That morning, the sun shone brightly on Iowa fields filled with combines and tractors. The farther south we drove, the more leaves colored. The hundred and twelve miles was fairly flat land. We drove through smaller villages except for Fairfield, a college town. The two hours flew by as we enjoyed looking at the scenic countryside.
The visitors guide 2010 says "Keosauqua, the county seat, (pop. 1066) is the largest village in Van Buren County. It is located in the center of the county within the horseshoe bend of the Des Moines River. Keosauqua is a community of friendly neighbors with small town hospitality." I couldn’t have said that better myself.
The courthouse is the oldest in Iowa and on the National Register of Historic Places. Second oldest in the country. In 1846, the courthouse was the scene of the first legal death sentencing and hanging in Iowa. Don’t know when the town was founded but that statement tells me some time around 1846.
Van Buren Hospital is a much needed medical benefit to everyone as all our county hospitals are. The building was filled with friendly staff, and volunteers manned a table to greet the visitors at the door. The grounds were neatly groomed with trees and flowers beds. Stones had the name of people on them that the spots were dedicated to.
The health fair tables were spread out from one end of the building to the other down the maze of halls. Women came, interested in information about diseases that will or have affected them. Plus, there were other businesses doing therapy, massages, selling children books, nutrition drinks and much more. I had a drawing for one of my books. The addresses on the papers in my basket proved women were willing to drive some distance to attended this annual event.
Now step out of this modern hospital and tour the town. I loved that Keosauqua has preserved buildings that must have been some of the first built when the town was settled in the 1800’s. By now a lot of small towns historic buildings have been torn down to make way for progress. This is a town that would make a good back drop for the type of movies I’d like to watch.
We drove down a street headed east and watched a fisherman unload his boat into the Des Moines River’s fast currant right in front of us. We turned the corner. That street ran between the river and century or better old Riverbend hotel with a porch on the end that was built around the front of the building as well. If the long modern bridge hadn’t been in view, I might have expected a riverboat to slowly round the bend and trappers in canoes gliding over to dock. They’d be coming to town to sell their bundle of furs in the back of the boat. Perhaps, women, in their finery, holding onto a parasol and paper fan sat on the porch, waiting to go up the gang plank of that riverboat for a ride back home. No, the ladies sitting there was just enjoying the view while they ate their sack lunch.
We turned back west and drove along the front of the hotel. The long porch is held up with porch posts from back in the day. A picture flashed through my head of elderly bearded gents sitting on benches. Some smoking a pipe and others spitting amber in the dirt street (that used to be there) from the chewing tobacco in their jaws as they watched the younger generations move about town energetically.
Another neat sight was a church that looked like it should have been in Little House On The Prairie. The tower on the side of the church held a bell, rusted from all the years it tolled in inclement elements. Another building was the Farmers Creamery, long closed and perhaps part of the extension office built on the back. A reminder that this was a farming community then and now. At one time all over the country, farmers separated the cream from the milk and brought the cream to the Creamery to sell. Downtown still has that fifties look. Nothing wrong with that for a person like me that likes the familiar small town feel.
We were too early for the health fair, because we hadn’t expected to get to Keosauqua so quickly. By the time, we set up our table it was lunch time. I asked for a place to eat. Several choices of restaurants were suggested, but all of those had much the same menus that we can choose from at home. The one that interested me was Billy Ray’s Smokehouse just because I love fried catfish.
We’d quietly entered Billy Ray’s behind another couple. They sat on one side the room and we sat in a booth on the other. In a minute or two, the two waitresses spotted they had customers. We barely glanced at the menu since we knew what we wanted. Fried CATFISH. The waitress suggested the smoked barbecued chicken was good. We turned that down, because that wasn’t what we came in to eat.
And what a treat. The catfish was golden, large fillets. Taken from larger catfish than I’ve ever caught and tastier than how the ones I fry turn out. French fries were just right, too. The waitress even tore the top off our tarter sauce packets for us. I appreciated that small courtesy, because I can never get those stubborn packets open.
By the time we finished eating we were stuffed but already planning our return to Billy Ray’s before we headed for home. We wanted to try another meal on the menu. I asked what time the restaurant closed. The answer was 8 p.m. "We would be ready to box up my books by 5:30," I said, thinking out loud. The waitress said, "Are you telling me you’re coming back tonight?" Why not. We have to try that smoked chicken.
The two waitresses were watching for us this time. We enjoyed visiting with them almost as much as we liked eating their good meal. We said no need to hand us the menu. We were back for the smoked chicken which turned out just as delicious as the catfish. We eat out quite a bit, but we couldn’t order smoked barbecued food around us, and though we love the walleye we eat in our area, if that restaurant's fried catfish was on the same menu, I’d have to flip a coin to decided. As a side, we had the special for the night - fried potatoes and onions which was perfect with the chicken.
We promised to come back sometime soon. With all the interesting sights to see that I read about in the visitors guide the waitress gave me, we can spend a day going from one small town to the next. Just so we’re close enough to end up at Billy Ray’s for meals.