Rural tourism is a tough gig. There are thousands of small towns in rural America, each more charming and picturesque than the last. There are fantastic historic sites, town squares, boutiques, festivals and wineries. Remants of days gone by are carefully housed and cataloged for future generations to learn about. But how do these rural communities stand out? This is a picture of my new farmer friend Roy, and my husband Jim. Roy's the one who looks like a farmer (outstanding in his field!)
This weekend I was invited to participate in a Harvest Tour Bloggers Weekend in Hampton, Iowa. The corn and soybean harvest is at full tilt and the pumpkin patches are yielding perfect orange beauties.
Our first engagement was an evening of star-gazing and music at a lovely park called Maynes Grove,just outside of town. A couple of science professors from nearby Ellsworth College came over and set up telescopes to show us the waxing (or was it waning?) moon. It was so clear and dark, our instructors excitedly pointed out the fact that both Andromeda and the Milky Way were visible to the naked eye. I saw the Big Dipper, Cassiopeia, and the North Star. We missed Jupiter by a couple of hours. If you live in the city and have never been out in the country on a clear night, you've never seen how many stars there really are!
The next day, we embarked on a tour of the Historical Society Museum. Retired farmer Joe Pitsor walked us around an entire building full of old farm implements and relics from 18th, 19th and 20th century Franklin County. From an old permanent hair curling machine to a "donkey collar," this place would have made American Pickers go wild! (In fact, American Pickers have already been to Franklin County, and Joe told me he wouldn't let them in the museum!) I was amazed at the innovative machines that farmers invented to improve their own working conditions over time. They went from picking corn by hand (yielding around 100 bushels per day) to modern-day combines that harvest that amount in less than five minutes! After the museum, a few of us stopped by the fabulous Hampton Carnegie library and met the prettiest librarian in the world, Ms. Kim Bell. She graciously showed us some of the more notable features of the architectural gem, including a rounded stacks storage area and original light fixtures, mantel and card catalogue. Unfortunately, the 1970's claimed some of the original furniture.
The highlight of my day was riding in a "grain buggy" with my new friend Mike. I got to watch a soybean field harvest and the process of transferring the grain from the combine to the grain vehicle. I know this must seem very routine, but the technology in these machines is amazing. They have GPS and also are synched with each other so they stay perfectly straight. This helps farmers attain higher yields, avoid accidents, and save time. Here's the video of my ride. Please don't laugh at my farm vocabulary!!
After returning to town, we cleaned up and attended an event in downtown Hampton called "An Evening Like it Used to Be." It included entertainment from the year 1917, very similar to what would have been performed on a typical evening at the Windsor Theatre. We saw a silent movie accompanied by a live orchestra, directed by the incomparable Leon Kuehner. Leon has been a musician, teacher and band director in Hampton all of his life. Leon is one of those characters that makes Hampton a great place to be. He positively glows with passion for his life's work.
If there's one thing I learned from my years on the Iowa Great Places board, it's that outsiders need to feel like the community is pulling together. Being in Hampton was like being welcomed by a large extended family. People were genuinely proud of their community and seemed glad to see us there. Hamptonians have embraced the challenge of promoting their community together. I'm convinced that this model is the only way for a rural community to survive in the midst of a challenging and competitive economy.
Hampton is one of those places that you should make time to go see in your travels through Iowa. Tell 'em the PR Princess sent you. Thanks to Deb Brown for the invitation and your friendship.