Cresco offers fun for all ages, all year

It’s interesting how Cresco, Iowa, the county seat of Howard County, developed. Just south of the Minnesota border, Cresco is about an hour's drive from Rochester.

Word was out that the large east-west Milwaukee Road rail line was going to construct a spur line to go from Calmar, Iowa, to Austin. Augustus Beadle, a large landholder in the area at that time, thought the spur line should transverse through his property. He convinced the Milwaukee Road to route its new line through his land. He chose "Cresco," which is Latin for "I grow," for the name of his soon-to-be railroad town.

The year was 1866. According to Randy Mashek, executive director of the Cresco Chamber of Commerce, merchants and residents physically moved their homes and business buildings to the railroad site, and the community developed. Within six months of the line’s arrival to Beadle’s town, the population reached 1,000.

When I arrived in Cresco for a day trip, a sign greeted me, "Welcome to Cresco, Iowa’s year-round playground." Behind the sign, I saw a big diesel train engine. Next to the train is a historic log cabin and a statute of Norman Borlaug, Cresco’s famous son. I was in Beadle Park, named for the town's founder.

The locomotive was intriguing. According to information I received from chamber brochures, when the railroad line was to be abandoned, volunteers searched and found the first diesel locomotive, brought it to town, donated it to Cresco and restored it. It sits on the only remaining rail tracks right in the park.


I stopped at the Visitor’s Center across from Beadle Park, which is also home to the Iowa Wrestling Hall of Fame.

Iowa Wrestling Hall of Fame

If you follow wrestling at all, you will want to spend some time at the Wrestling Hall of Fame.

First established in April 1970, the hall of fame honors Iowa natives who made major contributions to amateur wresting. The biographies you'll see there include those of not only athletes, but also coaches and officials.

One biography that caught my eye was that of Dr. Norman Borlaug.

Borlaug grew up on a farm just outside of Cresco. He attended school in town and was active in football, baseball and wrestling. He excelled in the sport. When he went off to college at the University of Minnesota, he convinced his high school coach, Dave Bartelma, to join him as coach and form a wrestling team at the college.

Although the Iowa Hall of Fame was established 40 years ago, Dr. Borlaug’s fame as a wrestler was not recognized until 2004.

Jim Turvold, Cresco business owner and wrestling promoter, told me that Dr. Borlaug was more famous for his Nobel Peace Prize.


The Iowa Wrestling Hall of Fame is located at 101 Second Ave. S.W.

State of the arts

The Cresco Theatre, built in 1914, shows a family movie every day at 7:30 p.m. (except when the building is being used by the community theater group or some other entertainment program). The auditorium seats 150 people and boasts a large balcony. A projection booth, fully lighted stage and an orchestra pit are still used today for live productions.

According to a Cresco brochure produced and donated by the Times Plain Dealer, the community’s weekly newspaper, the building and its design came from A. F. Powers Co. of Chicago. A glimpse of the lobby and the theater itself will reveal the original chandelier and frescoes of cherubs.

"People come from all over to view our nightly movies," Randy Mashek says. "We don’t have the latest movies, however most are good for family viewing."

Cost for the nightly movies is $3 for those age 6 and up, $2 for kids ages 5 to 11, $2 for seniors ages 62 and up, and free for children ages 4 and younger. For movie showings, call (563) 547-4292 or go to

Bronze statues of Howard County

There are 27 bronze statues throughout Howard County. Cresco, the county seat, has 25 of them. The other two are located one each in Lime Springs and Elma. The county prides itself in its statues. A map directing visitors to locate the statues can be secured at the Cresco Welcome Center.


The most notorious statue, of course, is of Norman Borlaug. Borlaug became well known at University of Minnesota, where his interest in wheat genetics developed. He then went on to receive his master’s degree in 1939 and doctorate in 1942 from the U of M.

Dr. Borlaug started out in the forestry program. After working in the forestry service for a few years, he became interested in plant pathology. His discovery and developed a sturdy wheat seed, resistant to many diseases, and is credited with feeding people throughout the world. For his work in reversing the food shortages in India and Pakistan, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977, as well as the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007. He passed away in September 2009.

The Beadle Park statue was sculpted by a local artist, Karen Laub-Novak.

Fun for all seasons

No matter what you like to do, Howard County offers fun for everyone of all ages, year round.

For starters, the Prairie Springs Recreational Trail, the Prairie Farmer Trail and Wapsi-Great Western Line provide all-season, hard-surface access for bicyclists, joggers, hikers, cross country skiers and snowshoers. Maps and information about the trails can be picked up at the Cresco Welcome Center.

In addition to trails, there are 15 city and county parks in Howard County. Six of the parks are in Cresco. According to the chamber, each park is special and should be explored.

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