RAGBRAI Route Inspection Pre-Ride Day 7 – Burlington to Keokuk

It’s the last day of the RAGBRAI XLVII Route Inspection! Time to Rally out of the Alley and on to the Biggest Dam Dip on the Mississipp in Keokuk!

Yes it’s the last day, but you’ll need to take it seriously with 62.6 miles and 1,725 feet of climb. Anyone who skips out on the last day is cheating themselves of a gorgeous day of riding, including the towns of Middletown (we’re back!), Denmark, West Point, Franklin, Donnellson (Meeting Town), Montrose, and last but not least, Keokuk. Click this text for a map of the seventh and final day of RAGBRAI XLVII.

Before we get down to the details, we would like to send out a big THANK YOU to Helen, Lyle, Jack, John, and Lynda, our amazing ride support (we would be lost without you… literally!!), to Rich Ketcham of GeoBike.com who wrote our mapping software, and to Brian Powers and Zach “Juice” Boyden-Holmes of The Des Moines Register for taking photos along the way (without them you would be looking at a blurry photo gallery with thumbs in the corner of each pic).

Click this text to see the photo gallery from Day 7 by Zach Boyden Holmes of The Des Moines Register

Here are the towns that we visited today:


Middletown is a great place to stop and rest on your way out of Burlington in the morning. Check yesterday’s blog for more info on their plans for us on RAGBRAI XLVI!

For more information on Middletown, visit:



Denmark will offer riders a great chance to hope off their bikes and get a breathers.  Their beautiful tree lined park with plenty of pavilions will give riders the shade that they crave.  Their will be a few vendors including pancakes at the Fire Station.


West Point will have their latest version of Mount RAGBRAI.  You can’t miss the photo op as you pull into town.  Most of the activity will be found in City Park in downtown West Point.  There you will find food vendors, music, and any cold beverage riders would like.  They also have planned several yard games including Giant Beer Pong.  Food will be provided by food trucks and local groups. Bands and a DJ will provide the entertainment.

There won’t be a traditional beverage garden as there are five bars all located in one block downtown.

Some interesting facts about West Point:

  • West Point Presbyterian Church was erected during 1838-1839, the first brick building in West Point and first brick church in Iowa. It is now the oldest church of its denomination in the state.
  • Jane Casey, Great Grandmother of Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain). Twain was nine years old when his great grandmother passed away.

Mark your calendar to come back to West Point for their Sweet Corn Festival August 8th-11th. This festival serves free all-you-can-eat sweet corn and has free entertainment. Barbecue pork chop and pork dinners are served daily. Arts and crafts, bingo, 5K and 10K runs, tractor pulls, children’s contests, a Queen crowning, and a parade are some of the festivities of the day. The day before the festival begins, almost the entire population turns out to shuck 17 tons of sweet corn.


For more information on West Point’s RAGBRAI plans, visit:



Franklin is a beautiful shady town that has a surprise for you if you look up – they have a native population of all white squirrels! Their vendors will include the Lee County Pork Producers with a pork loin – we tried this and it was mouth wateringly good. They will also host the Lee County Cattlemen, Boy Scouts with water and Gatorade, a taco truck, cheese curds, and more! The Franklin Tap is a great bar with a shady patio, and they will open bright and early for you. They’ll have four beer bars out back to make ordering quick, and also have pop, Gatorade, and water if you’re not in the mood for beer. Be sure to stay a while and listen to The Hillsiders, the band will be playing right next to the Tap.

Crank your bike into Franklin, the City of Stone. Some of the purist limestone in the United States was used right here in Franklin to build numerous homes, a school, a church and the Christian Herschler Winery and Stagecoach Stop. This is the only registered Stagecoach Stop in Lee County. See for yourself what their hard-working ancestors were able to create.

Franklin (population 140) is well known for its Fourth of July celebration. The park fills with people listening to the various bands, visiting and smelling the delicious BBQ chicken, hamburgers and brats being cooked by the men. The women prepare various side dishes to be served with the BBQ. People come from all over to enjoy the meal and raffle drawings that help to raise money for improvements in their small town. And when the sun goes down a fantastic firework display showers the sky for all visiting patrons to marvel at.

