Tama County’s forgotten gem

Pilgrim Heights hosts open house and artisan market

Pilgrim Heights Camp and Retreat Center Open House and Artisan Market was open for holiday shoppers to shop small and support their local artisans. Photo by Vanessa Roudabush.

On Nov. 10 and 11, Pilgrim Heights Camp and Retreat Center, northeast of Montour on Highway 30, hosted an open house and artisan market.

Local businesses such as City on a Hill Woodworking, Curtis’ Creations, Geeky Girl Crafting Co., Kate’s Kitchen Creations, Nikki B’s Custom Creations, Norton’s Greenhouse, and Terry’s Scrollsaw Art opened their booths to holiday shoppers.

Executive Director Elisabeth Curtis arranged this event at Pilgrim Heights.

“I have been a seamstress since I was eight years old. So, I’ve always done handmade markets, and I’ve always loved the atmosphere. So when I took over, that was the first thing I thought of was using the space for small business[es] and getting people out here,” she said.

Curtis’ journey to becoming the Executive Director was like a wish granted by a fairy godmother.

Bethany Sy, owner of City on a Hill Woodworking’s booth, created dozens of functional and fashionable wood art for her booth at Pilgrim Heights. More of her work is featured on Facebook @ City on a Hill Woodworking. Photo by Vanessa Roudabush.

“That was like kismet. My husband and I wanted to open a wedding venue. We were calling around to figure out financing and how to do [this], so we called a bank in Marshalltown. We were like, ‘Hey, we want to finance this,’ and [the banker] was like, ‘I might have something better for you.’ Turns out he was the Board Treasurer of this camp. He’s like, ‘It’s a no risk for you, and you can run a wedding venue slash whatever you want,'” she said. “Two weeks later, I was appointed the Executive Director of the camp. It was pretty much like you couldn’t have planned it any other way.”

Pilgrim Heights was founded in 1957 and originally owned by the United Church of Christ. Over the past 15 years, Our Sacred Space, a nonprofit organization, has been the caretaker for the forgotten Tama County oasis.

“The community has kind of forgotten about it because there’s been a lot of people I’ve heard (saying) ‘Oh, we’ve been around 30 years ago and never been back. This is a grand reopening in a way, just telling people about it. Trying to get [Pilgrim Heights] back into the community has been fun,” said Curtis.

Looking forward, Curtis has big plans for future community events.

“I would love to have spring, summer, and fall markets alongside this winter market. I would love to bring out a flea market in our open fields,” she said. “I have some big plans, like murder mystery dinners, our tea party in December, and our wedding showcase. [We’re] using the space because it’s not being used.”

Middle Sister Candle Co. of Urbandale featured the scents of the season. Their shop can be found at www.etsy.com/shop/MiddleSisterCandleCo. Photo by Vanessa Roudabush.

Curtis shared her communal dreams for Pilgrim Heights.

“I want to turn [Pilgrim Heights] into something that the community can enjoy and always have. Come out and see us. It’d be awesome! We’d just love to have the community out here,” she said. “Let’s make this a community center. That’s what I want for us here in Tama County.”

Pilgrim Heights will be hosting a Holiday Craft Tea Party on Dec. 10 at 1 p.m. The classic tea party will serve delicious tea-time foods while creating holiday crafts in a Christmas ambiance only Pilgrim Heights offers. Tickets are $30, parking is free, and doors open at 12:30 p.m.

Pilgrim Heights, Camp, and Retreat Center is located at 3005 E. Ave. outside Montour. You can visit their website at www.pilgrimheights.org for more about the grounds, and you can book one of their many family cabins on Airbnb or VrBo.

“It’s a gem out here with the view and the vendors,” said Norton’s Greenhouse owner Lori Norton. Norton’s Greenhouse is located at 700 W. Ross St. in Toledo, featuring annuals, perennials, baskets & containers, garden-cut flowers, and home-grown fruits and vegetables. Photo by Vanessa Roudabush.

Kate’s Kitchen Creations booth featured holiday cookies, French macarons, cakes, scones, and artisan bread shaped like pumpkins to satisfy everyone's sweet tooth. Kate’s Kitchen Creations is located at 2104 310th St. in Toledo and on Facebook @Kate’s Kitchen Creation. Photo by Vanessa Roudabush.

Terry’s Scrollsaw Art showcased Terry’s beautiful woodworking skills. Contact him at terry.dirks@mediacombb.net for custom, made-to-order gifts. Photo by Vanessa Roudabush.

Even Santa attended the Pilgrim Heights Open House and perused the Artisan booths to pick out gifts for those who’ve been good this year. As Santa always says, “Shop small and Happy Holidays!” Photo by Vanessa Roudabush.

Pilgrim Heights Executive Director Elisabeth Curtis stoked a fire to greet community members as they entered the open house to give everyone that cozy vibe they’ve been craving in this chilly Iowa air. Photo by Vanessa Roudabush.