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History of American Towns- Stone City, Iowa a stone water tower and Paintings of Grant Wood

Updated on November 15, 2015

Stone Water Tower


Stone City Ruins

creative commons attributtion author kepper 66
creative commons attributtion author kepper 66

St. Joseph Catholic Church


Stone Barn

public domain
public domain

American Gothic


American Gothic House


Stone City

Some years ago I used to see a folk music program on Iowa Public Television broadcast from Stone City, Iowa. Later I heard about festivals there, and we attended several of them.

As it turned out Stone City is an interesting historic site. It is an unincorporated community in Jones County. It is significant for its limestone quarries, historic buildings and a 1930s art colony. Now there are less than a hundred residents.

The town was founded in 1850 on the Wapsipinicon River. The early settlers discovered dolomite limestone. As the railroad grew the town grew and by 1880 sodid  limestone quarries. What makes the town unusual is the buildings that were constructed of limestone. The remains of many of them are still there.

Among these buildings was a hotel and an opera house   made of 500,000 tons of stone. Some of the best entertainers of the day, such as Jenny Lind and General Tom Thumb were there.. The town began to decline in 1905 when Portland cement began to replace quarried stone. 

Some buildings have been preserved, such as the original three-story stone barn, the Quarry Office, Water Tower and Ice House have been converted to private homes. St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, the schoolhouse, General Store, Dearborn Residence, Blacksmith Shop and some private homes have helped revitalize the town with new families but kept the charm of the old Stone City.

The Quarries had a revival in the 1950s and are now one of the biggest quarries in the United States. The Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles is made of this limestone.

Stone City has been immortalized in a painting by Grant Wood in 1930. The painting is displayed at the Omaha Joslyn Art Museum. It was Wood’s first major landscape painting.

Grant Wood.  Edward Rowan and Adrian Dornbush started an art colony at Stone City in 1932. With a small amount of money they leased ten acres on the Green Estate. The colony was a successful in terms of attendance and reputation, but it never succeeded financially.

Grant Wood 1891-1942

The first time we went to see Stone City we came across Anamosa and a display of Grant Wood paintings. I recall we had to go next door to get someone to open up for us to see the paintings.

Grant Wood was born in 1891 near Anamosa. He grew up to be a painter of simple scenes of the land and people and helped create an American style of art. He always loved the landscape of Iowa farmland. He showed interest in art at a very young age. People thought he would grow up to be a farmer like his father, not an artist. He did enjoy growing things and had his own livestock. However, when his father died, his mother had to sell the farm and the moved to Cedar Rapids.

He felt out of place in the city but he started making friends in high school and kept busy with projects, like designing scenery for school plays and drawing pictures for school publications.

After he graduated, he took art classes, taught art, made jewelry, learned carpentry and decorated houses. He also cared for his mother and sister. He loved making things and gadgets. He was a meticulous worker at his crafts. When he joined the army in World War I his job was to paint camouflage on tanks and cannons

American art students were often encouraged to study and paint in the style of the great 19th century French Impressionists artists. In 1920 he decided to travel to Europe to study Pierre Bonnard, Alfred Sisley and Camille Pissarro. It was after the trip to Germany that he found his own way to paint. He decided to paint subjects he knew and loved, using some of the simple ideas of the old European masters. He knew that scenes of the people and places he knew growing up were as important as anything he found in Europe.

Grant painted his mother as a strong frontier woman in a painting called Woman with Plants.. Later he painted his most famous painting: American Gothic. It came about when he saw a farmhouse with an arch-shaped window. It was what in Europe from the middle ages called Gothic architecture. He liked the contrast of the European window with an American farmhouse. His family dentist and his daughter Nan would be the perfect models for the picture. He entered the painting in a big art show at the Art Institute of Chicago and won third place prize. Americans all over the country loved the picture when they saw it in newspapers. Soon his paintings became very popular. One reason his painting became popular was it was during the depression.

Many people lost their homes and savings during the depression. His paintings of farmlands and proud hard-working families represented what made America great. Grant also painted famous American legends such as Paul Revere.

show route and directions
A markerstone city. iowa -
Stone City, IA 52205, USA
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B markeranamosa, iowa -
Anamosa, IA 52205, USA
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    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      TravelinJack, I'll look into the history of St. Louis and maybe write about it. Thanks for commenting.

    • TravelinJack profile image

      Jack Baumann 5 years ago from St. Louis, Missouri

      You should feature St. Louis as another great American town ;)

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Hi Peggy, It's a long time since we have been there. I added the map and Cedar Rapids is about the closest city. When we lived in the Quad-Cities we got TV from the NPR station near there, although not great reception. Thanks for the advice on the map and video. I appreciate the votes and share.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Don,

      It was interesting learning about Stone City, Iowa and also learning a bit more about the artist Grant Wood. That "American Gothic" painting of his is iconic. I would enjoy seeing a map of where Stone City is located within Iowa. Would be a nice addition to this hub. Also, you could show Anamosa in the same map. Just wondering in which part of the state these towns are located? Voted up, useful, interesting and will share.

      Came back because I found the video showing Stone City under the comment section. People might miss seeing this.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      We got into Iowa fairly often since we lived in Moline,IL just across the river from Davenport, Iowa.I would like to get to Stone City again to take more pictures.Thanks for commenting.

    • WD Curry 111 profile image

      WD Curry 111 6 years ago from Space Coast

      My Dad is from Marshall Town. Grant wood is one of my top ten favorites and I loved the trip. The last time I was in Iowa, I got a wicked case of poison Ivy. This time, I'm okay!

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      thanks for commenting. I've been nearsighted all my life and even lived with cataracts for some time. I don't think it improved my art appreciation for abstract art. I'll keep it in mind though.

    • Pete Sardino profile image

      Pete Sardino 7 years ago from Off Piste

      This hub's like a double whammy tied together nicely.

      It inspires me with a double entendre thought, that literally and figuratively both, for the near-sighted, everything is impressionistic.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      The place is a real curiosity when you first see nothing but stone. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    • stevetheman2 profile image

      stevetheman2 7 years ago

      Great buildings!

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thank you for your nice comment. I think stone City is an interesting place and thought others would think so too.

    • creativeone59 profile image

      benny Faye Douglass 7 years ago from Gold Canyon, Arizona

      Thank you dahoglund, for a sensational and awesome hub, thank you for sharin it. Godspeed. creativeone59

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids


      When I first saw them it was from a shuttle bus, so I didn't get a close up view. I thought it had sonething of a surreal look. I wasn't quite sure if anybody actually lived there at the time because so much was in ruins.

    • Tom Whitworth profile image

      Tom Whitworth 7 years ago from Moundsville, WV


      These old stone structures a fascinating. They remind me of my trip to the UK where mayy structures are made of stone due to mostly lack of wood for building.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for your comment. Grant Wood seems to be a more important artist than I previously realized.

    • Coolmon2009 profile image

      Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA

      I enjoyed reading this article on Stone City and I thank you for the introduction to Grant Wood. I will have to do some reading to see what additional information is available on this painter. Seems like he lived an interesting life. Good article