When you think about the Iowa Great Lakes area of Northwest Iowa, you naturally think first about the beautiful lakes. These natural gems rightly are the main attraction here. However, on a recent weekend trip to the Lake Okoboji area, I was happy to discover three museums offering exhibits on totally different themes: the lakes' history, Iowa's rock 'n' roll roots, and everyone's favorite subject-- money. Best of all, they are all free, family friendly, easily accessible, and air-conditioned.
Two of the museums are located at the Arnolds Park Amusement Park, which offers free close-by parking and no charge to wander the park itself. The Iowa Rock 'n' Roll Music Association Museum provides exhibits and memorabilia from Iowa bands, musicians, recording studios, and radio personalities. There is a working juke box you can play while you peruse the gold records, guitars autographed by Iowa Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame inductees, and signed concert posters. The museum is open year round with reduced hours during the winter months.
Not too many steps away and sharing space with an Iowa Welcome Center, the Maritime Museum showcases "unique relics, boats, and maritime history." Plenty of canoes, sailboats, and motorboats are featured. A special exhibit is the 1939 Chris-Craft speedboat, known as #30, which sank in 1946 in West Okoboji Lake and rested on the lake bottom until it was recovered almost 50 years later. The exhibit includes a video showing the raising of this boat.
Finally, the Higgins Museum of National Bank Notes is located in Okoboji near The Inn at Okoboji. This museum looks brand new but was opened in 1978, and features notes issued by national banks from the Civil War until 1935. One room exhibits notes issued from banks in 278 Iowa towns representing all 99 counties. The museum director is happy to look up your hometown and direct you to notes issued by that town's banks. These often include pictures of local landmarks. The museum also includes a large collection of vintage postcards organized by counties. Kids will enjoy looking at a printing press on loan from the Bureau of Printing and Engraving, and a special area allows children to draw their own money designs for display. The museum is open Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend, Tuesday through Sunday, from 11:00 am-5:30 pm.
Visit these museums and learn a little about Iowa's musical, maritime, and banking history when you need a break from the sun and water!
(All photos taken by author)