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Ottumwa Stories: The World Famous American Gothic House

Published April 9, 2024

Did you know that one of the most famous houses in the world is found right here in Wapello County? The American Gothic House is located just 15 miles from Ottumwa in the town of Eldon. The house got its name after being featured as the backdrop for the world-famous painting American Gothic by artist Grant Wood. Wood sketched the house on a visit to Eldon in the summer of 1930 while visiting his friend Edward Rowan, a Cedar Rapids art gallery director, who was experimenting with bringing art to small-town Iowa. 


The Center

In 2007, a visitor center was added to the grounds to educate travellers on the history of the house and the painting. The center features an interactive gallery, where adults and kids alike can play with tablets and LEGOs while learning about Grant Wood and the house. It’s also features a media room with educational videos suitable for all ages, as well as a gift shop where you can purchase a range of American Gothic-inspired merchandise. 


The Parodies

Since the painting's release, the American Gothic House has served as the backdrop to countless parodies of the famous piece. Visitors love having their own picture taken in front of the house, mimicking the farmer and his wife, and it’s definitely a highlight of your visit. Want a more authentic parody picture? The center has costumes available for visitors who want to match the outfits in the original painting. The center is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 1-4 p.m. on Sunday.


House tours

Make your visit to Eldon special by getting a behind-the-scenes look at where the inspiration for that famous painting came from. The interior of the home is open for tours from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the second Saturday of every month from April through October. The house is also open during certain camps and special events throughout the year. Check americangothichouse.org/ for details.


Around the Center

Other activities nearby include a paved walking/biking trail that runs past the house. Chippewa Creek disc golf course winds through the property and is now being expanded from 9 holes to 18. Visitors can also explore the prairie garden located in front of the center, which highlights what Iowa originally looked like when it was settled.


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