Don’t miss out on viewing the Rat Rods for a lesson in ingenuity at its finest. These are one of a kind vehicles that will have riders chuckling at the many ways that objects can be used to make a “fine-looking” ride.

Enjoy their beautiful park with its bandstand and numerous shade trees. Today there are vendors selling pork loins, ribeyes, Mexican food and some tasty cheese curds. And be sure to stop at the beer and wine garden by the friendly Franklin Tap and get out there and shake your tail feathers to one of their local bands.

While visiting, keep an eye out for their very rare white squirrels who have chosen to make Franklin their home.

Franklin hopes riders come back to visit them; it’s a simple life in a simple town.

DONNELLSON (Meeting Town)

Donnellson is our last meeting town for the week as we ride from Burlington to Keokuk.

The town will have a Pickle theme. “Small town Big Dill.” Donnellson will have lots of food options and some fun activities. Iowa’s oldest fair needs to replace their grandstands! All proceeds from RAGBRAI will go to this large project and the whole community is involved!

All the events will be held at the Lee County Fairgrounds, which hosts Iowa’s Oldest Fair.  The buildings of the fairgrounds offer lots of shade under the bleachers of the racetrack and several pavilions.  All the support vehicles will be on the same grounds as the riders so it will be real convenient to meet up with your support crew and enjoy a great town.

The Fair board will serve Pickle Sandwiches (creatively putting items like chicken salad or turkey on pickles), lots of pie and ice cream! They will also be local nonprofits and some for profits like delicious BBQ brisket!

Ghost of Judas will be playing for entertainment and you can also participate in Human Foosball, Redneck H2O slide, Bike art display, Mike Burke—Angel Wings, Night of mayhem demo car signatures, 4th petting zoo with candid animal photo shoots

Some other sites of interest in town include Green Acres Golf Course and Restaurant, Railroad Depot Park and Westview Park.

For more information on Donnellson’s RAGBRAI plans, visit:



Montrose is planning a step back in time – back to a time when the riverfront was teeming with paddle wheel steamboats, the loud shrill of steamboat whistles, roustabouts rushing around loading and unloading cargo, passengers waiting for the next boat. Much of this activity was due to the location of the Des Moines Rapids in the Mississippi River between Montrose and Keokuk. The cry “Mark Twain” (or twelve feet) was often heard as the linesman measured the depth of the river to determine safe passage of the steamboat. Montrose invites riders to stop in, “Come Mark Your Twain”, and find safe passage as they ride the last, and most beautiful, leg down the Mississippi River.

There will be a combination of local and outside vendors providing a variety of food and non-food items.  The activity will be centered around the Riverfront Landing.  You’ll find shade in the park and shelter in the landing.

The entertainment committee is hard at work booking live entertainment to provide music, a casting competition, and a variety of games to play in the shade. There will be live button cutting demonstrations, antique steam whistles for attendees to sound off, photo boards and ops set up, and a name signing station to “Mark Your Twain!”

There is great scenery, historical, and interesting sites to check out around Montrose including:  St. Barnabas Church, Reading Tree statue at the Library, the Dragoon Trail marker, the Mississippi River mile marker, Soldiers’ Circle and Civil War Cannon, Cato Meed Plaque, Cal McVey Plaque, Railroad Car and Baggage Cart, Montrose Murals, Hunold Heritage Center, and The Mississippi River observation deck.

The local spots to check out include, The Double Dipper, Montrose Sandbar, and Fat Jimmy’s Smokehouse.  Fat Jimmy’s is located on the road out of town.  You’ll smell the bbq before you see the place.

Montrose Riverfront, Inc. is a 501c3, all volunteer organization that works toward “preserving the past, promoting the present, and planning for the future.”  Montrose Riverfront’s projects from the past include transformation of an old fertilizer building into a beautiful community building, the Landing Building and establishing the Hunold Heritage Center. These two building are key to helping facilitate the community events and allow the preservation of Montrose’s past. The floor in the Landing Building is needing resurfaced due to so much community use and the roof of the Hunold Heritage Center is needing replaced.

The theme is “Come Mark Your Twain” #whatthehecksatwain.


