Hunting for abandoned places in Iowa? You’re in the right place. Below are 17 of my favorite abandoned places in across the great state of Iowa!
Abandoned Places In Iowa
1. Bagley School Ruins
Most people are familiar with the big headless school in Bagley, Iowa, Guthrie County. Its termed headless because her roof was long gone, collapsed due to a big blizzard in 2012. Since the 1960s, the school has been devoid of students. For elementary kids, there was a new addition.
The school was turned into a private residence by the owner, and all the townspeople grumbled about it, calling it an eyesore. They tried to get the owner to bear the cost of tearing it down at one time, but he battled to maintain it.
As of today, half of the bottom level is pitch black, and there is a gigantic bell that previously rang out for all to hear. Sleeping bats can be seen on the ceiling. The dark areas smell like mold and rot. The sun shines down on broken timber and rotting textbooks on the upper floor. The ground is covered with shattered bricks.
2. Lehigh Clay Works
Lehigh, a small town in Iowa’s Webster County, was founded on two major industries: coal mining and brickyards. Clay was manufactured in brickyards from shale extracted from local coal mines. The clay was baked into bricks and drain tile in kilns heated by coal from the same mines.
During the early part of the twentieth century, coal mining dropped in Webster County. Since then, the population of Lehigh has steadily declined, from 1,004 in 1940 to around 400 today. The Lehigh Brick and Tile Company began producing bricks and ceramic sewer and drainpipes in the late 1800s. The factory was severely damaged by a fire in 1897.
The old workshop’s ceiling has started to collapse, but workbenches still line the walls. Several of the old structures still have forklifts and other equipment parked inside. On the grounds of the old brickyard, stacks of bricks wait eagerly to be shipped off to clients, and half a dozen chimneys keep watch.
3. Waterloo Greyhound Park
Waterloo Greyhound Park was once a race track for greyhounds located in Iowa, USA. The National Cattle Congress (NCC) was created in 1910 in Iowa, USA, and it sponsored annual agricultural events. The nonprofit organization had major financial troubles in the 1980s. In 1984, the NCC President proposed that a greyhound racecourse, using the parimutuel betting system, would boost revenue for its annual events. The project took two years to complete and was finished on October 15, 1986.
The NCC admitted in 1989 that if the track was not profitable, the bank would assume control of both the track and the NCC. The Waterloo Greyhound Park wanted to put slot machines in the park to compete with the Mesqaukie Casino, which opened in Tama, Iowa, only a 30-minute drive from Waterloo, so they worked to have a law passed in 1994 that allowed gambling in such locations. The addition of slot machines, however, was too little, too late, and the racetrack closed in July 1996.
The vandalism occurred after the site was shut down. In the abandoned buildings, windows were shattered, and graffiti artists left their imprints on the walls. Weeds had entirely taken over the property. Harold Youngblut, president of Deer Creek Development, purchased the 64-acre land from the National Cattle Congress.
4. Searsboro School
The remains of Searsboro Consolidated School sit atop a hill on the outskirts of a small Iowa town. The majestic structure remains abandoned and extensively damaged by the weather, mostly concealed by trees and overgrown plants. It’s unclear when this massive ruin was constructed, but its name suggests it was the consequence of the merger of several local school districts into one.
Searsboro became part of the Lynnville-Sully Community School District after the school closed in the 1980s. The school was then sold for $50 to private owners who resided there for several years before relocating out of state. It appears as if they fled due to the building’s degradation.
The structure appears to be substantial and solid from the outside, but the inside was totally different. The paint on the walls near the entryway is gradually peeling. One door marked “7th & 8th GRADE” is still stuck in place. A wonderful old soda cooler with the Dr Pepper emblem can also be seen. Most of the other antiquities are damaged and half-buried behind a layer of ceiling material that had come down.
5. Old Burlington High School
Burlington High School, also known as Burlington Community High School, is a four-year public high school in Burlington, Iowa. It’s at 421 Terrace Roadway and spans the full block on the west side of the street, from Terrace Drive to Roosevelt Avenue, and the entire block on the east side, from Division Street to Johanssen Drive. The current facility was constructed in 1969, with the first-class graduate in 1970. Earlier, the school was located two blocks west of Central Avenue, near the central commercial center, in a two-building campus.
Students in 9th grade were enrolled in a separate building until 1983, when they were incorporated into the high school the next year.
During the 2015-2016 academic year, Burlington High School had a dropout rate of 12.69 percent, which was lower than the state average. The school has the highest dropout rate in Iowa’s Southeastern region, as well as one of the state’s highest dropout rates. Today, its old buildings still stand still and have a hustle and bustle of life roaming inside with years old history carved into its walls.
6. Gitchie Manitou Ruins
The Gitchie Manitou Preserve is located at 52141 Adams Ave, Larchwood, IA 51241, in the state’s far northwest corner. Granite is so little that the first sign you see when you enter town just states “Welcome to Granite: Population Low.”
