Main Street Elkader hanging baskets highlight generosity, small town charm

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Pictured are Main Street Elkader Design Committee members and hanging basket volunteers Debbi Stender, Joseph Stender, Jay Moser and Tom Chandler. Additional hanging basket volunteers include John Gnagy, Bill McHugh, Brian Hastings and Roger Thomas, as well as many others who have assisted in years past to beautify downtown Elkader.

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register


“As you walk down Main Street Elkader, your eye will likely be caught by the beautiful hanging flower baskets that adorn the landscape,” said Main Street Elkader Executive Director Samantha Baumgartner. 


The hanging baskets, used to enhance the character and beauty of downtown, is just one of the many projects Main Street Elkader does to keep the “downtown district vibrant and inviting.” They’ve been a key element for over 20 years, when the project got its start around the time Elkader became a Main Street District through Main Street Iowa. 


According to Baumgartner, being a member of Main Street Iowa means Elkader is a select community that has met or exceeded a set of rigorous standards when it comes to keeping the downtown area strong. The standards include promotions, organization, economic vitality and design. While hanging baskets certainly fall under design, the project also broaches  the territory of promotion and organization because the baskets serve as a marketing tool, stimulate the community, are funded through donations and are maintained by a group of volunteers. 


They are more than pretty flowers in baskets; they are a beautification device that stirs economic activity and community involvement.  


“Main Street Elkader has undertaken many beautification projects that help move the organization toward its vision statement of being a model of success, a place where people come together and work together to enhance a standard of living that fosters all generations through the creation of an artful and historic downtown,” Baumgartner said. 


Aside from simply being involved in the projects, the generosity of the community has been vital in keeping the project going over the decades. That and the bevy of positive comments from residents and tourists alike, who often ask, “What do you put in those flower to make them so full and healthy?” 


Of course, the design committee, which spearheads the effort, jokes “that it is a secret.” But as Baumgartner stated, the “real secret is the teamwork by our volunteers, a dedicated watering schedule, a little fertilizer and community financial support to purchase quality baskets.” 


The baskets are typically made by various nurseries in the area, and the committee and volunteers work diligently to get them hung by Memorial Day each year, weather permitting. From there, the volunteers, who water the baskets in the morning and in the evening and often devote over 30 hours a month to the project, work hard during the hot summer months to keep the flowers beautiful into the fall, always hoping to have them hanging into September or even October. 


Over the years, the project has evolved, most notably in the amount of hanging baskets. When the project first began, the baskets just lined the main intersection below the bridge on four poles between Keystone Park, Central State Bank, the bakery and the Turkey River Mall. Now, as a result of generous donations, 21 hanging baskets line downtown Elkader. Perhaps the best or most “nifty” evolution in the project has been the watering golf cart that was donated by Marjorie and John Finley years ago. 


“Volunteers can enjoy a stylish drive in the watering golf cart that transports the 30 gallon water tank used to water the flowers,” Baumgartner said. 


This year, the hanging baskets encountered some challenges associated with the ongoing effects of COVID-19 on the economy. One challenge was funding, as the amount of donations from businesses and individuals was negatively impacted. As a result, the project is still in need of donations. 


The drop in funding also meant the committee wasn’t able to offer businesses potted flowers to put in entry ways this year, but Baumgartner hopes it will be possible again in the future. 


For anyone willing to donate to the “worthwhile project that beautifies the town,” Baumgartner encourages people to visit or drop a donation off at the Main Street Elkader off, which is located in city hall.


The other challenge has been finding additional volunteers to help cover the watering shifts. The shifts, according to Baumgartner, only take about an hour. Volunteers can sign up for as many or as few shifts as they want. 


“It’s a low time commitment and an easy way to get involved in helping our downtown stay strong and attract the eyes of residents and tourists,” she said. 


If you are interested in volunteering to help with the hanging baskets, or want to get involved with Main Street Elkader in another capacity to serve on short-term projects or join a committee or to start a business in Elkader, contact Baumgartner at or at (563) 245-2770. 


As for why the hanging baskets are important, Baumgartner shared: “This business and community funded project is worth the time, money and effort because it helps beautify our town and is an essential element in creating an environment where people want to live, work, play and run a business. The accumulation of the little design elements, like the hanging flower project, that are weaved throughout our town help create the small town charm that drives many visitors to become repeat visitors or residents.”

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