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Cedar Rock State Park - Notes on Iowa State Park Series, Episode 88

Located along the Wapsipinicon River near Independence in Buchanan County, a 426-acre state park holds natural and historic treasures.


Come along with Notes on Iowa as we explore Cedar Rock State Park.


Centered around the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Lowell Walter Residence, the house stands as a testament to the world-famous architect’s ability to blend his designs into the natural landscape. Known as the prairie school of architecture, Wright took inspiration from the Midwestern landscape create designs often featuring horizontal lines, flat or low-hipped roofs, broad overhanging eves, open floor plans, and other features. Cedar Rock represents Wright’s more specific Usonian-style, a simplified design strategy typically seen in one-story properties with zoned living areas.


Lowell and Agnes Walter, owners of the Iowa Road Building Company, decided to hire Wright to construct a three-seasons home near Lowell’s hometown of Quasqueton. After selling the company to their employees, the Walters contacted Wright during the mid-1940s. Wright started designing Cedar Rock soon after, and construction started during 1948. The site, situated high on a Devonian-Little Cedar limestone and Coralville limestone bluff along the Wapsi River, allowed Wright to design a masterful example of the Prairie School. One of ten Wright designed buildings in Iowa, the Walters moved in during July of 1950 to the home which cost about $150,000 to build, or roughly 30 times the average home price of the era. During late July 1950, a few hundred visitors stopped by to check out the new Wright Masterpiece. Soon after, Wright himself arrived with his wife and several students to enjoy the recently completed residence. Before Lowell Walter passed away during 1981, he and Agnes arranged for the Wright designed house and boathouse to pass to all Iowans. Donated initially as the primary 11-acre parcel including the Wright-designed structures, The Walter Charitable Trust Fund worked with the state to administer the site. During April of 1983, the house officially found listing on the National Register of Historic Places.


Providing an initial $1.5 million to the state for the preservation and maintenance of the home, the site came into the public domain. The house itself, featuring more than 100,000 red bricks and walnut lumber, welcomes the public to view Wright’s vision as the architect intended. With the original furnishing designed by Wright still in tact, Cedar Rock represents one of the best remaining works created by the world-renowned architect. The distinctive boathouse, built to house Walter’s custom-made Thompson Brothers boat now on display at the visitors center, as well as an outdoor entertainment terrace show the full-breadth of Wright’s vision for a Usonian Prairie School property. 


During the 1990s, the trust worked to acquire an additional 185-acres. REAP funding also helped to add additional acres to the site. Soon, plans to construct a visitor center came to fruition on the newly acquired lands. Featuring artifacts, like the speedboat, as well as interpretive displays, the visitor center helped to meet the needs of the nearly 10,000 annual vistors making the trek to the site. Funded by the Walter Charitable Trust through 2009, the state took over full responsibility for funding in 2010.


Also during 2010, the Friends of Cedar Rock group spearheaded a major project to restore the boathouse. Raising roughly $200,000, the group’s efforts allowed the project to reach completion in 2017. During 2018, the organization received the Governor’s Volunteer Award for their work on restoring the important structure. Other projects helped to take care of the natural wonders at the site, including an extensive prairie restoration and maintenance project.


Today, Cedar Rock State Park offers visitors a variety of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors in eastern Iowa.  The house and boathouse still stand as prime example of Wright’s signature design. Open seasonally, visitors can fully immerse themselves in one of most complete remaining representations of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian design. The visitor center provides free tours while operating seasonally. A QR code hike offers tech-saavy visitors with a great option for learning about natural and cultural resources within the park, while others may just want to wander the grounds while soaking in the diverse prairie and hardwood forest landscapes.


Next time you find yourself looking to get out and enjoy Iowa’s public lands, consider a stop at Cedar Rock State Park. A truly stunning representation of Iowa’s natural beauty and a testament to the necessity of maintaining opportunities to get outdoors for all Iowans, Cedar Rock State Park shines as a must visit for all people hoping to see Iowa Slowly.


Thanks for coming along with notes on Iowa to explore Cedar Rock State Park.


Make sure to subscribe to the Notes on Iowa website, subscribe on YouTube, follow on social media, and tune in each Sunday to explore the history of Iowa’s state parks, preserves, and other public lands.


I hope I’ll see you out there!


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