Clermont, Iowa

Update: See Montauk, the estate of former Governor William Larrabee.

As I came over a high hill in the rugged northeastern corner of Iowa on U.S. Route 18, I looked down into the valley below and I could have sworn I was seeing a village in Vermont. As I entered the town of Clermont, down its main street, I quickly realized I was in a very special place, perhaps one of the most unique towns in America I have visited. David Lynch even apparently filmed one of his movies here.

Due to the orangish-red brick combined with the yellowish limestone from the Williams Quarry, three miles away on the Turkey Creek, Clermont’s architecture developed into a unified, elegant and distinct style you cannot find anywhere else.

The old bank building is a perfect example, where the Romanesque Revival arches accent the first floor (and some imported rich pink granite columns polished smooth) while the orange-red brick then springs out from the top.

Then there’s this old hall, where the brick walls bracketed with classical pilasters emulate the limestone. Below, this house once had an exterior staircase, and I wonder if like in St. Louis it never had an original interior staircase.

And that is a great introduction to the most wonderful ensemble of Italianate architecture in one town, starting with private homes.

Both of these houses, above and below, are spectacular, and continue the overall theme of the architecture in Clermont, with Williams limestone accents and the rich toned brick.

And then we get to the churches, of which there are two on the National Register, all along a second non-commercial artery one block off the main commercial artery.

First up, below, is the Clermont Presbyterian Church built in 1858, on the National Register, which was then taken over by the Union Sunday School, which is something I had never heard of before. It is a beautiful example of Neoclassical architecture, that some people might describe as Colonial.

The second National Register church is the Episcopalian Church of the Savior from 1867, which is Romanesque Revival with the influence of the Italianate. The tall, almost lancet windows are curved Roman arches, but they are far too slender, like in an Italianate house. But then, unlike the the rest of the town, it has a rough-hewn stone wall construction with cut stone window and door treatments instead of red brick.

There is another Romanesque Revival church nearby, with a curiously truncated bell tower. I strongly suspect there was once a taller wood frame superstructure that was removed due to damage, or one was planned and never realized. The bell tower has certainly been simplified by blocking in the belfry and the clock faces.

West Clermont Lutheran Church moved the town into the Gothic Revival style, though as can be seen in the belltower, there are still vestiges of the Romanesque.

It looks to be built around more of an auditorium design, much like the old Bethlehem Lutheran back in the Hyde Park neighborhood of St. Louis.

And finally, wrapping up the churches is St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, again, with a spire that cannot be the original intention, whether or not it was finished or damaged after completion.

The stately grade school, designed by Charles A. Dieman, brought a grand Beaux-Arts composition to the town. It is now the city hall and library.

The depot, like most of the towns around here, is no longer used, and sits in limbo, from the looks of it. But it is preserved, and can be used in the future.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Tom Maher says:

    Thanks, Chris – what a great way to start Thanksgiving!
    The Lynch movie that was filmed there was “The Straight Story,” one of my all-time favorite movies! It starred three of the best actors in Hollywood: Richard Farnsworth, Harry Dean Stanton, and the marvelous Sissy Spacek. and it is based on a true story. Check it out! It always brings tears to my eyes.
    The Wikipage is,_Iowa

    1. Chris Naffziger says:

      Yes, that’s the movie! It’s an amazing little town, and now I’ll need to check out the movie.

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