West Water Street, Decorah, Iowa

Brunt & Parman, Panoramic View of Decorah, Iowa, 1908, Library of Congress, PAN US GEOG – Iowa no. 101.

While the Winneshiek County Courthouse is technically on Main Street in Decorah, otherwise there’s nothing main about it. The real main street of the city is one more block north, on West Water Street, which while running into the water to the west and east (remember, the river sweeps around in a big bend around the city), is almost a half mile to the Upper Iowa River to the north. No steamboats were pulling right up to Water Street like Levee Street in St. Louis at any time in its history.

That being said, West Water Street is one of the healthiest main streets I’ve seen in a small city anywhere in America. Nearby Luther College certainly helps, despite being across a bridge in the northwestern quarter of town a mile or two away.

As would be expected, there is your usual crop of Italianate storefronts with prefabricated cast iron cornices. But I would be remiss if I did not point out the turret below, which looks straight out of Chicago. No doubt of course, Chicago’s mercantile influence was heavy due to the Rock Island Bridge into Iowa.

No surface parking lots?! But how will businesses get customers to come shop?! I was impressed that Decorah’s building code or at least responsible business owners have preserved or rebuilt storefronts up to the sidewalk, keeping a handsome street wall and making downtown a place worth visiting.

It’s interesting to see how the façade have been altered with changing tastes over the last century.

And of course there are some nice Romanesque Revival corner buildings with their conical turrets.

There is a good mix of businesses, as well.

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