Life

'American Gothic' town wants HGTV 'Home Town Takeover'

Eldon, Iowa, enters renovation contest to revitalize downtown, add housing

The trees lining the driveway to the American Gothic House and American Gothic House Center are still growing. The trees
The trees lining the driveway to the American Gothic House and American Gothic House Center are still growing. The trees were planted during an earlier round of grant funding from the Branching Out program of Alliant Energy and Trees Forever to the city of Eldon. (Union photo by Vicki Tillis)
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More than 16,000 people visit the southeast Iowa town of Eldon each year to see the white cottage featured as the backdrop for the iconic “American Gothic” painting by Grant Wood.

But the town of about 900 wants to lure more full-time residents and resuscitate its declining downtown.

That’s why Eldon entered HGTV’s “Home Town Takeover” contest in which the network chooses one American town for a “whole-town renovation and restoration project” including rehabbing “multiple individual family homes as well as the revitalization of public spaces — parks, local diners or restaurants and outdoor recreation areas,” according to the contest invitation.

The winning town would be featured in a six-episode special slated to air on HGTV in 2021.

Eldon submitted a five-minute video that makes their pitch (fork), showing a two-block downtown festooned with flags, interviewing students, citizens and public officials and cruising to the American Gothic House and Center, where visitors can don overalls or dresses and hold a pitchfork for photos.

Eldon has struggled in recent years with economic challenges, two floods and a major fire.

“We don’t have a grocery store, we need a restaurant, lodging of some sort would be important,” Jane Sapp, Eldon City Council member, says on the video.

Joel Pedersen, superintendent of the Cardinal Community School District, based in Eldon, says enrollment has increased, but many teachers and staff must live in neighboring towns because Eldon doesn’t have enough housing.

Winning the “Home Town Takeover” would be a “game-changer for our school district to be able to have the opportunity to add quality housing to attract more people to our district,” Pedersen said.

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HGTV asked for towns of 40,000 or fewer residents to enter through Feb. 4 for the contest based on the show “Home Town,” just starting its fourth season. In the first three seasons, Erin and Ben Napier fixed up their hometown of Laurel, Miss., finding rundown houses and bringing them back to life for new residents.

Now the couple wants to take the show on the road for “Home Town Takeover.”

“Applicants should strive to highlight aspects of their town that make it special, fascinating, historic or unique — including distinctive features like vintage period architecture, special destinations or a classic main street,” the contest site states.

YouTube has videos from other towns, including Ashland, KY; Tunkhannock, Penn.; Paulding, Ohio; and Bristown, OK.

The American Gothic house, also known as the Dibble House, met its destiny in 1930, when Wood was visiting Eldon and spotted the large Gothic window, the center reports. Wood sketched the house and returned to Cedar Rapids to paint “American Gothic,” which features what looks like a somber farm couple, but actually was Wood’s sister, Nan, and his dentist, Dr. Byron McKeeby.

The work has been widely parodied, including by HGTV’s “Property Brothers,” Jonathan Silver Scott and Drew Scott, and Tom Arnold and Roseanne Barr, actors who briefly opened a restaurant in Eldon in the early 1990s.

Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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