Atlas Obscura is organizing trips! Join us on an adventure »
Today Only: 50% off Atlas Obscura books and calendars at Barnes & Noble »

Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Cedar Rapids Municipal Island

One of just a few cities in the world to base their center of government on an island. Others: Paris and Osaka.  

The landlocked state of Iowa is not the place you’d expect to find one of the few cities in the world to base their government on an island. Yet this tiny island in the middle of the Hawkeye State is home to the Cedar Rapids City Hall, courthouse and jail, a clever bit of urban planning that centralizes the local government and unifies the communities on either side of the river.

Situated in the Cedar River, Mays Island, also known as Municipal Island, also serves as the key landmark for the postal system in Cedar Rapids. It is the center of a quadrant system that demarcates the northwest, northeast, southwest and southeast. Every address in the city is covered by a quadrant, except for the three buildings on Municipal Island.

The island itself is small, about four blocks long and one block wide. Its National Register for Historic Places nomination form colorfully notes that the shape somewhat resembles that of a battleship: the government buildings as bow and aft conning towers, the bridges as mooring lines, and the underground parking garage floating draft.

The buildings on Municipal Island are also worthy of note. On the northern tip is a combination City Hall, veterans memorial, and convention center. It boasts a two-story stained glass window designed by famed Iowan artist Grant Wood. On top of the building a towering cenotaph is based on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.

To the south, facing the City Hall, is the Linn County Courthouse. It is a stately Beaux Arts building connected via sky bridge with the adjacent jail. Beautiful Great Depression-era murals and a three-story rotunda decorate the interior.

Know Before You Go

Smack dab in the middle of the city.