For more information on Montrose’s RAGBRAI plans, visit:



Keokuk is excited to welcome us after a decades-long gap since we last visited. There will be plenty of vendors, and have made plans to make pickups easy.

With the efforts of Radio KeokukGlitter Salad will be Keokuk’s entertainment! They will be delighting your ears from 10-2 and the beer tent will quench your thirst from 10-4! “If ‘Ladies Night’ (Logan Schrapf) is Keokuk’s premier and most talented solo act, Glitter Salad is the Mount Rushmore of the southeast Iowa music scene.” – Chief Keokuk

The Iowa Gallivant did a great write up about some of their RAGBRAI plans here: https://theiowagallivant.com/2019/06/03/scouting-ragbrai-2019-the-power-of-keokuks-party-part-1-of-2/?fbclid=IwAR0ZGBKtnkXPr5lFwfrDWigM_5scaS0RJzubvhnWMTtksv2E3vYRuy1rl7w

Historical or interesting things about your town:

The City of Keokuk (pronounced /ki:əkuk/) is named for Chief Keokuck, a chief of the Sac and Fox Indians. His bones were brought here in 1883 from Franklin County, Kansas, and reinterred in Rand Park beneath a massive stone pedestal which is surrounded by a life-sized statue of an Indian chieftain. On the east side of this monument is embedded the marble slab taken from the grave in Kansas which is lettered as follows: “Sacred to the memory of Keokuck, a distinguished Sac chief born at Rock Island in 1788. Died in April, 1848.” Keokuck, “The Watchful Fox”, was not a hereditary chief, but raised himself to the dignity by the force of talent and enterprise. He was a man of extraordinary eloquence in council and never at a loss in an emergency. He was a noble looking man about six feet tall, portly and weighing over 200 pounds. He had an eagle eye, dignified bearing, and a manly, intelligent expression of countenance.  Ride past “the Watchful Fox” when you enter Keokuk on RAGBRAI XLVII.

On November 23, 1985 a new Keokuk Hamilton (IL) bridge was opened. This bridge which is 3,340 feet long and 64 feet wide eliminates the tie up of traffic from the former swing span bridge, allowing both automobile and barge traffic to move more efficiently.

For years the citizens of Keokuk, Iowa had been dreaming of creating a river museum which would serve as a perpetual reminder of the tremendous amount of river lore that is associated with this community. Their dream came true when officials of the ARMCO Steel Corporation donated their sternwheeler, the George M. Verity. With this generous gift and the cooperation of the American Commercial Barge Lines, along with the cooperation of the Sioux City, New Orleans Barge Lines, the project became a reality. The George M. Verity is permanently berthed in Victory Park, which is on the Mississippi River just a few yards below Lock 19. To passers-by on the river and to tourists traveling on the road, this makes a very interesting and historical stop.  As of right now it is still planned to be the site of the dip site for RAGBRAI XLVII but there has been massive flooding this year.


A 1,200 feet long, 110 feet wide lock with new guide walls was completed in 1957. It greatly facilitates river traffic, enhances the riverfront immeasurably and provides one of the greatest improvements on the entire Mississippi River. It replaced a 438-foot lock built with the dam in 1910.

Prior to the construction of the dam across the Mississippi River, the first and largest of its kind when erected, Keokuk was the shipping headquarters of the river. Just above the city were a series of rapids and channels, and further water traffic involved heavy lightening charges and transshipment. Keokuk has always been a natural shipping point due to its excellent location.  A new Keokuk-Hamilton Dam Museum will open in July of 2019.  The return trip from the dip site to your vehicle (on RAGBRAI XLVII) will take you right be the Museum at 5th & Main.



The City of Keokuk, located in Lee County, is at the junction of the Des Moines River and the Mississippi River, in the extreme southeast corner of the state. East of the Mississippi River lies the state of Illinois, and southwest of the Des Moines River lies the state of Missouri. The city is located on bluffs approximately 200 feet high and has an average altitude of 655 feet above sea level, Memphis datum.

The Des Moines River is Iowa’s principal stream. It rises in the northwestern part of the state and flows diagonally across the state to Keokuk. Its course has always been a natural highway.

