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On TBN present. Assignment in Iowa with Mary Jane O'Dell. Tonight from NE. Tonight which takes you to north east Iowa for the great off leash. This is the season of the year when Nature puts on its most laureates play and visit walk by the house to see the breathtaking how it latter part of September and early part of October. In addition to the art of the color you'll see a bit of Pike's Peak where we're standing right now and visit the Canadian town of McGregor will be talking with people who live and work on the Mississippi River. And in that river town.
This is McGregor. And you can see the weather changes frequently. About a thousand people live here in this river town which was once a booming center for boat and steam locomotive travel to the northern portion of the Mississippi River. Haters and writers have always felt compelled to try to capture something of the feeling and the beauty of this whole area. Born in the golden age of steamboating McGregor is a town of a different era. And so in order to understand the McGregor of the day we have to try to understand. The director. Yes. It was established in 1837 on the Mississippi River. The owner Alexander McGregor as McGregors landing in 1847 area near the river a town born in the
roaring steamboat days McGregor to a town with terminals and a population of five came and went. But enough Main Street was the gateway going west. There were eight retail dry goods and grocery stores for the logging industry and numerous dealers in freshwater pearls in the railroad and the steamboat started there the famous pontoon bridge making it possible for trains to cross the river to Wisconsin. North McGregor now known as Marquette became a real center but the decline of the steam locomotive and of McGregor's golden day. Breweries and greenery is no longer needed to crowd together at one central point. The Transportation and the little river towns had two choices
either grow or disappear. McGregor a town surrounded on all sides by rolling bluffs and the Mississippi River simply had nowhere to grow. And with the horseless carriage and the expansion of discounts and people could now work and spend their money and cross the river. Thus the town of McGregor all but died. Unfortunately as is the case with most stories happy ending. In the story of McGregor. Sparked the interest in restoring regular lives and works here in America. Fifty three. Oh. His name is John Bickel. He was born in McGregor went through high school here and
then left in 1938 to go to college. Since the 1940s he's had a dream and a file on the restoration of McGregor. John what was the condition of the town when you left for college that caused you to have this dream. I'm a graduate of a. Rather depressing area. The area of the hold particularly the town when I left there had been a number of fires for example and some of the older buildings. The buildings were boarded up. There were businesses that had been going out of business. And they said we're going out of business. You know of course we're following the mysterious part of depression when I left in thirty eight. And of course. We never recovered from the depression really. We are still really stumbling. You might say as a result of the depression anyway. Of course this was recently the looming challenge and its decline started before the Depression and then just continued on is
that it all very much or yes I would say the decline of McGregor actually started way long before I was born. Long before the turn of the century as a matter of fact so matter of fact MacGregor per capita I think per capita there's no question about it. Next to the Natchez Mississippi it might have been a very well the wealthiest town in a Mississippi River at one time but you were really I might call it obsessed by this dream so how do you how did you start how did you go about implementing what you really wanted to do here. Well I was obsessed because I first of all I love the town I love the people here. My family were here my mother lived here. My father passed away when I was in college and I was obsessed by the thought that somehow. Because of all of the aesthetic saying we have in our area. Of beauty the scenery and the people and the characters the river the river life the lore had so much to offer that something could be done. To turn it
around and started in the other direction. As a result of this I I started this file thinking that some way some of these ideas might work in restoring the physical health of the properties with the hope that perhaps some way we could. Get the economic answer to a solution later. What was your first physical overt move. Well the first I guess the first real model was came many years after my file. The first physical move you might say with this building which we acquired in 1066. Why did you buy it. Well I tried to buy it for about 16 years before I finally acquired it and I always dreamt because of the beauty of the stone in it and because of the location being on the riverbank and because I was brought
up on the river and raised in the river you might say. That I Had This is where I thought I could make a beautiful home. Musta been some affluent people in town at that time with they interested in this at first. No it was a great deal of apathy and it was justified apathy because the town had been going down ever since my I was born. There was never a year in my lifetime that someone was going out of business and McGREGOR So the apathy that existed here was well founded and it was justified in my way of thinking. And so these people. Were the most skeptical. It were the was it people really who had the least mean that I that were with me and and really could see what it was I was trying to do. And it was these people that I peeled to to help make drawings and sketches and color combinations of some of the other buildings that we thought we might be able to get those people interested in doing their own buildings by peeling back. This
horrible feeling of apathy that that has developed over the last 50 75 years that it was a growing thing it's like a disease. When you peel that back and you start restoring pride and people start painting their gait. After all if you just take a paint brush and do of one swipe you've done something. And this is what we see in the psychology of it. And it develops as you go along and it was just amazing it started to spread just like a purry fire once we got got the psychology going on. It's like asking about. Two buildings in particular John. CULVER. Home. That's very interesting. The Culver home was was a resort hotel. And as a hotel of God was it had its better days I suppose 30 years or more ago Congress our senator Culver has really.
