This past week we were able to explore a true hidden gem – the Swanson Memorial Park in Clive, Iowa! It’s easy to miss even though it’s alongside a major intersection; the park has a small green space, picnic tables and bench, an old caboose, a historic train depot, and an old-time house/general store. The park is maintained by the Clive Historical Society, and their website has some really fantastic videos and photographs alongside lots of information. The caboose and open space are available and open to the public every day, making it a great spot to stop and explore and relax (free wi-fi!) or have lunch. Checking out the train depot and house require a tour, hosted by one of the volunteers from the historical society.
You can see more specific details on the Swanson Memorial Park page below or check out its location on the interactive map.
I’ve driven past this house at least 5 times in the past year but didn’t read the sign or realize it wasn’t a normal house. The parking lot is small, shared with Bruegger’s Bagels.
We took a tour with a stay-at-home parents group I’m in; I wasn’t sure how it would go over with the 4 & under set but they had fun (and the tour volunteers were incredibly gracious and patient about the shenanigans). The caboose was the main draw; it used to be all red but has been painted recently and has a nice set of stairs for ease of access on one end.
The inside has lots of moving components, with storage, refrigerated storage, a stove, and padded seats. My kids loved running up and down the caboose, checking out the windows, and seeing what all the compartments held.
The courtyard is very cute, with nice picnic tables and shade trees. The outhouse is decorative!
There is a decorative wall and a comfy bench swing as well.
Another shot of the depot/railroad line and some of the signs. There were walnuts all over the ground, my kids enjoyed stacking them on the railroad line and later throwing them through the trees.
There is a detailed diorama showing what 86th street would’ve been back in 1930; the train isn’t running unless there is a tour but you can still see inside at any time.
We got to check it out first hand; it was tough to keep little hands away but fun to imagine a dirt 86th street!
There is a lot to see inside the depot (again, entrance only available with a scheduled tour), with mannequins and lots of luggage and props from that time period.
All the kids liked checking out the dog!
There are smartphone tours if you want to learn more while you’re there, so download a QR code app!
The General Store reminded me of Living History Farms, with a ton of things to look at and see.
Our kind tour guide showed us a neat movie, even if the kids’ attention spans didn’t let us see the entire thing.
My son had LOTS of questions about this stove and how it worked, pretty cool to see him try to figure out what all the pieces did.
I’d like to go back to those grocery prices, right!
There was lots of interest in the old wooden sled and the farm tools, naturally.
The tour lasted about an hour, but we ended up staying for another hour just playing with the walnuts and exploring the caboose. This is a great spot to take train-loving kids or simply to hear more about the history of Clive and how the railroad system helped develop Des Moines’ suburbs! Check out the Clive Historical Society website for more information.