Tag Archives: Van Buren County

Visit this store!







IMG_3026(Photos above by Phil Roberts)

Cantril is a delightful little Iowa town much like thousands of others but with one big exception: It is the home of Dutchman’s Store, a Mennonite-operated, old-fashioned general store established in 1985. Located in downtown Cantril, Dutchman’s is the town’s number-one draw. People flock to it year round by car and even by tour bus. That’s how we got there during our most recent visit. We took a one-day tour of Van Buren County in southeast Iowa, one of our favorite places to visit, on a Burlington Trailways bus.

It’s much like stepping into the past when you visit Van Buren County. It has no stoplights and no fast food restaurants, and that’s by design. But that’s a review for another time.

This review is about Dutchman’s, a general store in the truest sense of the word. A local tour guide told us that it started small years ago and has gradually expanded, now taking up the better part of a city block. Several weeks before our arrival, a new addition featuring modern restrooms, a deli, cheeses and more had just opened. This latest expansion was out the back of the building because that was about the only place left to expand. The other three sides are pretty much blocked now by streets.

A long wooden front porch is what one sees first at Dutchman’s. It is lined with merchandise for sale, and that often includes a variety of home-baked goods prepared and sold by Mennonite ladies who certainly know their way around the kitchen.

The store itself is packed with items you might need and quite a few you probably don’t. Dutchman’s sells food, much of it packaged bulk; fresh produce; clothing; hats; shoes; fabric; spices; baking supplies; books; clocks; kitchenware; gift items; toys; collectibles; candy and snacks. I’m reminded of a commercial for another business that says, “If they don’t have it, you don’t need it.” That likely applies to Dutchman’s, too. If you are ever near Cantril, I recommend you stop and tour Dutchman’s. It is worth the time.

Copyright 2013 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. Submitted as a review to

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Posted by on July 26, 2013 in Uncategorized


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Burns Gallery & Tea Emporium: Tea and art are a pleasant combination

Ken Burns. All photos by Phil Roberts.

Ken Burns. All photos by Phil Roberts.

Sue Burns waits on a customer.

Sue Burns waits on a customer.

Art's not the only thing for sale.

Art’s not the only thing for sale.

Unframed prints also are available.

Unframed prints also are available.

The gallery has a relaxing feel to it.

The gallery has a relaxing feel to it.

Artist Anita Lee stands beside one of her works.

Artist Anita Lee stands beside one of her works.

If you enjoy art or tea — or both — no visit to Van Buren County, Iowa, is complete without some time spent at Burns Gallery & Tea Emporium, 509 First St., Bonaparte, IA 52620.

Their website is, and they’re also on Facebook.

Burns Gallery & Tea Emporium is located in a beautifully restored old building in the Bonaparte Historic Riverfront District, a stone’s throw from the picturesque Des Moines River.

The district was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989, so bring your camera.

The Emporium’s owners, Ken and Sue Burns, will happily pour you a cup of tea to sample as you stroll through the gallery.

During our most recent visit, my wife and I tried some pumpkin-flavored tea. It was very good, but we ended up buying some Bella Coola Herbal/Fruit Tea to take home.

The Burns will accompany you, if you wish, on your gallery tour to provide information about the artists. Or you can look on your own.

The gallery displays framed paintings by artists from as far away as Japan and Alaska to as close as southeast Iowa. The subdued LED lighting provides a relaxed atmosphere and perfect viewing.

The day we visited, artist Anita Lee of Van Buren County was on hand, greeting visitors. That was a bonus.

Every piece of art is for sale as are some unframed paintings and, of course, a variety of teas from around the world. They also do framing.

On their website, the Burns say they “hope to create a world of art and specialty teas within the walls of our gallery that allows you to escape the daily routine and dream of far off places.”

In our case, their plan worked.

Copyright 2012 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises.

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Posted by on December 1, 2012 in Uncategorized


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I was a (pretend) landscape painter for a day



John Preston is a full-time painter and wonderful teacher. Phil Roberts photo.

Villages Folk School manager Ken Burns drops in on each class. Phil Roberts photo.

John thoroughly explained everything he did. Phil Roberts photo.

John demonstrates a technique to Sue Burns. Phil Roberts photo.

John works with Jeanette Corley as I try to look like I know what I'm doing. Ken Burns photo.

Jeanette Corley is obviously not a novice. Phil Roberts photo.

Carroll Michalek is an experienced painter, too. Phil Roberts photo.

If painting is like riding a bike, here I am without training wheels. Ken Burns photo.

My first effort. Thanks, John, for your help with the trees or I'd still be there doing leaves one by one. Phil Roberts photo.

My various jobs over the years — particularly in public relations and news reporting and as a freelance writer — have allowed me to meet some interesting people and do some interesting things.

I’ve been a modern day Walter Mitty at times.

Mitty, should you have forgotten your school literature class, is a dreamer who imagines himself working in a number of occupations. He was a character in a short story, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” by James Thurber, first published by The New Yorker in 1939.

I’ll admit it: There’s some Walter Mitty in me. And I suspect there’s some in lots of reporters and writers. Maybe in you, too.

Take last weekend, for example. Mrs. Mitty….er, I mean my best friend and my wife, Sherry….and I signed up for classes in the Villages Folk School ( of Van Buren County, in southeast Iowa.

Classes there run from January through November in everything from candle making and beginning knitting to blacksmithing, poetry and basket weaving. They are taught by local artisans.

“Our campus is 485 square miles,” says school manager Ken Burns. (No, not that Ken Burns.) “It’s the villages of Van Buren County.”

More than 100 students from five states have taken classes this year from 27 instructors. Burns hopes to double that number and offer continuing education credits in 2011.

On Saturday (Oct. 16), Sherry took an all-day fall bird-watching course ($69 fee, lunch and transportation included) taught by Raymond and Connie Morris. I took an all-day painting-the-landscape course ($55) taught by John Preston. I intend to write a freelance story about the experience and sell it for publication.

Sherry’s only need for her class was binoculars, which she already owned.

My materials list, on the other hand, was longer. Little by little beginning in July, I gathered an easel, palette, brushes, canvas panels and paints from eBay, Amazon and other sources.

We stayed last Friday night (Oct. 15) at our favorite B&B, Chuck and Joy Hanson’s Mason House Inn in Bentonsport.

After one of Joy’s delicious breakfasts on the next morning, it was off to class. Sherry dropped me at the site of an old mill on the riverfront in Bentonsport for my painting class. Then she headed to Mt. Sterling, a wetlands area and the starting point for her bird-watching adventure.

At the end of the day, Sherry raved about her class and all she’d learned. My class was worthwhile, too — although I decided not to quit any of my day jobs. John, a talented, full-time landscape painter, was an easy-going, patient teacher who dealt professionally with my obvious lack of experience and, perhaps, talent.

The class had four students — three women and myself. I wasn’t in class long before it became obvious to me the women had painted before. But, like John, they were kind to this rookie. Translation: They didn’t laugh at the colored splotches I dabbed on my canvas.

John and I had exchanged some e-mails in the weeks before the class, and I had expressed some concern as to what I had gotten myself into.

His answer put me at ease: “Don’t worry, it’s like riding a bike, just messier!”

He was right about that. At least the messier part. When it was over, I had many colors of paint on my hands, jacket, T-shirt and shorts. There was some on the canvas, too.

What ended up on my clothes may actually have been my best work.

Copyright 2010 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises.

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Posted by on October 18, 2010 in Uncategorized


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