Made a beautiful residence out of it. Because. By virtue of first of all bringing in a designer. Who knew. How to fit. The living of this building into the life of the Culver family and this is very important to in restoring these derelict properties. What about the long hours. Building. A large building of tremendous historical background it was the headquarters of the Diamond Joe steamboat company which was the largest company in the inland waterways at one time. There'd been two fires in that building before Lawler's acquired and everything and it made a delightful. Place out of it as you know they have a winery in a basement and they made a very unusual home out of it and they still have income with some apartments and it's been utilized probably better than any property in McGregor.
How did you know that the state of Iowa has more border line waterways than any other state in the union. Iowa is the only state that is completely bordered on the west by the Missouri River and on the east by the Mississippi. And it's it's difficult to realize when you stand here amidst all of the color and quaintness that during the golden age of steamboating MACGREGOR I was one of the biggies It ranks right up there as a port with a Vicksburg Natchez and Baton Rouge. It said that I McGregor I what is the beginning of the West and across these houseboats and on the other side of that island lies ferry to Shane Wisconsin. People come here visitors come here by land and river to dream of a day gone by but the folks that work and play on the river live that same dream.
And really enjoy it. Some days you don't get what you like today. You don't. Catch much. But. It's a challenge. It's always. Something new every day. I've worked instruction in different jobs. I don't often. Build up. But when I. Like to stay fresh. I believe first will be able to make a. Control's with. Lotion and other chemicals and stuff I believe. Fish will adapt to it. It's a good life. I don't think it's a good live and. Make good money. Different times of the year. But. It has to carry you through. Tough times. I always believe the next race will be the better race. You're always looking for the rainbow I guess you just. Otherwise I guess
the guy won't be fishing you always believe the next step will be the better one a good one. Or a lot of people think you can't make it. You can make it it takes a lot of work and a lot of time and you start catching fish. You work every day of the week usually work every day of the week anyway. Just home like I said earlier it's you always believe you're going to have the best catch the next catch. Stay pretty close. Thank you for also for God or no. But when Chuck Moore laid off. Raise her. The basket. You're not. A racist. What it is is a general made out of oh.
And it's. Who fingered throat. But there we have it here. Yeah see we got an eel in here to a couple that had kidnapped. If I get ahold of it at the box or kind of plan to wear me a hard thing on to answer down or my dad but he's probably about average size he'll. That's all it that's in the basket. Paul. Said earlier you always play if you're going to have the best catch. The next. Get.
Happy and. Enjoy. Around You. When you. Want we can navigate.
Them Up until. You know. What. I get.
I am. I am I am. What is the result. I mean.
Larry the cold ready to cold cold. There already. We were just discussing it on the way up here we prefer to see the colors of the green background as to the brown brown Oh I think they are inches or really sticking out this morning. Right now the red and the yellow and the Green see. Different colored greens shining in the yellow in the red as it gets more beautiful colors right. No that would be later on but right now yellow and the red sand we all put together just a little later and right now the reds are the most dominant I believe the yellows maybe a few days ago. I love the reds with 16 beat as we have this year a lot of reaching into that equals are all.
Assignment Iowa Classics
Episode Number
Northeast Iowa
Producing Organization
Iowa Public Television
Contributing Organization
Iowa Public Television (Johnston, Iowa)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/37-375tb64g).
This episode of Assignment Iowa brings host Mary Jane Odell to Northeast Iowa for the "Great Autumn Leaf Show." Odell visits the river town of McGregor, situated along the banks of the Mississippi, and interviews some of its residents on topics ranging from town restoration to fishing on the Mississippi.
Assignment Iowa is a magazine featuring segments on a different aspect of Iowa culture and history each episode.
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Local Communities
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Host: Mary Jane Odell
Producing Organization: Iowa Public Television
AAPB Contributor Holdings
Iowa Public Television
Identifier: 24F30 (Old Tape Number)
Format: U-matic
Generation: Master
Duration: 00:28:00
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Chicago: “Assignment Iowa Classics; 309; Northeast Iowa,” 1977-12-08, Iowa Public Television, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed September 19, 2020,
MLA: “Assignment Iowa Classics; 309; Northeast Iowa.” 1977-12-08. Iowa Public Television, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. September 19, 2020. <>.
APA: Assignment Iowa Classics; 309; Northeast Iowa. Boston, MA: Iowa Public Television, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from