In 1973, it was the scene of a heinous murder. The park was being explored by five young teens from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Three brothers launched an all-out assault on their entire group. With shotguns, the three brothers opened fire on the group. Two of the youngsters were quickly slain, while the others fled into the woods in search of safety. The remaining teenagers were killed by James and David Fryer.
The park is bordered by the beautiful Big Sioux River. One of the attractions of this historic preservation is the old ruins, which include ancient Native American cave paintings. On any walk through the park, the old Native American burial mounds are obvious to spot. Their souls are reported to still stroll these holy grounds.
7. Dubuque Shot Tower
The Shot Tower is one of only a few existing shot towers in the United States, and the only one west of the Mississippi River. It was built in 1856 to manufacture lead shot ammunition. The tower could produce 6 to 8 tons per day, but due to its purchase by competition Chadburne and Forster in 1862, it was rarely used at full capacity. A statue of Andrew Jackson on horseback was on top of the shot tower from 1872 until 1881.
It was used as a fire watchtower from the late 1880s until it was destroyed in the 1911 lumberyard fire. The tower was left without a roof until 1960, when a concrete cap with a hatchway was added, and substitute brick was used to rebuild the lost upper portion of the top floor.
The entire building is 120’5″ above ground level. The lower seven stores (82’11”) are made of Galena Dolemite stone, while the top three stories (37’6) are made of soft red brick. Some of the initially exposed column base, as well as an estimated 15-20 feet of stone foundation, has been buried, according to credible evidence.
8. Clutier Public School
Clutier Public School opened in 1925 and amalgamated with Traer School in 1961 to form Traer-Clutier. Local school districts began to merge, and in 1965, Dinsdale Community School joined, establishing North Tama County Community School District.
The Chargin’ Czechs were a very talented young women’s basketball team at Clutier Public School. They had a 201-18-1 record and appeared in the state tournament six times between 1939 and 1948.
The legacy of the squad remains on. In 2007, the mayor of Clutier declared September 15 to be Chargin’ Czech Day, and a monument was erected at the town’s entrance in their honor. The original school’s classrooms have been water-damaged, yet they are amazingly still intact.
The carpeted floors of the ancient classrooms are now covered in moss. Doors hang sagaciously from rotting frames. The drywall has crumbled in parts, showing solid brick walls beneath. The tiles have peeled away from the floor. Despite the lack of graffiti, shattered windows indicate that vandalism has not spared the school.
9. Crossroads Motel
In rural northwest Iowa, the Crossroads Motel is tucked between a petrol station and cornfields. Since a horrific fire in April 2011, Crossroads has been deserted. The cause of the fire, according to firefighters, was faulty wiring in the hotels sign. The original cost of the damage caused by the fire was estimated to be roughly $200,000. The owners obtained permits to rebuild immediately after the fire, and the new roof was completed in the fall of 2011.
It appears that the motel was never reopened after the roof was completed. At this moment, there appears to be no future for the location.
10. Camp Eowata
In 1960, John Ench, an engineer with numerous advanced degrees in physics, had a “vision” while sitting on his front porch in New Jersey. According to Ench’s vision, a “great destroying power” would undermine our law and order, affecting children, and youth would indulge in crime and vice. In 1970, Ench and a group of his followers paid $13,000 for 88 acres of timber in Bridgewater, Iowa, and began constructing his camp to teach children a constructive philosophy of life.
Members learned how to change their programming and become free of tension, stress, criticism, and guilt. On July 2nd, 1999, John Ench passed away. Following his death, the Life Engineering Foundation continued to operate until 2005, when all student activities were discontinued and the Eowata campus was closed to the general public.
A 26-room guest lodge, a dining hall, three teepees, a chiropractic clinic, and other sports facilities were all part of the site. The future of the property is still unknown.
11. Edinburgh Manor
Edinburgh Manor functioned as a poor farm, a mental institution, and a retirement home before becoming one of Iowa’s most haunted locations. Edinburgh Manor has a reputation for being one of the most haunted buildings in the United States, because of many strange happenings that have occurred during its decades of operation. The original farm building was used until 1910, when it was dismantled and replaced by the modern Edinburgh Manor, which opened in 1911.
Jones County sold the property to Q. Farmland Trust for $52,050 on September 23, 2011, with plans to convert it into a Bed & Breakfast. The Manor now stands alone at the end of a long Iowa road, surrounded by lush, deserted farm fields. Cindy and her husband purchased Edinburgh Manor in order to preserve its history.
A young girl’s soul is said to wander the 1st Floor corridor, laughing, singing, and playing with the toys in Room 106. An alleged horrific rape took occurred in Room 105. The Joker is a well-known spirit who is supposed to still wander Edinburgh Manor.
