Fairfield is not your standard rural Iowa small town. Fairfield has its own unique vibe. Spend a few minutes strolling the town square and you’ll catch the vibe, as Fairfield is environmentally friendly, diverse, and progressive. Fairfield has been coined “Silicorn Valley” for its mixture of startups and entrepreneurial ventures. If you ask who the largest employer is in the town of 9,500 people, you would probably expect a hospital or some manufacturing plant. Nope, not here. The answer is Cambridge, as in Cambridge Investment Research with 700 employees and that’s followed by numerous software and telecom businesses.
If you travel because of food (and, of course, you do – don’t we all?), Fairfield must be on your bucket list. They have restaurants that frequently land on the “Top 10 Burgers In Iowa” list and they also have unique flavors that very few Midwest locations have like Turkish and Ethiopian.
This trip was hosted by Visit Fairfield, they provided lodging and our meals. The opinions are our own
Maharishi International University
If you’ve only heard one thing about Fairfield, you’ve probably heard about the golden domes, which are housed on the campus of Maharishi International University (MIU).
MIU was founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, It is not only an accredited 4-year university, it’s also a vibrant Transcendental Meditation (TM) community. Because of this, Fairfield is sometimes known as “TM Town”, meaning Transcendental Meditation Town. TM is a non-religious meditation that focuses on consciousness. Practitioners meditate in silence with their eyes closed twice a day, for approximately 20 minutes each time.
On the MIU campus, the most noticeable buildings are two large golden domes, sometimes referred to as the golden domes of knowledge. One dome is for men and the other is for women. They were built back in 1980 and 1981 as a place for mass meditation. Only the most advanced meditators use the golden domes, so if you’re a newbie, you’ll need to practice before getting entrance to the domes.
Another unique aspect of MIU is that students only take one course at a time, typically for one month. They do not have finals week at all. It appears that Computer Science is the most popular major of study. The student enrollment is around 1,200.
In 2012, Oprah Winfrey visited Fairfield and called it the “most unusual town”. The visit was based on the fact that Oprah practices TM and encouraged her staff to practice mediation as well. During their time in Fairfield, they visited the golden domes, toured the community, and met with many locals. The Uncarvedblog.com has a nice summary and short video clips of Oprah’s visit to Fairfield. Other famous visitors include Jim Caray, George Foreman, Katy Perry, and others.
Maharishi Vedic Observatory
Located about two miles north of the MIU campus is the Maharishi Vedic Observatory. It’s an open-air observatory with a large collection of various masonry sundials.
There’s also a second, smaller observatory with additional sundials that are located behind their student center/bookstore.
Sthapatya Veda Architecture
Many of the TM followers live in housing that follows the principles of Sthapatya Veda architecture. I’ve heard several people compare it to Feng Shui – not that they are the same, but that they are ideals or principles to design your home.
Here’s a quick list of features related to Sthapatya Veda architecture
- A white fence surrounds the house and is at least 30 feet away from the building.
- The top center of the house has a cupola, called a kalash. The center of the home is extremely important and is marked by the kalash. Within the home, the center area is a large open space.
- The front door faces east
Of course, there are a lot of other examples and features related to the design, but these are the easiest things to notice on the exterior of the house that are signs they follow Sthapatya Veda architecture,
Three historic barns are the centerpiece of Maasdam Barns, which now serves as an education center. From 1910 to 1938, the farm was owned by J.G. Maasdam who raised award-winning draft horses. The three barns are:
Show Barn: Where horses were shown to potential customers
Mare Barn: Housed 10 to 12 mares.
Stallion Barn: Housed two Percheron stallions used for breeding.
The barns are typically open on the 2nd Saturday every month from May to Thanksgiving, follow their Facebook page for more details, as they typically feature different horses each month.
A non-profit art gallery with both a permanent collection and rotating exhibits. Be sure to stop in and see what’s on display.
Fairfield was home to the very first Carnegie Library that was built west of the Mississippi River – and today, the former library is home to the Carnegie Museum which houses a large collection of local and national artifacts.
You would expect a local museum to have local artifacts – but what will surprise you is that the Carnegie Museum in Fairfield, Iowa goes way beyond offering up just local history. Here are a few of the unique finds to look for:
When the Carnegie Library first opened in 1892, it was designed as a museum, not just a library – and the Smithsonian donated ten crates to the city of Fairfield. These include some Native American artifacts such as Pima Basketry and Zuni Pottery, along with Tomahawk pipes. There are also 19th-century taxidermy examples.
If you’re an Abraham Lincoln fan, you’ll want to stop in at the Carnegie Museum to see one of the original funeral escort badges that allowed someone to ride the Abraham Lincoln funeral train. The badge belonged to Congressman James Wilson, who also happens to be the person who donated the land that created the Carnegie Museum and worked with Andrew Carnegie on the creation of the building. Wilson served in the US House of Representatives at the time of Lincoln’s assassination and Wilson was one of three hundred people who accompanied the Lincoln family on the historic train ride across the country to deliver the body of the president and his oldest son Willie to Springfield, Illinois. The ribbon was used to denote who was allowed to ride the train – and the artifact is rare, as even the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield does not have one of the original funeral escort badges.
Another unique Lincoln-related artifact is a large walking wheel that was owned by Mary Ann Rutledge. While Lincoln lived in New Salem, Illinois, he courted Ann Rutledge, whom many regard as Lincoln’s first love. Ann and her father both died suddenly in 1835 and it heavily impacted Lincoln. Mrs. Rutledge left New Salem and moved to a farm south of Fairfield, Iowa.
