Decorah

Overview

Introduction

Decorah was settled by Norwegian pioneers, but it takes its name from a Native American chief who aided settlers during the Black Hawk War of 1832. The town's Norse heritage is celebrated at the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum. Housed in restored structures from the 18th and 19th centuries, it's a surprisingly large museum documenting the translation of Norwegian culture to the U.S. While you're there, be sure to see the collection of antique farm implements in the restored mill. Gardeners should stop at the Seed Savers Exchange, a unique fruit-and-vegetable farm near Decorah that preserves and sells "heirloom" seeds. (Heirloom seeds are handed down from one cultivator to the next, without any scientific manipulation.) If you happen to be in Decorah in July, take in the Nordic Fest, the town's annual Scandinavian celebration.

Spillville (12 mi/19 km southwest of Decorah) is the site of the Bily Clocks Museum and Antonin Dvorak Exhibit. It combines two rather unlikely attractions: a collection of all sorts of timepieces and a house that was once the temporary residence of Dvorak, a noted Czech composer. Festina (just a few miles/kilometers south of Spillville) is the home of the St. Anthony of Padua Chapel, one of the world's smallest churches, measuring 14 ft/4.25 m by 20 ft/6 m. The church was built to fulfill a vow that a woman made to God: If her son were protected from harm while fighting with Napoleon's army in Russia, she would build a chapel. Burr Oak (12 mi/20 km north) is the site of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Park and Museum, devoted to the author of the Little House on the Prairie books. Decorah is 155 mi/250 km northeast of Des Moines.

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