History & Culture Walk

History & Culture Walk

Participants will park in the former Hawkeye Community College lot on Wellington St. in Church Row. and begin their walk no later than 11:45 in or in order to arrive for the noon program at the RiverLoop Expo Plaza.  Participants may enjoy lunch at one of the food trucks before making the second half of their loop back to the parking lot in Church Row.  This route highlights plans for the Church Row Neighborhood, Grout Museum District sites, new and existing public art, as well as redevelopment in the downtown. Estimated time: two 15 minute walks (1.7 miles total) looping to and from parking.History

Rensselaer Russell House Museum
The Rensselaer Russell House gracefully overlooks the Grout Museum District.  This lovely brick structure, inhabited by three generations of the Russell family, is one of the oldest homes in Black Hawk County.

Rensselaer Russell, the son of an immigrant carpenter, traveled to Waterloo from New York with his wife and daughter in 1857.  He worked in banking and real estate.  At age 33, he purchased the block, which later became known as Russell Square, for $750.

Rensselaer and Caroline Russell built the house in 1861 for $5,878.83.  As the Grout Museum District’s largest artifact, it has been restored to the 1890s – the period when electricity was added to the home.  In an era of gracious living, the Rensselaer Russell house was the showplace of the community.  An 1889 Steinway grand piano, one of the first grand pianos in the area, was the center of many gatherings, and is the jewel of the Russell family collection.  Listed on the National register of Historic Places, the Rensselaer Russell House Museum is often cited as Iowa’s finest example of Italianate architecture.

Snowden House
This Victorian Italianate architectural style home was completed in 1881 and occupied by the William Snowden family.  During the winter, heating of the home was so difficult that the family retreated to their apartment over Mr. Snowden’s pharmacy.  Thus, it became known as the Snowden Summer Home.

Since Mr. Snowden had three daughters, the home was a gathering place for many young people and became a center of culture and music.  Originally, the large drawing room was a parlor with a sitting room to the northeast.  The drawing room also served as a music parlor where many young people were instructed in their first piano lessons.

William Snowden died in 1889, making his wife, Delia, sole owner.  She transferred the property to Lillian Russell Lamson.  On September 15, 1922, the Snowden House was purchased by the Waterloo Woman’s Club.  The Snowden Foundation, created in 1984, owned the property until August 13, 1997, when it joined the Grout Museum District.  The home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its exterior.

Carl A. and Peggy J. Bluedorn Science Imaginarium
The Carl A. and Peggy J. Bluedorn Science Imaginarium opened in 1993 in response to the increased interest in the Grout Museum District’s science programs.  Described as a “playground for the imagination,” this interactive science center provides fun hands-on exhibits that demonstrate how science affects everyday life.  The hands-on science center makes learning scientific principles fun through interactive exhibits and formal demonstrations.  Exhibits focus on light and electricity, momentum, liquids, gases, and sound.

Washington Park
Open public spaces have always been an important part of the development of the City of Waterloo.  In 1855 Charles and America Mullan promised to donate land to be the site for the Black Hawk County courthouse.  When an alternate site was found, the land was sold to the city for $450 to be a “public square and pleasure ground” for the people of Waterloo.  Over the years, the area has been used for floral gardens, playgrounds and ball diamonds, music and arts festivals, and pet parades.  In 1963 the Parks Department added the Japanese teahouse and pavilion along with a pond, walkways, and shrubs.

Silos & Smokestacks
Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area is one of 55 federally designated heritage areas in the nation and is an Affiliated Area of the National Park Service.  Through the development of a network of sites, programs, and events, Silos & Smokestacks’ mission is to interpret farm life, agribusiness, and rural communities - past and present.  

Silos & Smokestacks is committed to telling the story of American agriculture from many different perspectives.  Both the history and future of agriculture is diverse and cannot be shared without recognizing contributions by all races and cultures with respect and dignity.


RiverLoop Expo Plaza
The two-block downtown plaza is composed of a series of integrated public exposition spaces that serve as flexible outdoor vendor, market, and activity spaces.  These spaces and uses provide the Waterloo Convention Center with needed outdoor event space as well as other civic program uses such as farmers markets, auto shows, sports shows, and festival event space.  Spaces complement the public market building in a building renovated as part of the original Expo project.  The building now houses Verve Kombucha Kitchen & Bar.  Complementary streetscape renovations surrounding the Expo site were installed in conjunction with the $4.5 million Expo Plaza development, and the site serves as the visual front door and connection with the Waterloo Riverwalk.

The design incorporates irrigated event lawns and vibrant brick plaza areas to hold events.  Specialty lighting and banner features provide color and event signage while acting as sources of power throughout the site.  A series of sign and light towers equipped with programmable LED lighting draw visitors to and through the site and serve as gateways to the Riverwalk amenities beyond.

Sullivan Brothers Plaza
In May 2021, the Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center changed names to the Waterloo Convention Center.  The name change was unanimously approved by City Council to provide easier recognition.  The plaza surrounding the center was named the Sullivan Brothers Plaza.  The five Sullivan brothers from Waterloo died in November 1942 when the ship USS Juneau sank off Guadalcanal during World War II.  The City worked with the Sullivan family to develop plans for this new plaza.