Letter from Admiral Byrd
In the lower level of the museum hangs a framed certificate from Admiral Byrd, who was made famous for his expeditions to the South Pole. A local company, Fairfield Glove, supplied gloves for expeditions and Admiral Byrd sent them this certificate as a thank you.
Fairfield Immersive Art House
Fairfield Immersive Art House is the creation of Tom Lossota who has been working on personal creation for the last 20 years. Tom uses a lot of fluorescent colors and black lights to highlight his moving shapes and creations. At this time, the immersive experience does not have regular public hours, however, if you would like to tour the Fairfield Immersive Art Experience, I would suggest reaching out to Visit Fairfield, 641-472-2828 to request their assistance with arranging a tour.
James A Beck House
Known locally as the “purple house”, it is technically a Barber home, meaning that it was designed by George Barber of Knoxville, Tennessee. The current owners are Kendra and Richard Lint, who previously lived in Portland, Oregon, and moved to Fairfield specifically for the house. The Lints were always interested in a Barber home and when the Beck House became available online, they drove 28 hours from Oregon and then made the offer.
Be sure to drive by, as it’s an impressive home. At this time, they do not provide regular public tours, however, they have a very active James A. Beck Facebook Page that gives you all the details on what’s happening. You’ll also want to swing by if it’s Halloween or Christmas season, as the Lints love (or are obsessed with, take your pick) decorating for these two holidays.
Birdwatching in Jefferson County Park
During our time in Fairfield, our group of travel writers visited Jefferson County Park and were treated to a guided birdwatching adventure. Our hosts were Diane Porter (who along with her husband, operates birdwatching.com) and Therese Cummiskey, a retired naturalist and birdwatching legend in her own right. After some lessons and techniques for using binoculars, we hit the trails.
We found out that birdwatching can be as challenging or as relaxing as you make it. It’s also important to note that half of the process is about listening. Diane recommends downloading Merlin Bird ID, a free app that will use the microphone on your phone to listen for bird calls and then help you identify who’s making that beautiful sounds. She also recommends eBird, another free app that can help you track your list of birds that you’ve encountered.
Bike Trails in Fairfield, Iowa
The Fairfield Loop Trail is a 16-mile paved path that circles the community and connects the majority of its parks. Once a year, during peak fall colors, they also close a segment of the trail for just a few hours to allow residents to drive their vehicles (only one way, of course) to catch the fall colors.
It’s believed the oldest two-story log house in Iowa. And it’s the location where Fairfield got its name. Mrs. Bonnifield, who lived in the cabin, was credited with coming up with the name Fairfield, during a conversation that took place within the house.
Today the cabin sits in a quiet corner of Water Works Park and is viewable from the outside during regular park house. The interior is only open during special events or on appointment.
Shopping on the town square
Cindy’s Artbeat has all the art supplies you need whether you’re a student or a professional artist. The store also has a collection of artwork from local and regional artists.
Provides natural and organic remedies.
Hazel and Grey
Titled as “Home Essentials for sustainable living” – and certainly hits the mark. You’ll see a variety of kitchen, bath, and cleaning supplies that are eco-friendly.
One of Iowa’s largest independently owned jewelry stores, they feature a large selection of jewelry including diamonds. And if the diamonds don’t catch your attention, then the art gallery will. It’s a collection of paintings by Christopher Kufner, who runs the jewelry store and the art gallery.
Places to eat in Fairfield, Iowa
Fishback & Stephenson Cider House
The Cider House features local farm-to-table beef and house-made hard cider – and they have consistently won awards in both aspects. They made the top 10 burgers in Iowa for both 2021 and 2023. On the cider side, they were the Iowa cider producer of the year in 2020, 2021, and 2022.
We stopped for breakfast at Bountiful Bakery, a locally owned business that originally started with bagel deliveries. Bountiful Bakery features fresh daily baked goods made with nearly 100% organic ingredients.
And yes, LunchBox is just for lunch. It’s open from 11am to 2pm on weekdays only and its all about the chicken sandwich. They have a few other items on the menu, but in seriousness, it’s about the fried chicken sandwich or the hot chicken sandwich.
Veraison Wine Bar
There’s an outdoor patio or indoor space to enjoy your wine. Owner Julia Punj has worldwide wine experience. If you want to up your wine game, be sure to sign up for her courses including: what is wine? wine classification, and learning how to pair food with wine.
Our group stopped for breakfast and loved the mix of Mexican, Midwest, and Hawai’ian flavors.
Cedar Valley Winery
Using seven varieties of grapes, Cedar Valley Winery creates award-winning wines using only their grapes. Our group took a tour of Cedar Valley Winery with Gerard Muller and David Miller and they shared with us the entire process from harvesting to fermentation to bottling – and even covering winter maintenance of the wines. Their products are available at regional stores, as well as online at https://cedarvalleywine.com/our-wines/
Asian Pho Bistro
Owner Geena Xayavong cooks up some incredible Pho and if you love spicy, you need to stop at Asian Pho Bistro. Our groups sampled Pad Thai, Pad Kee Mao, Lo Mein, and Combo Pho.
Sweet ‘N Saucy BBQ
Southern-style BBQ serving brisket, pulled pork and chicken – and don’t forget the cheesy potatoes!
Be sure to check out Visit Fairfield’s online dining list for the full list.