Creston has all the basic amenities you would expect in a county seat. There's the courthouse, of course, a hospital, a community college and more. And it's a commercial center for the region.
Out and About correspondent Dan Kaercher found a unique blend of old and new, that makes Creston and Union County a destination place for all sorts of folks.
Creston started as a railroad town after surveying officials pitched camp here one night.
It got its name because it was at the highest point on the Burlington line between the Mississippi and the Missouri.
And like most towns created by the railroad, it doesn’t have a town square.
Today Creston is still a division point on the BNSF. But it’s terrific old depot doesn’t host travelers. It’s home to the council chamber and city offices upstairs. On the first floor there’s a railroad display in the old waiting room, and a congregate meal site at the other end of the building. It’s a wonderful use of the past to serve the present.
Like many other towns, Creston has had it’s ups and downs, losing jobs and people, then regaining them. With industry, agriculture, business and retail, it has a diverse economic base, and today what the locals call “uptown,” has a 96% occupancy rate.
That occupancy has given new life to some old buildings.
The American Home Design Center, a home building firm, took over what was the old Iowa Southern steam power plant built in 1907.
The 1903 federal building is now home to a scrap booking store, Maple Street Memories, along with a coin and trophy shop.
And then there’s Quilts and Other Notions. Built in 1904, it started as a grocery. Today the aisles are lined with 7000 bolts of fabric and lots of customers.
Dan Kaercher: “Where do your customers come from and how do you get them here?”
Joyce Franklin, Quilts & Other Notions: “They come from Omaha, Des Moines, Kansas City, St. Joe area ... and most of the advertising that works for us is word of mouth.”
In the basement we met the South Valley Quilters. This group traces its roots back to 1914 when was started by members of the South Valley church. The church doesn’t exist anymore. But twice a month the group quilts for others for a small fee that goes to local charities.
But it isn’t only uptown that is being renewed.
This is McKinley Park. More than one hundred years old, over the last 3 years, the community has invested three quarters of a million dollars in improvements here, including an 18-hole disc or frisbee golf course.
Rich Paulsen, Pub., Creston News Advertiser: “We’re going to try and get McKinley Lake back here back to where it was back in the olden days they used to be able to water ski back there. They even had a ramp for skiers to go over.”
Until the lake is restored, hopefully within 3 to 5 years, you can still visit an 1800s town, skateboard, walk or bicycle, see a summer concert, picnic and camp, go wading or enjoy a heated swimming pool, and play or watch a baseball game at McKinley Park.
Outdoor activities are important to the local economy. There are several other lakes close to Creston which benefit local motels, grocery stores, restaurants and more.
Key among those lakes is Three Mile.
It began as a water, flood and erosion control project for 7 counties after the 1980s drought.
Recently retired director of the Union county Conservation Board John Tapken had a bigger vision. Today, Three-Mile Lake is a year-round family destination.
John Tapken, Ret. Dir., Union Co. Conservation: “We as Iowans deserve something that is open years round. Something that's here, we don't hibernate, we don’t migrate. So we have to have something for those people to enjoy.”
In March, 2004, Three Mile was named one of the top 96 bass lakes in the country by Field and Stream magazine
This tournament, held by the Team Supreme organization, is just one of fifty or more bass tournaments arranged here by different groups each year.
This May, the National Shoot to Retrieve Association held its Grand National Invitational at Three Mile. There were license plates from all over, we heard good reviews and it was a treat to watch these intelligent dogs at work.
By diversifying their economic base, Creston and Union County have been building a better future for all of us.
Additional Images: Jane Briley & Steve Francis