is the main catch of the summer.
Don’t miss a bird’s-eye view of the lake from the observation deck of Lighthouse Pointe. The five-mile Hike and Bike Trail follows part of the lakeshore and through eight of the city’s parks. Take special note of the tree sculptures created by award-winning chainsaw artist Jeff Klatt. He’s turned more than 20 diseased trees throughout the city into works of art.
And speaking of trees, you’ll want to meander through the Living Heritage Tree Museum at Sunset Park. There are 50 trees growing there whose heritage can be traced back to important people and events in history: an American sycamore grown from seed that was carried to the moon and back on Apollo 14, an apple tree traced to an original planted by Johnny Appleseed Chapman and the “Little House Cottonwood” that came from a cutting of a cottonwood planted by Charles Ingalls at the family homestead in South Dakota.
This content previously appeared in the popular “Road Trip” series in Our Iowa Magazine. Learn more about the publication at www.OurIowaMagazine.com.