No Napoleon here – History, good times and great food await you in Waterloo, Iowa

Waterloo’s downtown borders the Cedar River.

Napoleon was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo. So, it makes sense that Waterloo, Iowa, took its name from the heroes of the Belgium battle, correct? No. Originally called Prairie Rapids Crossing, a city name was required to petition for a post office in the area. A man liked the name Waterloo; thus, Prairie Rapids Crossing became Waterloo, Iowa. Today, Waterloo is the sixth largest city in the Hawkeye State.

Grout Museum

Facts about the history of Waterloo abound at places like the Grout Museum. Part of the Grout Museum District – which consists of five attractions – the museum traces the history of the area since 1840. The museum does an outstanding job of providing a montage of sorts in its Heritage Hall. Waterloo’s story is told through a series of photos and a few artifacts.

Heritage Hall and Pioneer Hall tell tales of Waterloo’s history.

We visited the Grout and several other attractions during our visit to Waterloo. I visited the museum once before, but spending a weekend in the city provided an enjoyable experience beyond history exhibits.

The Grout Museum offers a look at the area’s pioneer history, moving into its industrial period, when local factories produced cars, trucks and eventually tractors. Agriculture played a key role in Waterloo’s development, creating plants producing gas-powered engines, as well as food and seed products.

Early mills used stone wheels to grind grains and other items.

The Grout hosts temporary exhibits, and its current attractions highlight the patriotism of Iowans. Two exhibits focus on Iowans in World War I and the Korean Conflict. “From the Prairie to the Trenches: Iowans in the Great War” tells the story of Iowans during World War I. About 114,000 Iowans served, with more than 3,700 giving their lives during the war. The exhibit runs through Feb. 16, 2018.

Two Korean Conflict veterans discuss where they served during the war.

“The Cold War Ablaze: Iowans in the Korean War” shares the stories of about 70,000 Iowans who served during the conflict. The exhibit displays military dog tags honoring the 570 Iowans who died during the war. The exhibit is outstanding, providing a timeline of events throughout the conflict. The exhibit lasts until July 14, 2018.

The Grout Museum staff created dog tags to identify the Iowans who died during the war.

Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Musem

Next door to the Grout is the Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum. Named in honor of the five local brothers who died aboard the USS Juneau during World War II, the museum covers the history of Iowans in battle, starting with the Civil War and including the Mideast conflicts. The museum shares stories with accuracy.

The Sullivan Brothers are immortalized with a sculpture at the veterans museum.

John Deere Museum

I am a fan of John Deere tractors, because of my dad. I’ve told the story before of when his family moved from horse-pulled plows to a series “D” tractor, my dad became a fan of the green and gold tractors for life. His love for all things John Deere became my adulthood favorite, too. I enjoy visiting any John Deere-related attraction.

A look inside a 2017 John Deere tractor. From a steel saw to GPS-operated vehicles, John Deere has seen major technological advancements.

My second visit to the museum was even better because it was Lisa’s first visit there. She loved it. She enjoys learning the history of things and the museum certainly tells the story of John Deere creating a special plow for Midwest soil that eventually launched the company into tractors. Purchasing the Waterloo Gas Engine factory – home of the famous Waterloo Boy – solidified Deere’s role as the leader in farm equipment. The Waterloo plant was the first to produce gas-powered tractors.

The Waterloo Boy launched John Deere into a major leadership role in agri-business.

Single Speed Brewery

While I’m not much of a drinker anymore (if at all, really), I enjoy brewery tours. Cedar Falls-based Singlespeed Brewery opened its Waterloo location earlier this year in an old Hostess Bakery plant. The 20-barrell brewery produces the company’s mainstay flavors. Following our tour, we ordered a flight of four beers to sample. Each was tasty, but my favorite was Singlespeed’s Tricycle, which offered more of a pale ale taste for me.

We enjoyed a flight of beer samples following our tour at Singlespeed Brewery.

Community Playhouse

We tried something new during our visit to Waterloo; we took in a local community theater production. Members of the city’s Community Playhouse performed “Nunsense”. The musical – about a team of nuns trying to raise money to bury other nuns accidentally poisoned by dinner – is a comedy that used updated jokes. I’ve become a fan of musicals through the years, and enjoyed this show. The actresses portraying the nuns hit the right notes and their comedy was good. Comedy is tough to do, but these folks pulled it off. The band they “borrowed” from the Jewish Bar Mitzvah down the hall added to the mixed religion humor. The audience laughed at the right and seemed to enjoy the show.

The Waterloo Community Playhouse produces some interesting acts. We enjoyed “Nunsense.”

Our visit allowed us to spend time downtown, so we enjoyed checking out the architecture. With buildings more than a century old, the downtown area met our goal of enjoying older buildings repurposed to extend their loves.

The James Black Dry Goods Company building is undergoing some renovation. It’s more than a century old.

Downtown is ‘Food Central’

Downtown offered some great food opportunities. We pulled a first during a trip – we ate at the same restaurants each day. We usually try to sample a variety of local restaurants, but Bryan’s on 4th and Newton’s Paradise Café each struck a chord with us and we enjoyed dining at each location.

