Ottumwa Iowa: A Town to Keep Your Eyes On

iowa cornfield

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I was pleasantly surprised to be invited with a few travel writing friends to visit Ottumwa, Iowa. I really knew nothing about Ottumwa, and only a few thoughts came to mind: loose meat sandwichs as well as Radar O’Reilly from the M.A.S.H. television series. Was I ever in for a surprise.

Ottumwa Iowa:

A lot of midwest towns have floundered and kind of look like this bombed-out village. They have lost industry as manufacturing jobs have shifted overseas. They have had Interstate highways replace the smaller 2-lane roads that brought a lot of visitors to their communities. They have had school consolidate as people have moved away to look for work. Not all cities have had the foresight to create a thriving economy to replace what no longer works for them.

Ottumwa Iowa: A Town to Keep Your Eyes On

Building on agritourism, eco-friendly practices, embracing their local natural features, and encouraging small business all begin to feed on each other and create an environment that draws people. Those people bring their money and help build the economy. That leads to more jobs, increased housing, and a rapidly growing and thriving economy.

Ottumwa Iowa

Ottumwa was facing those challenges five years ago when the new Mayor took over. The city created a series of incredible teams and committees that had the focus of pulling the “hidden gems” out of what they had. The built on them for their future with a growth mindset in their plans. From the Canteen Alley project to the downtown preservation of historic buildings in their Main Street redevelopment project. Literally working from the ground up, Ottumwa is replacing a sewer system that was initially laid in 1851 and soon to initiate their riverfront project that will make their beautiful waterways more accessible. They have the most significant amount of parks per capita in Iowa for any city and even have an indoor sports arena in the works! The vision for their future is incredible, yet they maintain the past.

A Town to Keep Your Eyes On

Their innovative collaboration between donations, grant work, and community involvement make for a great recipe for future success – and should act as a role model for any town looking to revitalize their community.

A Town to Keep Your Eyes On

With a population of slightly over 26,000 people, the incredible diversity of the area astounded me. Located in Wapello County, in the southeast region of the state, over fifty different countries are represented here. This is easily reflected by the incredible selection of independent restaurants and ethnic grocery stores.

A Town to Keep Your Eyes On

You will hear more from me over the next few weeks about this incredible community of Ottumwa, Iowa. The 16 miles of river trails, the historic Ottumwa hotel, and why the Antique Airfield and Airport Museum is perfect for any aviation lover. How about why you need to experience the World-Famous Canteen Lunch for yourself, or why you should check out the Pioneer Ridge Campsites? I will even chat about the art behind the American Gothic House and Center. You will want to see what I have to say about the Wapello County Historical Museum, as that is where their riverfront project will start. There are just so many exciting things that this community has to offer that I was stunned as each new gem was revealed to me.

The Bottom Line?

My thoughts boiled down to a quick “sound bite” for you? Get your fanny to Ottumwa Iowa now – while you can experience the ground floor of a brilliantly evolving community.

You will be pleasantly surprised by things like a coffee shop whose profits fund a soup kitchen, a video game trail, amazing eats, and enough to keep any nature lover enthused. Trust me; it is worth the trip!

Places To Stay Nearby

Other fun things in Iowa:


12 thoughts on “Ottumwa Iowa: A Town to Keep Your Eyes On

  1. Thank you for capturing the essence of our amazing community and sharing it for others to see!

  2. Great article! Thank you for all the positive remarks for our community! You might also check out Memorial Park. It has both bike trails and deer hunting!! We are located about 20 miles from Lake Wapello in Davis County and 45 miles from Lake Rathbun in Appanoose and Monroe Counties. Lake Rathbun has a beautiful resort and golf course.. It was so nice to see a stranger’s positive remarks for our town! Thank you!

    1. Thanks for the tips Marian! I plan to coe back with the family in the summer and the bike trails would be AWESOME!

  3. Do not forget we have an Iowa Blues Hall of Famer here Tony Blew and the great Heavy Blues Artist John-Paul Jones Group who has been operating out of Ottumwa for the Past 25 years and has garnered international attention.

    Jp the leader of the organization has been on a mission to bring more equality and attention to underserved charitable causes in Ottumwa Iowa including the soup kitchen you mentioned. Children’s causes and Veterans causes.

    You really should take some time to learn about him.

    Check out the article written about him in Lifoti Magazine September of 2019 which is distributed in over 25 countries.

    You can check our famous Heavy Blues artist at

    1. ooooh, blues! Thanks Heather!

      We were basically only there for about 48 hours and your CVB really packed a lot in for us, sadly – they can’t show or tell us everything in thta brief snippet of time we have together. My hopes are that people will come and see for themselves – and learn more about your community than I share.

      I know I will be back!

  4. Thanks for coming in Top Hat ? Coffee and the soup kitchen! Lovely article. When you bring you family back holler at me and I’ll show you some cool historical “STUFF” at Top Hat ? ie; bank cage fromJessie James fame etc! ?Happy writing ✍️! Keep up the good work!

      1. If it makes you feel any better, autocorrect turns my daughter’s name Sarah into “Satan”. Although, at 13? It is occasinally fitting, LOL!

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