A taste of history: Walking tour highlights historic food locations in Iowa City

Iowa City's Clinton Street as seen in 1854 -- photo by Isaac Wetherby
Iowa City’s Clinton Street as seen in 1854 — photo by Isaac Wetherby

Historic Walking Food Tour

Old Capitol (starting point) — Saturday and Sunday, April 18-19 at 1 p.m.

Have you ever wondered where Iowa City’s food culture came from, or what foods and drinks are specifically tied to Iowa City, and why? Have you ever wanted to know what the heck people were eating here in 1850, long before grabbing a burger at George’s was even an option?

As part of the Old Capitol Museum’s series “The Land Provides: Iowa’s Culinary History,” Rachel Wobeter, a student in museum studies at the University of Iowa, will lead a Historic Walking Food Tour on Saturday, April 18 and Sunday, April 19 from 1 – 3 p.m.

During the tour, Wobeter will guide participants to various Iowa City locations important to the town’s culinary history. The tour will discuss various elements of Iowa City’s food scene between the years 1830 and 1900, including grocers, restaurants, hotels and brewers. Participants will learn the proud history of John’s Grocery, what the most popular bar munchies of the 19th century were and why an old brewery, in true hipster fashion, only sold Pabst beer. Wobeter says that locals and out-of-towners alike will get something out of this immersive tour.

“Food is something that everyone can relate to and find a connection with,” said Wobeter. “For those who are familiar with Iowa City, this tour will reveal hidden secrets and stories that will make them look at the city in a new light, and people who aren’t familiar with Iowa City will enjoy the tour because it includes lots of general information about 19th century food trends and culture.”

Clinton Street as seen in the early 20th century -- photo by Fred Kent
Clinton Street as seen in the early 20th century — photo by Fred Kent

The tour will start at the Old Capitol and travel to Clinton Street Social Club, Pullman Diner, Devotay and John’s Grocery. Along the way, samples of food and beer (for those over 21) will be offered to help illuminate the historical narrative and allow participants to consider how food has changed since the 19th century.

“As our industrial food system is changing at the speed of light, we’ve ventured extremely far away from our food roots,” said Wobeter. “This tour helps people stop and reflect on our old foodways.”

The walking distance of the tour will be about 1.5 miles total and will take place regardless of the weather. The suggested donation is $15, and pre-registration is required; to register, contact Kathrine Moermond at 319-335-0546.

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