While the mansion is popular with ghost hunters, it’s still one of the best-preserved abandoned places in Iowa.
12. Des Moines Drains
Beneath the town of Des Monies is a network of combined sewer overflow drains that are accessible for urban explorers. While the drains aren’t like most abandoned places in Iowa, they’re still a unique place to explore.
The drains are still accessible and primarily run north to south. You can find some interesting graffiti in some of the entrance ways, just be sure to avoid the sewer system when rain is a possibility.
13. Warden Plaza
In Fort Dodge, there’s a place called Warden Plaza. It was constructed between 1922 and 1924 as part of the 1910 Wahkonsa Hotel and Annex, which was planned by Des Moines architects Liebbe, Nourse, and Rasmussen. The Warden Plaza, on the other hand, was designed by Damon, O’Meara, and Hills for Theodore G. Warden, who bought the Wahkonsa Hotel’s lease in 1915. In 1930, the hotel’s ownership was split, and Wahkonsa ceased operations in 1972.
Unfortunately, rehabilitating it would cost several million dollars, and the new owner ultimately decided not to invest the money. It remained an eyesore for years, drawing vandals until the city of Fort Dodge gained possession of it in 2016 under Iowa’s abandoned buildings law.
At the tail end of Fort Dodge’s “Golden Age” of affluence in the early twentieth century, the Warden provided luxury apartments for area residents as well as hotel accommodations for visitors. The building’s U-shaped, classical base is coated in stone and features leisure spaces and an open courtyard on the lower floors.
14. Kate Shelley High Bridge
When it was constructed in 1901, the Kate Shelley High Bridge, then known as the Boone Viaduct, was one of the highest and longest double-track railroad bridges in the United States. It’s about 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) west of Boone, Iowa. It was named after Catherine Carroll Shelley, better known as Kate Shelley, an Iowa railroad heroine. The bridge was never formally renamed after Kate Shelley, although there were numerous memorials to honor her there if it was done.
By the mid-1950s, the bridge could only handle one train at a time. During a windstorm in 1986, some of the bridge towers were destroyed. Consequently, both tracks were reopened, but with a 25-mile-per-hour (40-kilometer-per-hour) slow orde
Union Pacific built a new double-track concrete and steel bridge next to the old span from 2006 to 2009. The Union Pacific operated the first train across the new span on August 20, 2009, and the bridge officially opened to traffic. The Kate Shelley Bridge is the name given by the UP to the new viaduct.
The Kate Shelley High Bridge is one of the few abandoned places in Iowa that has been embraced by the state and is legal to explore
15. Springbrook Conservation Education Center
The Springbrook Conservation Education Center (CEC) is tucked away in the woodlands of Guthrie County. This facility was built in 1967 to provide outdoor programming training to Iowa teachers for use in their classrooms. Three dormitory-style buildings, a dining hall, a classroom/office building, and a storage building make up the CEC. The CEC eventually evolved into a more overnight field trip location for students interested in participating in hands-on environmental initiatives.
The DNR halted activities at the CEC in March 2017 because of a decline in visitor numbers. “The choice to close the education center was a difficult one,” Iowa DNR State Parks Bureau Chief Todd Coffelt remarked at the time of the closure, “but we believe it is the right one.”
It was speculated that the structures will all be demolished after the sale. The DNR appears to be still looking for a suitable business or operator to take over the use and maintenance of the CEC as of August 2019.
16. Malek Theater
The Malek Theatre, often known as The Malek, is a 1947 Art Deco movie theatre in Independence, Iowa. The Grand Theatre burned down on March 3, 1945, and it was rebuilt with this structure. Wetherell & Harrison developed it for Bob C. Malek as a fireproof suit. “As an excellent example of an Art Deco style theatre with a high degree of integrity on the outside and inside, constructed by Des Moines architectural firm Wetherell & Harrison,” the theatre was judged historically significant.
The Malek Theatre opened in 1946 on the site of The Grand Theatre, which was built during the town’s horse-racing heyday and was in the south section of the Hotel Gedney complex. After the hotel and its connected theatre were destroyed by fire in 1945, the theater’s owner, Bohumil “Bob” Malek, a well-known local businessman, decided to construct a new venue, which he dubbed The Malek Theatre.
The structure is 60 by 140 feet (18 m x 43 m) in size and 42 feet tall. Lannon stone, vitreolite, and glass block make up the exterior. It is completely fireproof and has the most up-to-date equipment and fixtures. The theatre remained closed as of January 2014, its outside succumbing to petty vandalism and the harsh climate of northeast Iowa.
Go out and explore!
That concludes our list of abandoned places in Iowa, but that doesn’t mean that’s all there is to find. Take the back roads, follow train tracks, and find some places for yourself. There are plenty of places I kept off this list so get out there and explore.