Building Murals
In 2021, two colorful murals were painted on a pair of buildings parallel with the frontage road along Washington Street and visible from the U.S. Highway 218 overpass.  Inspired by Iowa’s natural landscape, prairies, and native plant species, the welcoming paintings are meant to serve as an informal gateway into downtown Waterloo.  The project was a partnership between the city of Waterloo and the Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities, a program of the University of Iowa Office of Outreach and Engagement.  The Waterloo Center for the Arts worked with U of I students in the College of Art & Art History to design and install the public art murals meant to reflect the values, stories, and identity of Waterloo.

Former Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific Railroad Depot
Constructed in 1910, the former depot’s abbreviated Richardsonian Romanesque design centers on a stocky central tower.  Brick walls with stone trim have been set on a slightly projecting rusticated masonry base.  Overscaled lunette windows on the second floor of the central tower provided light for the principal passenger waiting area.  The former depot now houses an office.

Lou Henry Hoover Garden
Born in Waterloo, Iowa in 1874, Lou Henry Hoover is best remembered as the wife of U.S. President Herbert Hoover.  She was, however, much more than what one expected from a first lady of her time, earning her the distinction of “First Modern First Lady”.  To celebrate Lou Henry Hoover and her Iowa roots, the Church Row Neighborhood Association and the Public Art Committee of the Waterloo Cultural and Arts Commission commissioned a site-specific sculptural installation of bronze sculptures and interpretive cast bronze relief panels.  The garden was officially dedicated and opened in 2017.

The site of the garden was the childhood home of Lou Henry.  Sidewalks and trees cross through the park.  Two bronze sculptures bookend the park which sits across Washington Street from the Grout Museum.  Three-sided pillars feature plaques detailing the history of Hoover’s life.  Wife.  Mother.  Scholar.  Traveler.  First Lady.  

Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum
For more than 150 years, Iowa men and women have stepped forward to take an oath to preserve the union, safeguard democracy, and defend against terrorism in times of peace and war.  Iowans gave this service in numbers proportionally larger than most states and without the expectation of fame and fortune, a tradition that continues to this day.

Whether as National Guards, as Reservists, or regulars in the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Or Coast Guard – most returned home to continue their lives.  But for some families, there was nothing more than the painful image of a cemetery in a distant land.

The Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum is dedicated to ensuring that an appropriate house is established to hold their stories and related artifacts in trust so they will be remembered and preserved for generations to come.  Opened in 2008, the Museum consists of over 35 interactive exhibits.  Interviews collected via the Voices of Iowa Oral History Project total over 1,500.

Grout Museum of History and Science
If you are curious about the museum’s history, you would have gotten along famously with its founder, Henry Grout.  The Waterloo native was curious about the world around him.  That curiosity, along with his generosity, has been on display for generations of inquisitive museum visitors.

You can see Grout’s interest in everything from his occupations in the 1880s through his retirement in 1918.  Railroad worker.  Farmer.  Miner.  Realtor.  Traveling salesman.  State legislator.

He loved to travel, to collect reminders of places he visited, and to share his finds with children in the community.  By the time of his death, Grout had collected over 2,000 objects.  His will established an endowment and named trustees to care for his collection, which was displayed for many years at the local YMCA (now the River Plaza building on 4th Street).  The current building was completed in 1956 and opened to the public as a not-for-profit museum.  The Grout Museum of History and Science features permanent and continually changing exhibitions of area history, and the only public planetarium in Northeast Iowa.  It is also home to the James, Robert, and Dick McKinstry Funded Library, northeast Iowa’s largest genealogical reference library.  The library also contains an archival collection numbering 21,617 maps, photographs, oral histories, audio/video tapes, clippings, and documents relating to the Cedar Valley.

Carnegie Library West Branch
From 1892 to 1917, the Carnegie Corporation of New York awarded 99 grants totaling $1,495,706 to build 101 public libraries in Iowa.  Unusually, Waterloo was granted one library but requested funding for two after a disagreement on where to place the library resulted in additional funding from Carnegie.  The West Branch was dedicated on February 23, 1906.  The East Branch Library was constructed at 715 Mulberry St.  Both buildings now house offices.


Church Row
The story of Waterloo’s Church Row neighborhood, in many ways, reflects the past, present, and future of the entire Waterloo community.  The historic and grand homes of Church Row convey a sense of the prosperity at the turn of the 20th century that made Waterloo known as the “Factory City in Iowa”.  The neighborhood’s early inhabitants were prominent bankers, real estate developers, business executives, and other wealthy residents attracted to the area because of its panoramic vista and close proximity to the economic heart of the city.  Today, those historic properties are home to an increasingly diverse population who, as part of the backbone for the local labor force, are no less vital to the economic well-being of the entire community.  Church Row continues to contribute substantially to the cultural and economic capital of the city.