Iowa has an extensive agricultural, industrial and frontier past that meeting planners can tap into when visiting the state. From a presidential museum and a reconstructed 1850s-era fort to former German colonies and the self-proclaimed ice cream and pearl button capitals of the world, there are plenty of fun options to spice up any conference or event.
Wells Visitor Center and Ice Cream Parlor
The makers of Blue Bunny ice cream have an interactive visitor center and ice cream parlor in the heart of Le Mars, widely considered the ice cream capital of the world. The center received an extensive remodel in 2019, moving its event space to the main floor and expanding it into an adjacent building so that it could host groups up to 97 people at round tables. Without tables, the space is large enough to accommodate up to 208 guests. Groups using the space can set up a sundae bar. The room has a portable bunker that can hold a three-gallon container of ice cream. There are no restrictions on bringing in outside food. The only caveat is that the facility would like to provide the dessert.
The event space has a private entrance, two private restrooms and a full catering kitchen. It has full audio-visual capabilities. The space, which has custom ice cream wallpaper and giant desserts hanging from the ceiling, is totally customizable. Groups hosting events there can take a guided tour of the visitor center, which includes an extensive ice cream parlor, and an immersive ice cream experience with interactive displays and videos showing how ice cream is made and what makes Wells’ ice cream so special.
Another exhibit is dedicated to the history of Wells and Blue Bunny and how Le Mars became the ice cream capital of the world.
Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum
Many people have heard of Herbert Hoover but don’t know much about him except he was the 31st president of the United States who presided over the beginning of the Great Depression. A visit to his presidential library, which is one of 14 such institutions operated by the National Archives and Records Administration, shows him to have been a great humanitarian who at the age of 40 turned his back on his fortune and spent the next 50 years dedicated to serving the public.
Groups wanting to learn more about Hoover can view exhibits about his life and accomplishments. As part of the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, visitors can tour his birthplace cottage, the Quaker Meeting House where his family worshipped, the first one-room schoolhouse in West Branch and a blacksmith shop similar to the one Hoover’s father, Jesse Hoover, operated. President Hoover and his wife, Lou Henry Hoover, are both buried at the site.
There are four spaces available for rental at the Presidential Library and Museum, including the museum lobby and rotunda, which is available after the museum closes, and the auditorium, which seats 180 people and comes complete with a stage and audio-visual equipment. There is a conference room that is ideal for smaller meetings up to 20 people and another room that seats 30 to 40 people. Events at the facility must be cultural, recreational, corporate or educational in nature.
The Amana Colonies were established by Germans fleeing religious persecution. The seven colonies were based on communal living practices. Residents didn’t use money, and everything was communally owned. Members lived and worked together, sharing the fruits of their labor. The colonies realized in the 1930s that the communal way of life was not sustainable and they changed to the more modern system they have now, but the colonies and many of their original buildings are perfectly preserved, housing businesses and museums.
The colonies are a wonderful place to host a meeting or event, with several event centers. Price Creek Event Center offers 12,000 square feet of space on two levels. The main level ballroom can seat up to 250 guests, and upstairs is a wedding chapel and venue that can also be used for conferences. That space can hold 300.
The 65-room Hotel Millright took over a former textile mill, preserving the woodwork and historic architecture of the mill itself, turning it into a stunning space for any type of event. Attached to the hotel is a 7,000-square-foot banquet and conference facility. The Indigo Room restaurant offers breakfast and lunch fare and classic cocktails. Electric Thread Social Club has a nice selection of craft beer and bourbon made by local distillers. The Beer Garden patio overlooks the Millrace stream and offers live music and events. The club is available for private events.
National Pearl Button Museum
The town of Muscatine dominated the world’s pearl button industry from 1890 to the 1950s, with most of the town’s occupants employed by button factories. In the early 1900s, the town was making 1.5 billion pearl buttons annually from mussel shells pulled from the Mississippi River.
“Eventually, the mussel harvest was unsustainable at that rate,” said Dustin Joy, executive director of the museum. “The industry dropped back as availability of shells decreased.” The average shell produced five to 10 buttons. “That’s hundreds of millions of living creatures taken out of the river for several years. Consequently, certain species went extinct,” Joy said.
The museum talks about the Mississippi River and the mussels that fueled the pearl button frenzy of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It also explains how plastic became a cheaper alternative to pearl buttons. The museum can host groups up to 100 people for corporate dinners, meetings, parties, reunions and concerts in its second-floor event space overlooking the Mississippi River. The facility has tables, chairs and tablecloths, a wired podium connected to a sound system and video screens that can be interlocked so a speaker can give a presentation and have videos or slide shows playing during their speech.
Groups can work with local caterers or bring in their own food, beer and wine. Attendees can tour the museum as part of their event.
The Fort Museum and Frontier Village
The Fort Museum and Frontier Village tells the history of Fort Dodge and includes a replica of the fort that was originally built in 1850 in downtown Fort Dodge. The replica was produced from the original plans. Two buildings are original, the General Store and the Brevet commander’s office. At the time the fort was built, Captain Lewis Armistead was the person in charge. He later rose to fame as the brigadier general in charge of the Confederate States Army during the Battle of Gettysburg.
The fort has an extensive display of First Nation and Native American artifacts and a room dedicated to the area’s veterans from World War I through Desert Storm, displaying some of the items they brought back from their travels and from war, including uniforms and medals.
Front Street, the museum’s replica main street, includes an original log cabin from the 1850s, two one-room schoolhouses, one from the pioneer era and one from the early 20th century, the original jail, blacksmith shop, livery stable, which is attached to a veterinarian office, and a general mercantile store.
Groups wanting to host banquets or special events at the Fort Museum can rent the Frontier Opera House, which can host groups up to 200 people for a seated banquet. Smaller groups can hold meetings or lectures in the Pioneer Chapel.