Charles City is located in northeast Iowa and is one of the most charming river towns in the Midwest. It offers unique history, art, outdoor adventures, foodie experiences, and luxury lodging in a fun little community.
It’s conveniently located east of Mason City and Clear Lake, Iowa, which make for a great day trip from Charles City along the Avenue of the Saints. The attractions in Charles City may be small, but they are all served on a grand scale when it comes to outstanding experiences.
1. Mooney Art Collection
The Mooney Art Collection is located inside the Charles City Public Library, and it is open during the regular business hours of the library. Anyone can view this stunning collection of art, with no fee to visit. The collection reflects Arthur Mooney’s love of art and the community where he grew up. Several other works of art are also featured in this display area. Call ahead to arrange a private tour and plan to spend an hour in this gorgeous library in Charles City.
Note: In case you do not know who Arthur Mooney is, he was born in Rockford, Illinois, in 1859 and came to Charles City at the age of eight. He studied under a local photographer and left Charles City in 1890 to attend art school in Minneapolis. Later, he moved to New York and eventually became a successful executive of the Eastman Kodak Company. In New York and in Europe, he began collecting fine art prints by artists such as Rembrandt, Picasso, and Salvador Dali, to name a few. The Charles City Public Library is proud to call their facility home to the Mooney Art Collection.
2. Charles City’s Whitewater Rafting Park
In 2011, Charles City opened Iowa’s first whitewater rafting park. There are three distinct features in this course at multiple river flows and skill levels. Kayakers, stand up paddle boarders, tubers, fishermen, and anyone with a love of the water will enjoy the Cedar River in downtown Charles City. Many bring their own gear, but you can rent your river gear from area businesses, too.
I myself am not a white water rafting person, but I do enjoy watching others tackle this course. It’s also fun to see that people travel 45 minutes south from I-90 to check out Iowa’s whitewater course. Many of these travelers are traveling across the country whitewater rafting and this experience in Iowa has made their lists.
3. The Charles Theatre
The movie theater in Charles City has been preserved, and it’s something that the community is very proud of. If you are looking for a little nostalgia in a quiet setting, go see a movie at the Charles Theatre and indulge in a box of hot, buttered popcorn. Any day is a good day to see a movie in a small movie theater, but it’s an especially great option when rain clouds appear on the horizon.
4. Carrie Lane Chapman Catt Girlhood Home
Carrie Lane Chapman Catt’s Girlhood Home is located in rural Charles City. She was the main coordinator of the woman suffrage movement. She revitalized the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and played a leading role in its successful campaign to win voting rights for women. In 1920, she founded the League of Women Voters upon ratification of the 19th Amendment.
The home today is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It has been restored at the direction of the National 19th Amendment Society, a volunteer, non-profit organization based in Charles City. Visitors can tour the home between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Anyone wanting a private tour any time of year is encouraged to call (641) 228-3336 to line up a tour.
5. Floyd County Historical Museum
A visit to the Floyd County Historical Museum will be memorable. Not many people in America can say that the word tractor was coined in their hometown, but Charles City residents can. Charles W. Hart and Charles H. Parr met while in college. In 1897, while in Madison, Wisconsin, they started the Hart-Parr Company, building stationary engines. It was in 1900 that they moved to Charles City, and with financial backing from local investors, they established Hart-Parr there. With that, Hart-Parr produced the first successful production farm tractor, making them the founders of the tractor industry. By 1907, they were exporting tractors abroad. They were the first to use the word tractor in their advertisements. Prior to that, tractors were called traction engines. The large display of tractors at the museum will entertain you for hours.
There are also thousands of artifacts that make it a unique historical museum, including vestiges of a country school, a drugstore, and early pioneer life. This whole museum is one of the nicest historical museums that I have set foot in. Community pride shows through the displays, and it’s evident that the people of Charles City know how to positively impact the lives of others.
6. Stay In A Luxury Cabin At Red Cedar Lodge
Charles City is home to luxury cabins at the Red Cedar Lodge on the Cedar River. These cabins make for a great romantic weekend away or a special celebration with family. The cabins offer full kitchens, fireplaces, multiple bedrooms, and views through the tall windows that overlook the river. Do some stargazing and get up at the crack of dawn to experience sunrise for two epic experiences while in the area.
7. Charles City Arts Center
The Charles City Arts Center is located in the historic Carnegie Library (distinct from the Charles City Public Library where the Mooney collection is housed) in downtown Charles City. Admission is free, and there’s usually something new to see as some of the exhibits are changed out frequently. The building itself is an architecture lover’s dream come true. The arts are alive in Charles City, as there’s always something new on the horizon in the world of art.
8. Enroll In A Painting Class At The Rustic Corner
I enrolled in a Rustic Corner painting class some time ago and painted a classic Halloween motif while in Charles City. I am not a painter, and I can tell you that the staff at the Rustic Corner have the patience for folks with all skill levels. If you have always wanted to take a painting class but were afraid that someone you know might be in the class, why not enroll in one when out exploring a new town? The Rustic Corner is the perfect place to do this. This cute shop also prides itself on the fun home decor and products that they offer in their Main Street shop. Plan to spend a good hour in this shop, as you will walk out with a fun bag of merchandise.
Charles City is home to these things and more. Most importantly, enjoy the ambiance that this small community offers. Immerse yourself into the culture that the people have created. Kick back, relax, and embrace what you have planned on your visit to Charles City. Pack a good pair of walking shoes and binoculars, and be ready to have some fun. If you do one thing while in town, head down to the river and find a spot to watch the river flow through the town. A little water always calms the soul and makes it easy to reconnect with yourself and nature.