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Saturday, September 10, 2016

Favorite Midwest Cities I Discovered this Summer

If you read my posts, you've noticed I easily fall in love with places I visit. I can explain it. It's a combination of natural beauty, people and the communities they build.

Two cities stand out for my summer of 2016. In the early summer, I visited Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and in late summer, Fort Smith, Arkansas. They are oh-so-different but the common bond - super friendly people who wanted to share their lifestyles.

Cedar Rapids appears to be rapidly growing, stretching out after spending years recovering from a devastating flood. I loved the unique sections of town and the strong commitment to their heritage. The New Bohemia District is both quaint and bustling with new life - a community focused on art, culture and dining. The NewBo City Market is alive with vendors and customers.

I visited the city this year because of the Grant Wood's 125th birthday celebration. After checking out some Grant Wood venues and marveling at his artwork, I went on the Coveralls scavenger hunt, finding 23 of the 25 locations. What a hoot! I love the creativity of the different artists. I hope everyone in the city, and many of its visitors, hunted until they found all of them.

Many old restored buildings are well worth a visit. The Paramount Theatre (an old vaudeville venue) and the Theatre Cedar Rapids (live community theater), bring cultural variety to the city.

Grant Wood Window
in Veterans Memorial
Cedar Rapids boasts many outstanding coffee shops, brewpubs and restaurants. We enjoyed Brewhemia Coffee Shop for breakfast (awesome cinnamon rolls), the White Star Ale House, Riley's and Lion Bridge Brewing Company.

But it's always the people who make a city and Cedar Rapids folks are open and inviting. They love their city and they enjoy sharing it.

Immaculate Conception Church

Fort Smith has a totally different feel but it too is a city poised for growth. It's an old city with a frontier and Wild West history. Situated on the Arkansas River, it became the end of the Trail of Tears and later the beginning of the Oklahoma Land Rush. The old fort (Fort Smith National Historic Site) in on the riverfront and it has many stories to tell. Go in the Visitors Center and you'll be introduced to an old Federal jail as well as Judge Parker, the hanging judge. As the federal court responsible for upholding the law in the territories to the west, many famous and infamous people passed through.

A city landmark, the Immaculate Conception Church, still stands guard over the city skyline. This beautiful church is worth a visit for its architecture, stained-glass windows and the pipe organ.
R Landry's

The only dining issue in Fort Smith is which place to try first. We tried seafood at R. Landry's, some great appetizers and sandwiches at Bricktown Brewery and a fabulous steak dinner at Doe's Eat Place.

Once again, it's the people who make the city. Fort Smith residents love their history and share an enthusiasm for moving the city forward. The Unexpected Mural Project in downtown Fort Smith is an example of their energy. The US Marshals Museum is expected to open in 2019 and is already generating much interest.
Artifact for US Marshals Museum
set to open 2019

Since I love history, I loved spending time learning about Fort Smith. Actually one could spend months and only touch the surface.

The takeaway - I want to revisit both cities, meet more residents and learn more of their history.

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