We loved Newton’s rotating neon sign.

Newton’s Paradise Cafe

Newton’s was our breakfast hangout. With an old-fashioned neon sign that rotated, the café gave us a sense of nostalgia. The food wasn’t too bad either. Prices are great for the portions you receive. On our first visit, I ordered the biscuits and gravy. Two huge biscuits – and I mean huge – encompassed the large plate, covered with spicy sausage gravy. A sausage patty seemed small by comparison, occupying a corner of the plate. I tried my best, but I could only eat half of a biscuit. The sausage patty was homemade. It brought back childhood memories of when my mom would make sausage patties at breakfast.

There are two huge biscuits under the avalanche of gravy.

The next morning, I decided to try the album-sized pancakes. An order comes with two pancakes. And a sausage patty. Have I mentioned how delicious the sausage is? I ate maybe a third or fourth of the pancakes. There was plenty to send back. I feel bad wasting that amount of food. Our server told us that she’s yet to see anyone actually finish the pancakes. Lisa and I thought the order could easily feed two or three people.

Plate-sized pancakes. Yum!

Oh, Lisa went the safer route – ordering an omelet one day and French toast the second.

Lisa’s omelet was huge.

Bryan’s on 4th

Bryan’s on 4th. Where do I start? The food? Delicious. The service? Outstanding. The music? Music, you say? Oh yeah, following a great meal on Friday night, we visited the Limestone Lounge in the basement to hear classic rock played with a jazz and blues style by none other than Chef Bryan, himself. The chef, who owns, the restaurant and lounge, leads a band of employees jamming weekend nights. The music really is impressive.

Chef Bryan leads the house band The Spriggs at the Limestone Lounge.

The food is amazing. One night, I tried steak tips with seasonal vegetables. The food was succulent. Seasoned perfectly, I couldn’t stop talking about it afterward. The next night, I went for the bison ribeye steak. The steak was so large (about 16 ounces), I couldn’t finish it. Prepared exactly as I requested, it was juicy and had the right amount of pink in the middle.

A bison ribeye was delicious.

Lisa went with fish both nights. The trout on Friday was great, in her review. It came with a fish head on the plate. The server warned us. We thought it added to the presentation. The fish looked angry. But, again, who wouldn’t be if you were the main course of a meal. We nicknamed it “Angry Trout.” Her next night choice was a safer walleye. No head, but the same delicious taste she enjoyed the night before.

Lisa’s “angry” trout.

Service was outstanding. The staff quickly welcomes you and treats you like an old friend.

We roamed around the city’s park grounds over lunch one day, smelling the favors being prepared for the city’s annual “BBQLoo and Blues Too” festival. We enjoyed a BBQ pork lunch from a vendor and listened to some decent music.

We enjoyed BBQ at the “BBQLoo and Blues Too” festival.

Great accommodations

We enjoyed our stay at the Hampton Inn. We’ve stayed at a Hampton before and knew what to expect. We appreciate that. The service was good. Our room was excellent. We had a nice sofa to relax on and watch some TV to unwind.

The Hampton Inn provided a great base for our stay. The room was comfortable.

The work desk was spacious and allowed me to have my stuff spread out – camera equipment and laptop and accessories. We liked the multiple outlets for plugging in chargers and computers, etc.

I enjoyed the work space.

The Hampton has a nice fitness center, which is important to me, as I like to ensure I get a good start on my 10,000-15,000 steps a day goal.

Cedar Valley Arboretum and Botanical Gardens

Our final stop on the trip was to smell the flowers and find the gnomes at the Cedar Valley Arboretum and Botanical Gardens. The 40-acre botanical gardens offer an outstanding variety of flowers and plants, from roses, day lilies and perennials to shrubs, trees and even rocks. Visitors can spend at least 90 minutes walking around the gardens taking in the beautifully designed gardens.

Flowers were in bloom at the Waterloo botanical garden.

The arboretum hosts an annual gnome “hunt.” Visitors can use a map and find all the gnomes around the garden (hint: there are 17 of them). Each gnome has its own name. I was partial the one named Tim located in – where else? – Tim’s Garden. I thought it was awfully nice of them to name a garden in my honor for our visit. Wait. What? Aw, man, I guess it’s the actual name of the garden. Oh well. A guy can dream.

The Cedar Valley Arboretum and Botanical Gardens host a gnome hunt. We found me in my garden, err, Tim the Gnome in Tim’s Garden.

Regardless of the reason to visit, Waterloo offers a lot for visitors to do over a weekend. You may want to take an extra day and hang out at the Lost Island water park. USA Today named the park as one of the Top 10 in the country. Water parks aren’t our gig, but I’m sure if we had a niece or nephew along with us on the trip, it may have been another story. The park has an assortment of water fun, as well as go karts and a miniature golf course (more my style).

We recommend visiting Waterloo. We’re sure you’ll have a great time. For more information on Waterloo, please visit

Disclaimer: Thank you to the Waterloo visitors bureau for the complimentary tickets to events and attractions, the hotel and Bryan’s on 4th. However, all opinions and views are ours.