The downtown in the Pocahontas County of Laurens was seen in the 1999 Disney film The Straight Story, which chronicled the six-week, 240-mile lawnmower trip taken by resident Alvin Straight to visit his brother in Mount Zion, Wisconsin in the summer of 1994. The film, which was shot in sequential order along the actual route taken by the Laurens resident, was generally praised by critics and received a number of awards and nominations, including a Best Actor Oscar nomination for lead actor Richard Farnsworth.
Following his tractor trip to Wisconsin, Straight attempted a longer trip to Idaho in July 1996. After 400 miles of riding, near the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in western South Dakota, Straight was found in his tractor suffering from dehydration and severe sunburn. He never fully recovered, later suffering a stroke and ultimately passing away in November 1996.
With just 149 residents as of the 2000 census, Larrabee is the smallest community in Cherokee County in northwest Iowa. The community was incorporated in 1887 and named for the state’s thirteenth governor, William Larrabee. The Community Center is located along Main Street in Larrabee and serves as the meeting place for local organizations including Boy Scouts, the Larrabee Leisure Club, and the local Summer Reading Program, sponsored by the Cherokee Public Library. Adjacent to the community center building is the Larrabee City Park.
In July 2007, eleven delegates from the city of Laurens, France, arrived at the Des Moines International Airport marking the start of an eight-day visit to to the state centered around their new sister city, the Pocahontas County town of Laurens. The delegation participated in Laurens’ 125th Anniversary weekend and festivities during RAGBRAI’s ride through the community. The sister city alliance was made official during their visit, some six years after the Mayor of Laurens, France, first communicated with his Iowa counterpart, inquiring about the community after seeing it featured in “The Straight Story” film.
The Community Building on Main Street in the Clay County town of Royal houses the public library, the city clerk office, and a community center that is used by local groups and can be rented for reunions and meetings. Royal was founded in 1900 as a site along the Rock Island Railroad. Its name was chosen by Eliza Nelson, the community’s first postmistress. She was asked to keep the name simple, though the reasons she selected Royal are unknown. Royal is home to 479 residents.
Located on the south side of the square in the Madison County seat of Winterset, this building housed the J.C. Penney department store from 1931 to 1997. It was originally constructed around 1870 and used as a hardware store in 1886; a dry goods store occupied the building in the early 1900s. When J.C. Penney vacated the property in 1997, an appliance store moved in. Lori Nordstrom’s photography studio is now housed in the historic downtown building.