Independence - Celebrate Our Spirit!
Independence, a town of about 6,000 people, is the county seat of Buchanan County. It is located on the banks of the Wapsipinicon River and was founded in 1847. Since they made their final decision around the time of the Fourth of July holiday, Independence became the town’s name.
In fact, the Fourth of July is the largest celebration observed in the community. The local chamber of commerce organizes Iowa’s oldest Fourth of July Parade. The first parade, held in 1860, was a community fundraiser to purchase a town bell. For the past 20 years, local volunteers have organized a two-day Fourth of July celebration complete with one of Iowa’s largest fireworks demonstrations and has been recognized nationally by Fox News and Yahoo Travel.
Any visit to town should begin at the Wapsipinicon Mill , a six-story gristmill constructed in 1867. The mill is the tallest of its kind in the state of Iowa and more than likely the tallest west of the Mississippi. Now home to the Buchanan County Historical Society, visitors can learn how the mill operated by using the natural flow of the adjacent river and how the facility produced electricity from 1915 to 1940.
Shopaholics in your group should cross the First Street Bridge that leads into the historic downtown from the mill. As you cross the bridge, make sure to look at the mill’s foundation stones carved on site from locally sourced granite boulders. As you near the end of the bridge, you can see how the downtown area has been raised over the years as a strategy to combat the constant flooding of the Wapsipinicon. Historic downtown is home to many shops and boutiques with a wide range of offerings from gifts and collectibles, furniture, home décor, antiques, men’s and women’s fashions, and quilting.
Railfans would be remiss if they didn’t make a stop at the historic Illinois Central Depot (see listing on page xx). The railroad arrived in 1859, but this depot was built in 1892 to accommodate the increasing amount of rail passengers coming to Independence for harness racing (see sidebar this/next page). The canopy, supported by a network of cast iron framework and columns, is the only example of this style on the Illinois Central line in Iowa. Fully restored and relocated from its original location, visitors today can learn more about the Illinois Central and can enjoy a climb on the 1926 steam engine or the 1978 caboose.
On the southwest corner of town, make sure to visit the Heartland Acres Agribition Center (see listing on page xx). The center, built in 2007, is a museum that educates visitors about the past, present, and future of agriculture in Iowa. Interactive displays take the visitor on a journey through the history of farming including farm animals, horse-drawn implements, historic tractors, and a one-room schoolhouse.
Further down on Iowa Avenue from Heartland Acres, is the Mental Health Institute. Built from 1873-1883, this state-operated facility is still in use for psychiatric treatment of adults, adolescents, and children. The structure was designed by architect Steven Vaughan Shipman using the Kirkbride plan. Under the plan, the floor plan promoted privacy and comfort for patients while the building form itself was meant to have a curative effect through exposure to natural light and improved air circulation. Visit the Days of Yore Museum (see listing on page xx) to learn more about how the institution has treated mental illness throughout the decades.
Architecture aficionados will get their fill of Independence’s built environment by walking the historic downtown to admire its predominately Italianate architecture. In addition, you can take a driving tour through town to enjoy the Christian Seeland House (1873), the Munson Building (1893-1895), Saint James Episcopal Church (1863), Saint John’s Church (1911), and the Captain Daniel S. Lee House (1867) which served as the town’s first hospital. Please note that some locations are private residences or are currently undergoing renovation and may not be available for public viewing.