The largest Kimball Pipe Organ in the U.S. can be found at the Union Sunday School in Clermont. Miss Anna was the organist at the church for over 60 years, and in 1896, her father presented her with the largest Kimball pipe organ of its kind that still exists today. It contains 1,554 pipes—some more than 16 feet high—to rattle the windows of the historic meetinghouse.
The organ still works. Organ concerts are held once a month on Sunday afternoons May through November.
Down the street is Larrabee School. The governor was passionate about education for everyone. One of his campaign slogans was “A schoolhouse on every hill, and no saloons in the valley.” Not real catchy, but you get the idea.
Recalling his days teaching in a schoolhouse so cold that the ink froze, he set out to build the perfect school in Clermont as a model for other schools. He insisted on good lighting, heating, and ventilation.
He also demanded a fireproof building made of concrete, brick, tile and even steel window frames to minimize the amount of wood used. When the architect finally presented a plan, Gov. Larrabee said, “Now double it for strength,” which explains why the concrete footings are five feet thick and the walls are 30 inches thick.
The school would make a great tornado shelter! It now houses Clermont’s municipal offices.
We headed north out of town on the River Bluffs Scenic Byway toward Eldorado. We must have crossed the Turkey River four or five times.
At Eldorado, we stopped at Goeken Park. It’s just a little 5-acre county park, but from the lookout there you can see the hamlet of Eldorado below plus miles and miles of the Turkey River Valley.
Continuing south on the River Bluffs Scenic Byway, we made our way to the town of Fayette, home to Upper Iowa University, a pretty little campus where 900 students are enrolled. (Total enrollment is over 6,000 with distance learning centers in 15 locations in the U.S. as well as in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia!)
Interestingly, Fayette, with a population of 1,300, is the only city in the U.S. that has a university but no high school. Students from the town attend high school in West Union.
Another tidbit of trivia: The mascot for Upper Iowa U. is the peacock. Yup—a peacock. They even have metal sculptures of a couple of ’em at the entrance to the campus. It seems “peacock blue” and white were selected as the school colors. And from that, somebody got the notion for a peacock mascot.
The Volga River is popular for canoe and kayak float trips as it meanders through large tracts of timber with steep rock outcroppings. We didn’t have time for that, but we did enjoy driving through the 5,700-acre park to Frog Hollow Lake.
By then, it was time for us to pack up and head for home, too, but not before getting back on the River Bluffs Scenic Byway for a few more miles of meandering.
This content previously appeared in the popular “Road Trip” series in Our Iowa Magazine. Learn more about the publication at www.OurIowaMagazine.com.