Tag Archives: Iowa

Midwest Musings: Going “Home”

Photo by Leslie Sloan

Photo by Leslie Sloan

Ever since my dad passed away, my trips back to my hometown of Burlington, Iowa have come in five-year cycles to attend class reunions. Each succeeding return has been marred by my realization that the town is “shrinking.” The population is moving west. When I lived there, the town numbered around 32,000 people. According to recent Census figures, that number has decreased to around 25,000. Both homes I lived in as a child and later as a teen have deteriorated, or have my memories of those days merely painted them in happier colors? The incredible “singing” bridge that linked my area of town to two beautiful parks has been closed for safety reasons.

Jefferson Street, the main street through the downtown area used to be home to three dime stores, J.C. Penney’s and Sears-Roebuck, two drug stores, and what as teen I considered the greatest department store and best of after-school hangouts, J. S. Schramm’s. “Dragging the strip” along Jefferson was on every local teenager’s to-do list for weekend nights. These days, all of the above are gone, and until this weekend, when I was back in town for a booksigning, I thought Jefferson Street, as well as the rest of the town, had pretty much folded up and closed its doors for business.

One of my customers at Burlington By the Book was none other than Mary Saye. Her brother was married to my sister.

One of my customers at Burlington By the Book was none other than Mary Saye. Her brother was married to my sister.

Not the case. By a long shot. Here’s what made me change my mind.

One of those old dime stores has been refurbished and reconstructed into four smaller suites. One of those areas has been home the last three years to Burlington-By-the-Book, an independent bookstore run by owner Chris Murphy. BBTB is an amalgam of old and new, books and gift store, the kind of place where a book lover could get lost for several hours, even if your book-buying habits these days tend more toward the online variety. Chris said all he still needs is a cat or mynah bird on board and he’ll be totally set. For a Saturday in late August with ninety-five degree temps outside, it was a delightful way to spend a few hours and introduce a few more readers to Barbara Barrett.

The other discovery that made me change my mind was right across the street from BBTB. I remembered the building as Sutter Drug Store. Although it was destroyed by fire several years ago, the building itself still stands and is currently part of efforts to bring it back to life. Long before I was born, the building housed The Barret House Hotel, built almost 150 years ago (1845) by Richard Barrett (my dad’s name was Richard).  Can you believe the coincidence? I took my pen name from the street where I lived as a teenager. It, more than likely, was named for the hotel. Although my Masters’ Degree is in History, I’ve never been involved in building preservation efforts. But this project, to restore some of the town’s previous glory within the context of modern-day technology, has me psyched.

barrett houseIn an earlier post on this blog, I wrote about being encouraged by the writings of John Sandford to improve my description of setting in my sequel to my first book, which is set in Burlington, The Sleepover Clause. Now, besides referring to certain landmarks, streets, and areas of town, I am considering how I can incorporate something about preservation efforts as well. Going “home” was quite a trip.

9781440556463 The Sleepover ClauseAndHeCooksToo_7346_750

Coming soon!

Coming soon!

The Sleepover Clause

Amazon ebook, Amazon POD

Barnes and Noble

iTunes

iBookstore

Kobo

And He Cooks Too

The Wild Rose Press, TWRP POD

Amazon Kindle, Amazon POD

Barnes and Noble Nook

iTunes

iBookstore POD

Kobo

Midwest Musings: Return to the Scene of the Crime

Photo by Leslie Sloan

Photo by Leslie Sloan

This coming Saturday, August 24, I will be signing copies of both of my books at Burlington By the Book in my hometown of Burlington, Iowa. Burlington just happens to be the setting for my first published romance novel, The Sleepover Clause. The town will also be featured in Books 2 and 3 of the three-part series about McKenna Custom Coaches.

What eventually became the state of Iowa was part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, although mainly trappers, explorers and priests saw much of this rich land for the first few decades. In 1805, Lt. Zebulon Pike, for whom Pike’s Peak in Colorado is named, explored the area and hoisted the first U.S flag in what would become Iowa. Settlement really started in the 1830s. John Gray, who purchased the first lot in 1834, earned the distinction of naming the town. Though the area had formerly been known as Shoquoquon by the Sac and Fox Indian tribes living there and “Catfish Bend” by early inhabitants, Gray chose the name of his former home in Burlington, Vermont. The town became capital of what was then Wisconsin Territory in 1837 and then the first territorial capital of Iowa in 1838. (Iowa would become a state in 1846.)

The town has experienced three different boom times; the steamboat era in the 1850s, the growth of railroads in the latter part of the Nineteenth Century, and during World War II, the ordnance plant just west of town employed many local residents. The bridge built to accommodate the Burlington Northern railroad was the first in the state, and in the 1870s, it opened up a new way for immigrants from the East to move in.

That’s a little bit of the town’s history, but it is the town itself that has always seemed so unique and welcoming. Have you ever crossed the Mississippi? Or even better, driven along either the eastern or western side? From St. Louis north (can’t speak for the area south of that point), most of the eastern side, especially Illinois, is relatively flat and lower. The western side, though, is a series of bluffs and hills. Picture a bend in the river cupped by three hills with a small valley in the center. That describes North Hill, the oldest part of town, West Hill, and South Hill with the downtown filling the valley.

The railroad cuts through town, entering from the south and working its way west through the edge of downtown and out through the division between North Hill and West Hill. If you live near downtown or the near west, you knew the train schedule so you could avoid a traffic tie-up while a passenger or freight train zipped through town, because there was only overpass in the area that would allow traffic to keep moving.

The town’s oldest and most powerful resident is the Mighty Mississippi. During most winter months it freezes, but the rest of the year you can see barges hauling their cargo up and down the river. Water sports like boating and water skiing plus fishing for the famous catfish abound, although at times the river can cause havoc when it rises out of its banks and floods the lower lying areas. That happened just this spring. When I was in high school, I remember how some of the kids got out of school early that spring to go sandbag and hopefully hold back the water.

While I’m visiting town this weekend, I plan to reacquaint myself with some of the places named above so I can do them justice when using them as a backdrop in Books 2 and 3.

9781440556463 The Sleepover ClauseAndHeCooksToo_7346_750

The Sleepover Clause

Amazon ebook, Amazon POD

Barnes and Noble

iTunes

iBookstore

Kobo

And He Cooks Too

The Wild Rose Press, TWRP POD

Amazon Kindle, Amazon POD

Barnes and Noble Nook

iTunes

iBookstore POD

Kobo