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9 Architectural Treasures to Visit in Grinnell
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9 Architectural Treasures to Visit in Grinnell

The next time you decide to go on a treasure hunt, Grinnell should be at the top on your list. This town is full of architectural treasures with a wide variety of architectural styles by renowned architects, and they attract visitors from around the world!

1. Your first stop should be Grinnell’s most iconic and cherished architectural treasures, the Jewel Box Bank! Famed architect Louis Sullivan completed the bank in the final decade of his life. This bank is one of eight “Jewel Box” banks. The building, nearly cubical, suggests security and stability needed in a bank, but the stonework and terra cotta ornamentation modify the austerity of the structure. The center of visual interest is the circular stained glass window over the entrance. The interior decoration continues the themes of the building’s exterior. It is now the home of the Grinnell Area Chamber of Commerce

2. Just a few blocks away is the Grinnell Historical Museum. Architect George F. Barber designed the house for a local merchant in 1895. The owners had no children and bequeathed the house to their housekeeper. She lived in it until her death, when the Grinnell Historical Museum Society bought it from her estate. The house has had only three owners, and no children have lived there! This architectural treasure is a great place for a tourist to learn Grinnell’s rich history.

3. Your next stop should be the Rock Island Station. The stone and red-brick structure was built in a modified Queen Anne style with a tower twelve feet in diameter at the southeast end. The need for a station became evident in the late 1880s when the Mississippi and Missouri railroads intersected in Grinnell. The 1893 building contained two waiting rooms, a baggage room, lunch counter, and offices. Passenger service to Grinnell continued until May 1970, and the building lay empty until it was purchased and restored in 1993. The building opened as a restaurant in 1995, and now houses the Peppertree at the Depot Crossing restaurant, so enjoy your evening meal inside this beautiful building!

4. Also, take a look at Grinnell House on the edge of downtown. Designed by Brainerd (Grinnell College class of 1883) and Leeds, Boston, it was patterned after the president’s home at Harvard University and was home to each Grinnell College president from 1917 to 1961. It is designed in Georgian or Federal style with symmetrical or “Palladian” elements on the exterior: the doorway in the middle of the facade with two windows on each side and large bays at each end of the first floor. It is currently used as a Grinnell College guest house and is not currently open to visitors, but it’s worth stopping to see the exterior.

5. Another building you must see is the Ricker House. Walter Burley Griffin of Chicago, an associate of both Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, designed this house. The brick and tile decoration, framing the windows on all four facades, is a signature of Marion Mahony, Griffin’s wife. Her work continues on the inside with tile murals adorning both the library and living room fireplaces. This home is used to house Grinnell College guests.

6.  Next up, the Old Glove Factory. It was the world’s largest manufacturer of gauntlet gloves in 19th century! Grinnell College acquired this three-story building in 2000 and renovated it with an eye towards the history of the community. The renovations fluidly mixed old and contemporary exterior and interior architecture styles. Visitors are welcome to come inside and view the atrium of the building, which now houses college offices.


7. Goodnow Hall, built in 1885, was designed in Romanesque Revival style (Stephen Earle, Worcester, Mass., architect) with walls of Sioux Falls quartzite and Missouri sandstone trim and window accents. The heavy walled tower at the northwest corner was intended to support and house the college’s telescope. It is the only remaining structure of the first four buildings constructed after the 1882 tornado and was originally intended to serve as the college’s library. Goodnow was extensively renovated in 1995 to house Grinnell College’s Anthropology Department. Efforts were made to retain as much of the west one-third of the building as originally constructed, with woodwork, stained glass, windows, and staircase refinished or replicated.

8. Your next stop is the Spaulding House, built from 1905 to 1907 by the local Spaulding family who owned the Spaulding Manufacturing Company, which built buggies and later of automobiles. This Prairie-Style house was constructed at a cost of $15,000 (Hawlett and Rawson, Des Moines, architects). The building materials – limestone and buff-colored bricks – were unique in residential Grinnell at the time. For a time in the 1930s, the house was the Wayside Inn, operated by the widow of one of the Spaulding Company heirs. It is currently the Spaulding Bed & Breakfast.

9. Before you leave, stop by the Strand Theatre on Main Street. This historic building, constructed in 1916, is purpose-built for motion pictures. It includes a lobby, foyer, and auditorium seating for 588 patrons. The exterior is two-story, brick with canopy and a mansard-type tiled roof. The original canopy was removed in the ‘30s or ‘40s and the exterior sheathed with metal. In 2003, the sheathing was removed and the building renovated, incorporating a storefront to the south to create a triplex theatre. A small museum of Strand artifacts is located in the northeast corner of the lobby.

There you have it, you now have nine places to visit in central Iowa on your next treasure hunt!

You can download a PDF of this walking tour with a map of locations here.

Leave a Comment

  1. Travel Iowa Team
    Travel Iowa Team
    What a fantastic post! We can't wait to take this tour of Grinnell! Thanks so much for contributing to the Travel Iowa blog!
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