Where do you think you could find the resort billed as the place to come west of Chicago and known as “The Mecca of the West” around the turn of the Century?
Council Bluffs, Iowa probably did not make your list. However, in 1886 Lake Manawa, a lake created by a flood in 1881, was opened to the public. Complete with grand pavilions, water toboggan slides, regattas, and a Midway, the resort served as an entertainment center with over 2000 people a day coming to the park from near and far. At one point, streetcars arrived there every eight minutes.
As a Council Bluffs native, I’d heard stories about Lake Manawa’s resort all my life, but until I researched it, I had no idea how amazing the location was. I had to write a story about it and Making Waves, book 1 in the Lake Manawa Summer Series, was born. Take a trip now with me to the area through old postcards offered at the lake and a few photographs taken at the time.
Visitors enter the park by travelling down Shady Lane. The canopy of trees gave way to a surprisingly beautiful lake nestled in Iowa’s hills. After a visitor paid his or her dime at the turn style to enter the Grand Plaza, they would discover the Grand Pavilion, the boardwalk, lighted fountains, and regular entertainment. Besides the band stand, the park featured acrobatics acts, hot air balloon launches, and dramatic productions. Lawn tennis courts, horseshoe pits, and cycling were also popular.
Rowboats could be rented at the lake and rowing competitions were common forms of entertainment. Another form of entertainment occurred on the dive tower. For years, a woman diver, known only as Miss Fishbaugh, climbed the dive tower, soaked herself in gasoline, and lit herself on fire every night at 9 p.m. Thankfully, her asbestos bathing costume and a special collar around her hair and face kept her alive to repeat the fete again and again.
Not everyone traveled to Lake Manawa from the fancy hotels inside the city. Each season over 500 people pitched tents and lived at the lake. The wealthy brought along all the comforts of home, including their servants. Husbands would take the streetcar into Council Bluffs or Omaha to work.
With six miles of water on which to sail, Lake Manawa attracted sailboats of various sizes. Regatta’s were also very popular at the lake and individuals transported their crafts from other cities by rail.