History of Clear Lake

Clear Lake is a city in Cerro Gordo County, Iowa, United States.  The population was 7,689 at the 2020 census.  The city is named for the large lake on which it is located.  It is the home of a number of marinas, state parks, and tourism-related businesses.  Clear Lake is also a major stop on Interstate 35 with many restaurants, hotels and truck stops.



The region around the lake that would later be called Clear lake was a summer home to the Sioux and Winnebago natives.  During a land survey of northern Iowa done in 1832 by Nathan Boone, the son of the famous explorer, Daniel Boone a map was made showing the lake and other bodies of water in the area.


In 1851, Joseph Hewitt and James Dickirson brought their families to camp on the east side of Clear Lake, soon building a cabin, and began a friendship with the Winnebago natives.  By 1853, many more white settlers had also come to settle in the area.  By the year 1855, the first Clear Lake school was built and the first steam saw mill.  In 1855, a hotel was built by James Crow.


By 1870, the town had 775 residents and by 1871 the streets were graded and sidewalks were made of raised boards, a sure sign of a thriving new city.  The City of Clear Lake was incorporated on May 26, 1871.  The first bandstand was built in 1877 at the City Park.  The town grew and built its first library in 1889.  In 1909, Bayside Amusement park opens for the first time.  The first North Iowa Band Festival was organized by John Kopecky and others in 1932.


In 1933, the Surf Ballroom opened up on the site of the old Tom Tom ballroom that has been destroyed by fire.  The opening dance night had approximately 700 couples attending.  In 1947, the Surf Ballroom burned down and a new Surf Ballroom was built across the street in 1948.  The Bayside Amusement park closed down in 1958.


The Day the Music Died

In the early hours of February 3, 1959, a Beechcraft Bonanza carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper,  who had been performing at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, took off from the local runway in nearby Mason City, on its way to the next show in Moorhead, Minnesota.


The plane crashed soon after takeoff, killing all aboard.  This event was later eulogized by folk singer Don McLean in this famous song "American Pie", in which the death of these '50's icons serves as a metaphor for greater changes within American society as a whole.


In June 1988, around 600 people gathered to witness the dedication of the monument to the deceased rock and roll legends.  Clear Lake also replaced street signs officially changing 2nd Place North to Buddy Holly Place in honor of the late singer.


Arts and Culture

Surf Ballroom 


Surf Ballroom - Site of Buddy Holly's last concert, the Surf Ballroom still has concerts and can be reserved as a convention hall or reception site.  It is also a tourist attraction, and every February has a tribute to those who perished in the February 3, 1959 flight.

Lady of the Lake
Lady of the Lake
The stern wheeler ferry boat takes passengers on a scenic cruise around Clear Lake.  The Lady of the Lake has an enclosed lower level and an open upper level.
 Clear Lake Fire Museum Clear Lake Fire Museum -
Designed to resemble an early fire station, this museum's highlights include  a 1924   Ahrens-Fox pumper truck, the city's 1883 hand-pulled hose cart, and the original fire bell used by the department.  Also, there is a memorial dedicated to honor all the firefighters who have served Clear Lake.

  Clear Lake Arts Center Clear Lake Arts Center - This non-profit organization, the Arts Center displays local and regional artists' work along with  a sales gallery and art classes open to the public.
 PM Park

PM Park
- Site of The Patriarch Militants camp established in 1914, turned into a historical eating and lodging venue.


Three Stars Plaza  Rock’ n Roll stars, Buddy Holly, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and Ritchie Valens are remembered at Three Stars Plaza located ½ block west of the legendary Surf Ballroom.  An original work of art representing a giant record player spindle stacked with three 45 rpm records is located in the center of Three Stars Plaza.  The 15-foot art feature honors the stars' fateful final performance at Clear Lake’s Surf Ballroom in early February 1959.  The trio, along with pilot Roger Peterson, died hours after their performance in a plane crash in a field north of Clear Lake.  At night the three records are beautifully lit in blue neon.