During the Civil War, Keokuk became an embarkation for all Iowa’s soldiers. 80,000 Iowans were temporarily in Keokuk on their way to participate in that great struggle. Five large hospitals were established to care for the wounded that were brought north on the river. As a result, Keokuk now has the only national cemetery for the hero dead in the State of Iowa. Negotiations were successfully concluded under the John L. Ward administration, with the U. S. Government, to enlarge the National Cemetery. In December, 1942, the City of Keokuk deeded to the Government additional ground so that the cemetery has been enlarged and beautified. A new entrance-way and other improvements have been added.


The Iowa Indians (Sleepy Ones), from whom the state takes its name, were one of the southern Siouan tribes included by Dorsey with Otoes and Missouris in his Chiwere group. According to their traditions, they once formed part of the Winnebago nation, with which they lived north of the Great Lakes. In 1848 a member of the tribe prepared a map showing the movements of the Iowas from the time they settled on the Rock River. The legend accompanying the map says that the tribe separated from the Sacs and Foxes and wandered off westward in search of a new home. Crossing the Mississippi River, they turned southward and reach a high bluff near the mouth of the Iowa River. Looking over the beautiful valley spread out before them, they halted, exclaimed “Ioway” signifying in their language, “This is the place.”

The territory thus appropriated by the Iowas included the present county of Lee, though the tribe afterward established its headquarters in what is now Mahaska County, which bears the name of a noted Iowa chief. Lewis and Clark met some of this tribe in their expedition up the Missouri in 1804 and refer to them in their journal as the “Ayouways,” though the name is generally written “Iowa” or “Ioway”, by historians. The Iowa Indians have long since disappeared, but the name remains to designate one of the great states of the Mississippi Valley.

Keokuk (the watchful fox) was born in 1788. His mother was allegedly a French half-breed. He arose to his position of leadership through sheer merit and diplomacy. He was a cunning master of intrigue. He converted most of the tribe to his views in the Black Hawk War and remained peaceful. In a debate in Washington, D. C., he vanquished the Sioux and the other northern tribes and established the claim of the Sacs and Foxes to the territory now comprising the State of Iowa.


The colossal dam and hydraulic plant of the AMEREN is the outcome of a dream of many area people. The first attempt to harness the Mississippi River was in 1842, but the wing dam was carried away by a great ice jam.

In 1843, Joseph Smith, the Mormon leader, of Nauvoo, IL secured passage of an ordinance by the Council of that city authorizing a dam at that point. However, he was killed by a mob at the Carthage, IL jail before he could commence work. In 1868 the Government began construction of a channel nine miles long along the dangerous rapids above Keokuk. It was completed in 1877, at a cost of $4,500,000. It contained three locks, $3,000,000 was spent on a drydock.

In 1899 Charles P. Birge called a meeting of some 25 citizens of Keokuk and Hamilton, IL to consider the construction of a dam. In April, 1900 the Keokuk and Hamilton Water Power Company was incorporated with A. E. Johnstone, President, and Wm. Logan and C. P. Dadant, vice-presidents. In April, 1904, Congressman B. F. Marsh of Illinois introduced a bill to grant the company the right to build a dam across the Mississippi River at Keokuk. This bill was passed Feb. 5, 1905 and President Theodore Roosevelt signed it and precipitated a great celebration and holiday in Keokuk. In April, 1905 a prospectus fell into the hands of the late Hugh L. Cooper, the engineer who had harnessed Niagara Falls. On Sept. 15, 1905 he was given a contract turning over the affairs of the company to his syndicate. This contract required that the project be completed by Feb. 19, 1915. It was finished in 1913 at a cost of $25,000,000. The dam is 4,460 feet long and contains 119 arch spans. Each span contains a steel gate by which the level of the impeded lake is regulated. The powerhouse is 1,712 feet long and 177 feet high. The Government lock between the powerhouse and the City of Keokuk is 438 feet long and 110 feet wide, with walls 52 feet high. In 1957 a $14,000,000 replacement lock, 1200 feet long and 110 feet wide was completed.


