BURLINGTON, Iowa — Their discovery of the Heritage Hill neighborhood helped sell Rodney and Barbara Botts on retiring to Burlington. The former Minnesota couple had never lived here, or visited, prior to encountering the city during a long driving tour of potential retirement spots.
Since purchasing their home, the 1844 McCash House, in 2011, they have invested in the property and in their adoptive community.
Rodney Botts serves as an ambassador for the Greater Burlington Partnership, welcoming visitors at the Port of Burlington Welcome Center, and escorting steamboat passengers on bus tours of the city. He also is president of the Heritage Hill Association, a neighborhood group whose membership is comprised of homeowners in an area of Burlington’s North Hill bounded by Washington and High streets, Third Street and Central Avenue.
Those two interests have now blended in a new Heritage Hill Historic District walking tour, available free to smartphone users with the PocketSights app — also free.
“Burlington is a jewel in the world that people don’t understand,” he said. “They don’t understand the clustering of beautiful older homes that are still intact. We’ve got that.”
They found nothing like it in any other city they visited in five states, the Bottses said.
While they and other Heritage Hill Association members are protective of their neighborhood, which is a local historic district with special zoning rules governing the exterior appearance of properties in its boundaries, they also are boosters of it, and want to see more people exposed to the history it represents.
Rodney Botts researched, photographed and wrote the tour’s content, and submitted it to the app’s developer on the association’s behalf.
“There’s a lot of pride in these homes,” he said, “and the history they encapsulate in how this area got started.”
The desire to answer steamboat passengers’ rapid-fire questions — about the houses themselves, their architecture and history; and how such a collection of historic houses came to be there at all — first prompted a display at the Welcome Center featuring many of the same homes and information found in the app.
But a fixed display is limited to people who visit the Port of Burlington, and steamboats only visit so often. Even events that pack the neighborhood with visitors, the Burlington Criterium and Snake Alley Art Fair, each are only once a year. And historic architecture isn’t at the heart of those events.
An app, however, Botts said, could have the potential to reach a wider, perhaps younger audience.
“Everybody’s using their … phones nowadays,” he said.
Besides, one of the conveniences of the app, as opposed to a printed guide, Botts said, is the ability to make changes.
There are 144 properties in the Heritage Hill neighborhood, and 110 houses, but the tour includes just 47 sites. There are homes, churches and museums, as well as Snake Alley and North Hill Park. A number of spots remain to be fleshed out with pictures and details.
The tour’s 1.1-mile path, which follows the American Queen tour bus route through the neighborhood, begins at the Heritage Center Museum. It isn’t quite a loop so people who follow it to the end will have to walk a couple of blocks to get back to their car. The app offers users the option to follow the route from one stop to the next, or to roam as they choose.
GPS positioning on the phone alerts the app to the tour-goer’s location, prompting the phone to narrate a description. Completing the tour is estimated to take about 2 1/2 hours.
There is no public access to any of the homes, and people who take the tour are asked to stick to streets and sidewalks.
The PocketSights app tour of Heritage Hill is not the only historic walking or driving tour available to residents and visitors of area communities, the Hawk Eye (http://bit.ly/2q6JLnn ) reported. Burlington has additional tours being developed; Fort Madison, Keokuk and Nauvoo, Illinois, have them, too.
Chelsea Tolle, director of the Greater Burlington Convention and Tourism Bureau, said her office is working on a trio of new walking tours that will be available this summer at the Port of Burlington Welcome Center. The themed tours will walk visitors through a trio of national historic districts: Heritage Hill, downtown Burlington and the city’s manufacturing and wholesale district.
She had not yet seen the PocketSights tour of Heritage Hill, but expects the sites and information in each to be similar.
Printed tour guides will include addresses and thumbnail histories, with more complete information about each stop on the various tours available online either as a web page or for download, Tolle said.
The Welcome Center also still has copies of health-focused walks created several years ago by Great River Medical Center. Rather than focusing on history, those walks were drawn based on distance and incline to accommodate varying fitness levels.
“We’ll keep them until we run out,” Tolle said.
Similarly, the Lee County Health Department has available several fitness-focused walking routes in Fort Madison and Keokuk, as well as trail maps for Lee County parks. Route maps can be obtained at LiveHealthyLeeCounty.org.
Some of the city trails on the site traverse historic neighborhoods, but information about sights along the paths is not included.
The North Lee County Historical Society has created a tour of Victorian homes, but a walking tour it isn’t.
The tour includes nearly 100 properties stretching from the top of Burlington Hill to 20th Street and Avenue F, west of downtown.
Most of the properties are on Avenues D, E and F, between Fourth and 10th streets, said Andy Andrews, North Lee Historical Society chairman and director of the Depot Museum.
Paper copies of the tour, which includes addresses and thumbnail histories of each, can be obtained at the museum in the former Santa Fe Depot on Riverview Drive. The guide is not available digitally.
Andrews said the tour guide is in need of an update. Three properties included on it no longer are standing, he said.
Europe may have its Grand Tour, but Iowa’s south easternmost city has a Grand Avenue Tour, which gives visitors a glimpse at some of the stateliest homes in town.
From one end to the other, the tour blazes a trail 7/10ths-of-a mile-long trail. The distance doubles if you park and have to walk back to your car.
There is no map, but the route is simple enough to follow. Included are 31 properties on Park Place, Orleans Avenue and Park Avenue.
Each address is listed in the Keokuk Area Convention and Tourism Bureau’s visitors guide, which is available at KeokukIowaTourism.org, at various locations around Keokuk and in Burlington at the Port of Burlington Welcome Center.
While tourists may know this Hancock County, Illinois, city best for its connection to the early Mormon church, and are enticed to the city by the attractions of Historic Nauvoo, the only self-guided historic walking tour has its sights set on a different part of town.
Beautiful Nauvoo, the tourism arm of the city of Nauvoo, makes available a tour of the Mulholland Street commercial district.
“The Way We Were” walking tour features 110 years of history at about 30 historic buildings in a six-block stretch of Mulholland near the Nauvoo Temple, said Kim Orth, director of the Nauvoo tourism office.
“It focuses on Mulholland Street from 1850 to 1960,” Orth said.
Tour maps and site details are available for download (which is recommended be done in advance, due to limited cellular data service), at BeautifulNauvoo.com, in the Activities and Family Fun section.
During the warmer months, maps can be found in an information kiosk across Mulholland from Nauvoo State Bank. For map users, information sheets about the various buildings can be found inside the buildings.
Information from: The Hawk Eye, http://www.thehawkeye.com
An AP Member Exchange shared by The Hawk Eye.