116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
There is a secluded cavern known as Minott's Cave across from Palisades-Kepler State Park where one of the area's first white settlers, Capt. James Sherman Minott, took up residence.
The small, 8-foot circular interior had a 5-foot ceiling. Minott built a lean-to at the entrance of the cave and installed a potbellied stove for warmth in the frigid Iowa winters. From there he hunted, fished and set trap lines until he met and married a Mount Vernon woman.
The couple acquired about 160 acres and opened an inn in 1869 at Lower Palisades across from his former cave home. Minott spent his days rowing guests across the river to various picturesque hollows. He also sold his land in parcels to people who wanted to build cabins along the river.
From the late 1800s to the early 1900s, the Palisades was a popular destination for area residents. The area along the river between Palisades and Ivanhoe was wild and beautiful, and the river between the towering cliffs was cool and inviting in summer.
Roots as popular resort
Charley Meyer was an innkeeper in the 1920s. His establishment, the Rock View Tavern Hotel, sat at the river's edge at Palisades. It was built around the turn of the 20th century and stood three stories tall.
He purchased the hotel as headquarters for the crew that worked for his paperhanging and painting business. Because the area was a popular private resort, area residents asked if he could provide meals for them at the hotel. Soon, Meyer found himself no longer hanging wallpaper but running the hotel.
The popular area boasted a beach for swimming in the summer and a ski run in the winter. There were cabins adjacent to the hotel that were occupied year-round.
The area became a state park in 1922, when the state acquired 140 acres on the opposite side of the river from the hotel. Poet Carl Sandburg, a frequent visitor to Cornell College in the 1920s, liked to picnic there with Cornell professor Clyde Tull, his wife, Jewell Tull, and a few students.
By 1924, Meyer become the first Palisades Park custodian.
Area lawyer Louis Kepler willed 200 acres of his Palisades land to the state of Iowa in 1926, but the state didn't officially accept it. The Kepler estate didn't want to pay taxes on the land, and the state of Iowa didn't want to accept responsibility, either. So Meyer paid the taxes because he was leasing it.
In 1927, the state agreed to accept the Louis Kepler memorial tract but didn't actually do so until 1928. Then the park name changed at Kepler's request to Palisades-Kepler State Park.
Meyer's hotel was razed in 1930.
Growth of a state park
In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps built the park's entrance on Highway 30 near Mount Vernon and many of its buildings, including the lodge in 1933. The corps also constructed the low-head dam on the Cedar at Palisades that was finished in 1936. Two shifts of 40 men each from the corps camp worked on the project.
The dam was approved in 1934 and was meant to provide a lake-like recreation area that included a beach, boating and fishing areas. The Cedar River impeded its construction from the beginning, however.
The dam consisted of a series of cribs divided by four sluiceways, each 10 feet wide. Each steel crib was filled with rock, and a concrete cap was placed over the rock to provide a footbridge over the river. The river had already worn a gap in the structure by 1946 and continually breached the dam over the years until repair was no longer a consideration.
Meyer retired in 1954. He moved to Ingleside, Ill., where he lived until his death in 1966.
His successor, Jerry Kann, found himself facing a severe budget crunch within a few years of taking over the park. After taking his and an assistant's salaries out of the Conservation Commission's budget for the then 650-acre park, he was left with a mere $990 to use for road and building upkeep, gas for mowers and trucks, maintenance of trails and the dam. He was required to turn funds that came in from rental of cabins and camping fees back to the state. By 1959, the commission had decided to repair the dam using prison labor and to complete a $2,000 boat launching ramp.
Unfortunately, the dam washed out the following spring during high water, Kann's assistant was sent to Macbride State Park and complaints started to arise about maintenance at the park. The concessionaire, Dr. Gordon Rahn of Mount Vernon, didn't open boat rental or food facilities that year because of expected low park usage. By 1961, 35,000 tons of rock from the quarry adjacent to the park were trucked in to repair the dam.
Rahn also operated the full-service Ski-Pal ski lodge and slopes at Palisades during the 1960s. Ski-Pal, located just west of the Ivanhoe bridge on Highway 261, featured four tows and a variety of manicured slopes, but it ceased operation in 1968 when the lodge burned to the ground.
Today the park covers 840 acres. It still is a popular place for camping, boating, hiking, picnicking, cross-country skiing and bird watching, or just lazing away a summer afternoon by the river. For more information about Palisades-Kepler State Park, go to www.iowadnr. gov/Destinations/StateParksRec Areas/IowasStateParks/ParkDetails.aspx?ParkID=610113