The birthplace of Buffalo Bill and an eclectic mix of shops and eateries are just a few of the things Dan Kaercher discovered as he wandered through historic LeClaire in eastern Iowa.
Hosted by Dan Kaercher, Iowa's Simple Pleasures features Iowa travel destinations, restaurants, events, parks, recreation and more. Produced by Iowa Public Television, the series highlights fun things for Iowans to do, see and taste, right here at home.
Kaercher: Many people are drawn to the unique feel of a river town. I particularly enjoyed my stop at a Historic Mississippi River Community in Eastern Iowa that's becoming a hot spot for tourists. Great view, huh? I'm here on the Illinois side of the wide Mississippi River, gazing across an idyllic small town in the Quad Cities area. Join me as we explore Le Claire.
Schiffke: It's named for Antoine Le Claire. He was half French Canadian, half Indian. He was a fur trapper. He was interpreting for the Black Hawk Treaty that was made in 1832. Since he was a friend of the Indians, they wanted him to have some land, so he was given 640 acres of one section of land here at Le Claire, which is at the head of the Rock Island Rapids, and another section down at Davenport, which is at the foot of the Rock Island Rapids.
Kaercher: All things Le Claire are on display at the Buffalo Bill Museum. Nearly everything has been donated, including items relating to one of the most colorful figures of the Old West, Buffalo Bill Cody.
Schiffke: So he was here during his childhood, and he played almost right where we are right now as a kid, along the riverfront. Buffalo Bill was a superstar in his day. He was the Michael Jackson, or whatever you want to say, of his day.
Kaercher: The museum sits on the bank of the Mississippi River, embracing that history as well. Any way I can have a little hands-on fun?
Schiffke: We can go up to the upper deck here to the Pilot House.
Kaercher: Oh, boy!
Schiffke: And let you drive a boat.
Kaercher: And pretend I'm Mark Twain for a while. Tell me about the set-up here.
Schiffke: Of course, you have the big pilot's wheel here. This is where the captain would be and the pilot to steer the boat. And all he could do up here is steer the boat. He had no other control over forward, backward, fast, slow, or anything like that. In order to do that, he would have to pull on one of these ropes here, which would then ring the bells down in the engineer area. The engineer then could control it.
Kaercher: So that's how they communicated.
Schiffke: That's how they communicated.
Kaercher: Can I give it a try?
Schiffke: Sure, go ahead.
Kaercher: Both of them?
Schiffke: Try this one. This one works better than that one.
Kaercher: Okay. Here we go. Oh, yeah! Full speed ahead!
Schiffke: There you go.
Kaercher: Donna, tell me, you are a business owner here, but you're also quite active in promoting tourism.
Walley: I'm the tourism manager also in the city of Le Claire.
Kaercher: What is your business?
Walley: I own Aunt Hatties Fanciful Emporium. It's a really cute little shop with a lot of different products, unique products.
Kaercher: It seems like there's a lot of antiques and boutique-type stores here.
Walley: Le Claire is a completely unique community. We kind of have a gentleman's agreement that we'll sell different types of items, and that's what makes us unique.
Kaercher: I see a lot of fun restaurants as we walk along.
Walley: We have the Faithful Pilot, The Crane and Pelican, Sneaky Pete's. We have all sorts of restaurants, just some wonderful restaurants. You come to Le Claire, you won't find a bad meal because they're great here.
Kaercher: A lot of them have a great view too because you're right on the river.
Walley: Oh, my gosh, yes. They're right on the Mississippi River.
Kaercher: Oh, I hear popcorn popping. I was walking by outside and the aroma was so irresistible. How about letting me give you a hand.
Plummer: You know what, you're on! There you go. Put that apron on and you can help me make cheese popcorn.
Kaercher: Kernel Cody's Popcorn Shoppe is owned by Heidi Plummer and offers several corn options for customers. It smells better than what comes out of my microwave at home.
Plummer: This is cheddar. I put a little special ingredient in here. You taste it after we get it mixed together.
Kaercher: Popcorn is like ice cream cones; it just makes you happy. You're eating it when you're happy. What are we going to do now?
Plummer: This is what we're going to do now. This is the cheese.
Kaercher: Just catch what wants to roll out?
Kaercher: Yeah. I got it. I got the hang of it.
Plummer: You got the hang of it. All right. We're going to pour in the cheese mix.
Kaercher: It's really orangey, like cheddar.
Plummer: It's like cheddar. That's why we call it cheddar.
Kaercher: Yeah, good idea. What's the most popular flavor you sell here?
Plummer: My most popular is the Le Claire Mix. It's cheddar and caramel mixed together.
Kaercher: Cheddar and caramel?
Kaercher: I've never heard of that. I think we're getting mixed pretty well here.
Plummer: I think you're doing very well.
Kaercher: You said there's a secret ingredient, and I have to figure it out. I've never tasted this before. That's certified.
Kaercher: It tastes real buttery and cheddary.
Plummer: I think you hit it already.
Kaercher: Butter. Mmm, it's really rich. Mmm, it's so good. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Plummer: You're very welcome.
Kaercher: I'm glad I popped in. I followed my nose. Your Main Street is so well kept. How did you accomplish that?
Walley: Just the downtown revitalization. About three years ago a lot of business owners got together with the city and made this downtown what it is today. It's gorgeous. You've really kept the old charm but also spruced it up quite a bit.
Walley: Oh, yeah. We had the bones. Then we just needed to paint it and clean it up. It's just a little beautiful little downtown, charming. You can bring your friends, your relatives. Anybody can come to Le Claire and have a great time.
Kaercher: A real river town.