Communities of Greene County - Jefferson
The town of Jefferson is respected statewide for the quality of life it provides its residents from educating its young people, to a healthy mix of progressive industries and other business firms, to its strong professional community, and its myriad of social, religious, charitable and non-profit organizations, Jefferson is a good place to live.
Jefferson is also a great place to visit, with a growing collection of tourist attractions. Foremost among those is the Mahanay Memorial Carillon Tower, located on the southwest corner of the courthouse plaza. Dedicated in October 1966, the 168 foot tower was a $350,000 gift to the people of the city and county by the late Floyd and Dora Mahanay, lifetime Jefferson residents. The carillon, consisting of 14 bells from the Petit-Fritzen foundry in The Netherlands, sounds the Westminster chime every quarter hour. A popular observation tower at the 120 foot level, reached by a glassed elevator, allows visitors a panoramic view of the countryside for many miles.
Jefferson is the northern starting point of the Raccoon River Valley Trail, a hard-surfaced bicycle path that runs through communities in Greene, Guthrie and Dallas counties, and then on into the Des Moines suburbs, about 89 miles in all. Opened in 1997, the trailhead is located at the restored Milwaukee Railroad depot on the historic Lincoln Highway in Jefferson. A growing number of cyclists from all over the Midwest are discovering the trail and the community, and they return regularly.
The depot, in addition to its historical significance, also serves as a venue for community gatherings. The space has public restrooms, a small kitchenette and ample tables and chairs for meetings, family gatherings, baby showers and even sit-down dinners along the trail. The rental fee is modest and arrangements can be made through the Greene County Chamber.
Art in the broader sense plays an important role in the life of the community. A number of buildings downtown are graced by wall-to-wall exterior murals. There are an active community theater, a youth summer theater group, several quilters' groups, a popular garden club, and other arts-oriented organizations. And the Tower View Team, a committee of Jefferson Matters: Main Street is actively working to bring public art to the rooftops of buildings visible from the Mahanay Tower. "Tower View Team: TVT - Wait Til You See"
Visitors to the Mahanay Tower, the depot and the bike trail usually enjoy a stroll through the three-story Greene County courthouse at the center of town.The Greene County Courthouse sits in the middle of the Jefferson business district, and is constructed of Bedford stone in 1917, the handsome Greek revival building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A reproduction of the county seal, a "Horn of Plenty" cornucopia in mosaic tile, dominates the center of the rotunda floor. Lunette paintings grace the four walls of the dome. Renovations to the stained glass domes in the rotunda and the courtroom undertaken in 2014 are expected to be complete in early 2015.
Jefferson sits astride the original Lincoln Highway, the first coast-to-coast thoroughfare for automobiles and trucks. Immediately following World War One, the new Lincoln Highway Association and the U.S. Army promoted a cross-country military convoy that mostly followed the route designated as the Lincoln Highway, duplicating the Chicago and Northwestern route through Iowa.
Three days after the 1919 convoy, which included young Army officer Dwight David Eisenhower, who 33 years later returned to Jefferson on a whistle-stop C&NW railroad tour during his successful campaign for President, left Jefferson, Greene County voters approved a referendum that made the county the first in the state to pave the Lincoln Highway from county line to county line.
The spacious and well-designed Greene County Historical Society Museum, on the Lincoln Highway a block east of the square, is dubbed by State Historical Society officials as one of the best historical museums in rural Iowa. The museum displays "rooms" of early-day stores and professional offices, complete with original equipment and retail goods, as well as walls and cases full of old-time Greene County historical artifacts. There's even a life-size mock-up of an early coal mine, several of which operated in the southeast part of the county until well into the 20th Century.
The unique Telephone Museum, located in the Communications Building of the Jefferson Telephone Company, displays antique telephone equipment from the early days of the communications industry. It's a collection that exists nowhere else in the state.
Jefferson was the childhood home of the late George Gallup Jr., founder of modern polling methods. He was born here, graduated from school (where he served as player-coach for the high school football team and edited the school newspaper), and then headed for the University of Iowa. The Gallup home, a unique eight-sided house in the South part of town, designed by George's father, is now owned by the company that bears his name, Gallup and Robinson. The home has been renovated and is a delightful place for conferences, meetings, lodging for a special occasions.
Visitors to Jefferson find comfortable accommodations for dining and lodging, with two motels, plenty of restaurants, and camping facilities nearby.
Local residents are justly proud of the Greene County School District, which includes what one state education official calls "the best comprehensive high school in the state of Iowa." The school offers about 50 different college credit courses, and serves as a regional high school for Greene County, providing upper-level classes for dozens of students from the county's other high schools. Nine of the 94 J-S teachers are nationally certified, one of the highest percentages of all Iowa school districts. Test scores in the district at all grade levels typically rank in the top 80 per cent nationally and above the average in Iowa.
Thirteen churches offer residents their respective worship opportunities, and they also contribute significant organizational and volunteer help to worthwhile civic projects: Helping Hands home improvement for the needy, Adopt-A-Family at Christmastime, and the Webb House youth center, to name just a few examples.
The Jefferson Public Library recently celebrated its Centennial, dating its origin from the Carnegie-funded building a block west of the downtown square. The library's book collection is impressive, but the facility offers much, much more to area residents, including public computers.
Jefferson community leaders are positioning the community for progressive, 21st Century growth. Greene County Development Corporation executive director Ken Paxton puts it this way: "With strong, generous support from city and county government, the business community, and many organizations and individuals, we see our future as very bright indeed. Our location in central Iowa, just a short drive from the Des Moines metro area and Iowa State University, is an added plus. We welcome everyone who's looking for a great place to visit, to work, or to live."