The Fountain Pen Rest Stop

If you ever get an urge to take a road trip across the US, or just find yourself somewhere in Iowa with time on your hands, then there is a place every writer, penthusiast and fan of the written word should visit.

Believe it or not, it’s a highway rest area.

Iowa Pen Rest Stop

Image By Helen Frankenthaler 

But this one is probably a little different from any rest stop you’ve ever seen before. It’s dedicated to the legacy of great writers and to the history of writing instruments.

The reason?

It’s located in Johnson County, Iowa, which is also where you will find the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. The school houses one of the best creative writing programs in the world – the first in the US – and has produced more than a dozen Pulitzer Prize winners.

The first thing you’ll see when you approach the entrance to the rest stop building is a giant fountain pen, with a river of ink flowing from it’s its tip across the ground. It was designed by artist David B. Dahlquist.

Inside, the facility (which was completed in spring of 2010) is a virtual shrine to writing and pens. According to the state Department of Transportation, “names of many prominent writers and images depicting the history of writing instruments appear on glazed blocks” scattered through the interior.

One visitor reported that, outside, there are picnic shelters with metal plates displaying quotes from famous writers and a Times Square-like ticker also showing quotes.

There’s even a tiny pencil outside to go with the fountain pen.

Iowa Pen Rest Stop Pencil

Image By Helen Frankenthaler 

I don’t know about you, but since learning about this place, it has gone on my list of ‘must-see’ spots. If you’re familiar with highway rest areas in the US, you know how amazing it is not only to see one that is clean and presentable, but also that is such a treasure of art and history.

Should you ever get a chance to visit, the rest stop is on Interstate 80 eastbound at Tiffin, near Iowa City.

(Thanks to Steve McMenamin, Iowa Department of Transportation, for his help.)

Photo of author

Tony Bridges

As a seasoned journalist and freelance writer, I've spent over three decades telling stories and exploring the world through the written word. With a passion for writing instruments, I found my niche at The Pen Vibe, a blog that shares our collective fascination with pens, pencils, and other tools that have shaped the art of writing.

2 thoughts on “The Fountain Pen Rest Stop”

  1. Yes, this is one cool rest stop. The yellow pencil is actually one of several like it that provide the pathway lighting from the parking area to the building itself. But, as long as you are in Iowa stop and see the other thematic rest areas Iowa has developed. They are great design and full of the history and culture of the area.

  2. Very cool! While you’re in Iowa, you can also stop by the Sheaffer Pen Museum in Fort Madison, Iowa (just a couple of hours’ drive south from Iowa City). The museum opened in June 2011, and is located in the same city as the original Sheaffer Pen Co. factory. I haven’t been there yet, but I’d love to visit.


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