Clarinda, Iowa


Confession time: I visited Clarinda so long ago that I had to excavate my notes from piles of more recent travel and research literature littering my desk. And I couldn’t find my photos, either….I really had to hunt for them on my laptop.

I had gone to Clarinda on a very hot day – a day most unlike today, which has been brutally cold – in June. It was Saturday, June 20 to be exact. I went there for a couple of reasons: to visit the Glenn Miller Birthplace Museum, but more importantly to see the Clarinda mental health facility, because I was doing research on that type of institutional design.

I also wanted to kill two birds with one stone with that trip and stop in Greenfield, Iowa, on the way home, but by the time I got there it was too late and everything I wanted to see was closed. Why I never got around to posting anything about Clarinda last summer I can’t say. But, anyway, I digress.


I got a late start out of Ames, so I didn’t get to Clarinda, which is very near the Missouri border in Page County, until well after 1 o’clock, and I was hungry. I arrived at the town square and found Vaughn’s Café (below) right across from the courthouse (above). The bank clock said it was 94 degrees. The sign on the front of the restaurant promised breakfast any time. I went inside.


I didn’t end up ordering breakfast, although it sounded good, because what I really wanted was pie. Pie is weird with breakfast. And besides, the weekend breakfast buffet was only up until 1 p.m., and servers were dismantling it when I walked in. So I ordered a salad and grilled cheese sandwich from the lunch menu and pondered the décor: walls lined with cows and chickens and other farm scenes out of a by-gone era. I like that. It’s very small-town. The food was fine, nothing special, and I ordered a piece of pecan pie with ice cream. The soft-serve ice cream they used melted immediately and my warm pie was swimming in a pool of creamy white. It was very messy but altogether yummy.


After lunch, I walked around the square a bit and then headed to the Glenn Miller Birthplace Museum. It’s a good one, as these kinds of museums go. The 3,000-square-foot museum – open since 2010 – is filled with memorabilia, photos, and displays, and you can watch a movie if you want. I watched some of it, but I didn’t have time for the whole thing. I do love the music of the Big Band Era, and Miller was obviously a big player in that as well as in Hollywood. He’s arguably the most famous bandleader of the 1940s. He was also a composer, arranger, and director in addition to being a trombonist. And, apparently, a controlling perfectionist. If you’re a fan, I think you will love this museum.




When I was there, the special, rotating exhibits were “The World in Flames” – an exhibit from the National Archives that features WWII – and “Next to a Letter From Home” – photos and words from Miller and his band members exploring the impact of his Army Air Force Band. The museum website still lists these as current special exhibits.

The birthplace home (below), on the same grounds as the main museum, is intact and can be visited. I thought it was charming.




The museum, located at 122 W. Clark Street just south of downtown, is open Tuesday-Sunday 1-5 p.m. General admission is $6 and includes both the museum and the home.

After touring the Glenn Miller Museum, I headed north of town to the Clarinda Mental Health Institute, which is now apparently closed (or was, or will be, or might be? It’s become very political and confusing). But at any rate it was definitely still open when I visited in June. This facility, along with the Cherokee and Independence mental hospitals, is built in the style of historic insane asylums known as Kirkbride Buildings. I’m fascinated by this style, and I wish I could get inside these buildings and tour every nook and cranny, but in reality you’re lucky if you can wander the grounds and take pictures of the exteriors. I won’t say any more about this here, because I’m working on another blog post about these (stay tuned!) So I’ll just give you a sneak peek at this gorgeous old building in Clarinda:




2 comments so far

  1. Earhart on

    Clarinda Iowa is birthplace & hometown of my husband Don. His parents & Grandparents lived & died there. Wonderful small town!

  2. Bonnie Evans Cameron on

    Clarinda I call my second hometown. Sidney being my first. I went to school there and married a local boy. It is quaint and homey with nice people and beautiful old homes unequaled anywhere. Beautiful streets and a quiet sweetness you find in many old Iowa small towns. You can actually hear the birds sing and distinguish just what bird it is. I’ve lived in cities since and it’s difficult to hear the cheerful songs of our feathered friends. Me, I miss the Meadowlark…so sweet the sound!
    Clarinda will ALWAYS OCCUPY A VERY SPECIAL SPOT IN MY HEART as well as those I called friend while living there.
    Some things never change, do they?

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