From its early history, Keokuk has been an important industrial center. The chief factors that have brought this about are the presence of substantial businessmen of judgment and foresight, excellent shipping facilities and freight rates and the largest hydroelectric power plant on the Mississippi. A large variety of products are manufactured in Keokuk, including almost everything from breakfast foods to steel castings. The wealth of electric power has brought a cluster of important industries to this city.

The U. S. Coast Guard maintains a close supervision of river traffic and safety on the Mississippi River through its unit stationed in Keokuk.


Although geodes of different kinds are found all over the world, the greatest abundance and variety are found in the outcropping of the Mississippian lower Keokuk bed within a 70-mile radius of the intersection of the Mississippi and Des Moines Rivers. Southeastern Iowa is one of the state’s best Geode collecting areas. Geode State Park in Henry County is named for the occurrence of the geode.

The large number of mineral inclusions and the exquisite crystal groups that they form have made the Keokuk Geodes the most beautiful and the most sought after of all geodes by museums and collectors the world over. The most common size of Keokuk Geodes is about 3-4 inches across and sometimes reach 2 feet across and larger. Most Keokuk Geodes occur within a 35-mile radius of Keokuk.

The geode was designated the Iowa State Rock in 1967.  The Keokuk Tourism Bureau hosts the Geode Fest the last weekend of September.

Bevard Collection. The Bevard Collection of Keokuk Geodes found in the tri-state area are displayed at the Keokuk Area Convention & Tourism Office, 428 Main Street, Keokuk.

Famous Citizens: Keokuk didn’t provide this, I found it on Wikipedia before they sent over their info

  • Samuel F. Miller, U.S. Supreme Court justice. Miller grew up in Kentucky. After a few years of practicing medicine, he gave up medicine to study law. Miller was an emancipationist and moved to Iowa because he feared that Kentucky would never free its slaves. After the U.S. Supreme Court lost members because of the secession of the Sothern states, lawyers from Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, and Wisconsin petitioned President Lincoln to appoint Miller. He served from July of 1862 until his death in October of 1890.
  • Orion Clemons, brother of Mark Twain. Secretary of Nevada Territory. Publisher of the first City Directory in Keokuk. Orion, his wife, and his mother all passed away in Keokuk.
  • Howard Hughes—aviator engineer, industrialist, film producer and director, and philanthropist

Interesting Buildings/Restaurants/Sites:

Keokuk River Museum—The George M. Verity, a sternwheeler, serves as a reminder of the tremendous amount of river lore that is associated with Keokuk. The sternwheeler, permanently berthed in Keokuk as a museum, is an interesting and historical stop.





For more information about Keokuk’s RAGBRAI plans, visit:

Thank you for following us all week! You can see all of our pre-ride adventures and learn interesting tidbits about the route by following on Facebook Facebook.com/RAGBRAI or on TWITTER by following @RAGBRAI_IOWA@TJRAGBRAI, or @RAGBRAI_Andrea


Barbara Bieber, Jun 10, 2019 at 3:50 pm

Addition person of note from Keokuk: Edward J McManus, served as Lt. Governor of the State of Iowa and was appointed by President John F Kennedy to serve as Chief Federal District Court Judge for the Northern District of Iowa in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

NANCY Fisch, Jun 11, 2019 at 6:55 am

Thank you!!! I have enjoyed reading your post each day. It’s my first Ragbrai- loved to hear all the info :)))

Ginny Daly, Jun 11, 2019 at 7:16 am

Love the daily postings, pix and great write-ups about each town.
You Iowa folks have a wonderful spirit, sense of history and
best of all, sense of fun to delight Ragbrai riders.
— Ginny Daly, Washington, DC

Norman Davis, Jun 11, 2019 at 9:18 am

I am soo excoted for this ride. I cant wait to see old friends down in Burlington & Keokuk. I helped paint the Fertalizer Plant in Weaver its the largest Fertalizer plant in the world.. Theres a lot of Beautiful landscape in that area. Im riding the whole route with Blue Jeans & Boots Baby & y big ol belt buckle!!

Trace Ross, Jun 11, 2019 at 9:25 pm

Thanks for the wonderful recon report. My First RAGBRAI also and this report pumps me up. And I need pumping up as the summer heat zaps my enthusiasm. Thanks again. See you in Council Bluffs

Leave a Comment