Chapter 12 – Neshnala’s Saga: 1887-1920

Meanwhile, Coates had continued to conduct his survey work across Iowa, regularly returning to Lee’s Landing by train to serve on the new development company’s board. When his contract with the state was up, Falls Development offered him a job as its manager, but the Weyerheusers outbid them with a more lucrative offer as a timber superintendent in the Northwest; Coates would never return to Lee’s Landing.

In the early 1890s there were some preliminary meetings between the Falls people and the State of Iowa to see if they might be interested in acquiring the land as some sort of state preserve, similar to what Wisconsin had done some fifteen years earlier, setting aside thousands of acres of Northwoods country as a “state park.” But, while the Iowa folks were more than happy to acknowledge and help promote Neshnala as a “state treasure,” the idea of somehow making it state property couldn’t get any political traction.

In the meantime, the development company paid for an extension of County Line Road from the Makuakeeta Road north for about a mile to the base of the bluff – it wouldn’t be until nearly thirty years later that the county would tackle the daunting task of blasting and excavating an extension of County Line Road up the bluff itself – and a plan for developing the Neshnala Grove emerged. By 1895…

They had installed a small dam across Rock Creek below the bluff, turning what had been a shallow pond into a small fishing and boating lake…

Built more than a dozen covered picnic shelters around the lake, and placed several dozen additional picnic tables in shady spots around the grounds…

Constructed a single-story, gingerbread-decorated hotel with a long, wrap-around porch and an inside dance floor that overlooked the lake…

Installed a carousel surrounded by a half-acre formal garden…

Built a bandshell that featured live music on weekends…

Developed a network of trails on top of the bluff offering spectacular views of the Mississippi River…

And installed a cable-car to carry visitors up the side of the bluff, were young men with rickshaw-like, two-passenger bicycles would carry them the three-quarters-of-a-mile to see “Iowa’s Oldest Tree” – there was also a gravel walking path for those who wanted to stroll…

Finally, the Grand Island Railroad, whose mainline ran west from Lee’s Landing to Des Moines, built a new station a mile south of the falls to drop-off passengers, where horse-drawn buggies would then meet them to ferry them to the park.

While the train ride from Lee’s Landing to the Falls station was twenty-five cents per person, the pick-up was free, as was admission to the park; so were the band concerts on weekends and use of the open picnic tables out on the grounds; you could even bring your own picnic basket if you wanted − the idea was to put as many folks on the grounds as possible…

But the fee to ride the cable car up the bluff and visit the famous tree was twenty-five cents; picnic baskets could be bought on site for from fifty cents to a dollar; a pint of beer was a dime; admission to the dance floor on Friday or Saturday night was fifty-cents; boat rentals on the small lake were a dime; renting a covered picnic shelter for the afternoon was fifty cents; a carousel ride was a nickel.

Falls Park would prosper for nearly twenty-five years, from the mid-1890s until just after the end of World War I – over the years the park would play host to countless marriage proposals and many actual marriages, to say nothing of thousands of picnickers, dancers, concert-goers and tree visitors.

To be continued…

(C) 2018 Dave Lager