116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
HISTORY HAPPENINGS: Learn some history and have a bite
History Center programs convene at restaurants, serving up history of the area with the food
By Jessica and Rob Cline, - The History Center
Feb. 21, 2023 5:00 am
The History Center’s “Bite of History” program is one of the organization’s most popular.
Each “Bite of History” event takes place in a locally owned Linn County restaurant and features a presentation about the history of the area where the restaurant is situated. Attendees can enjoy some wonderful food while learning more about their community.
While we can’t replicate the dining experience, we can give you a taste of the fascinating history shared by History Center Program Manager Jenny Thielman.
Take, for example, the “Bite of History” event held at Moco Game Room & Hot Dog Bar, 1602 E Ave. NE in Cedar Rapids.
Coe, Mount Mercy
Moco is between Coe College and Mount Mercy University, and each institution gets its due in the “Bite of History” program.
Coe (which turns out to be the shortest name of any American institution of higher education) was founded by the Rev. Williston Jones in 1851 as The School for the Prophets.
The nascent institution received a donation of $1,500 — almost $60,000 in today’s dollars — from a Catskills farmer named Daniel Coe who gave the money on the condition that the school would provide education to both men and women. The money arrived sewn into the petticoat of woman who traveled to Iowa by stagecoach.
The college bore two more names — Cedar Rapids Collegiate Institute (1853) and Parsons Seminary (1868) — before being renamed for Coe in 1875. And the school’s name changed from Coe Collegiate Institute to Coe College in 1881.
When the Sisters of Mercy bought Mound Farm and the Greene mansion in 1907, the goal was to open a girls’ boarding school. That school, Sacred Heart Academy, lasted until 1924. At that time, it became Mount Mercy Academy; four years later, it became Mount Mercy Junior College — a two-year institution for women. Mount Mercy became a four-year college in 1960 and opened to men in 1969. In 2010, it became Mount Mercy University.
The Moco presentation also included information about sites in the neighborhood that had connections to artist Grant Wood.
For example, Wood’s childhood home is located at 318 14th St. NE. Wood’s mother, Hattie, bought the home for $2,580 after her husband died. Grant had been born near Anamosa in 1891, and the move to Cedar Rapids came when he was 10 years old. He attended Polk School (winning third place in a national art contest) and Washington High School, graduating in 1910.
Also in the neighborhood was the practice of Dr. Byron McKeeby, the dentist who would later serve as the model for the man depicted in Wood’s famed “American Gothic” painting.
McKeeby’s practice was on the upper floor of a commercial building at 1508 First Ave. NE. For a time, his practice was downtown, but he returned to this earlier location shortly before retiring in the mid-1940s. At the time, he lived next door at 1512 First Ave. NE.
Wood — along with his friend and fellow artist Marvin Cone — is memorialized in Daniels Park, at 940 Oakland Rd. NE, just a couple of blocks from Moco.
The park was planned by Harland Bartholomew & Associates, a landscape architecture firm from St. Louis. The original plan included two picnic areas, a playground, and a rose garden as well as tennis courts, softball fields, badminton courts and spots for pitching horseshoes.
A wading pool — since replaced by a splash pad — was added in the 1950s.
The memorial to Wood was dedicated in the park in 1993. The Cone memorial was dedicated two years later.
Keep your eye on The History Center website (historycenter.org) or social media to find out where and when the next “Bite of History” event will be.
Our thanks to Jenny Thielman for sharing her research with us for this column.
Jessica Cline is a Leadership & Character Scholar at Wake Forest University. Her dad, Rob Cline, is not a scholar of any kind. They write this monthly column for The History Center. Comments: HistoricalClines@gmail.com