McGregor Home Tour: Part 1

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The Cave Courtyard Guest Studio (left) and Old Jail and Firehouse are located on A Street, in downtown McGregor.

Old Jail and Firehouse interior

Cave Courtyard interior

Cliff-side caves located behind the Cave Courtyard Guest Studio

Old Jail & Firehouse Guest Suite, Cave Courtyard Guest Studio | 212 & 214 A St.

The Turner Park: Fitness for All Ages Committee is sponsoring a tour of four unique McGregor homes on Sunday, Aug. 18, from 1 to 4 p.m. Tickets can be purchased the day of the event at each participating property. All proceeds will go toward adding a splash pad at Turner Park. Over the next few weeks, North Iowa Times editor Audrey Posten will feature each home included in the tour.

Visitors can find their home away from home in McGregor’s historic downtown at the Old Jail and Firehouse Guest Suite and Cave Courtyard Guest Studio.

“People come from all over, and they love McGregor,” shared Charlene Palucci, who, with husband Richard, owns the lodging establishments on A Street. “Some people have been coming every summer for over a decade. They become like family.”

The Paluccis said guests enjoy staying in accommodations that offer a window into the city’s past.

“One thing we really promote is the history. You can see what [the buildings] used to be,” Charlene commented. “Each has its own personality. They’re unique, eclectic—just different.”

As the name implies, the Old Jail and Firehouse was constructed in 1874 as a jail, with the McGregor Hook and Ladder fire truck room adjacent and city council rooms upstairs. Cells in the building measured 8-by-10-by-15 feet and had solid rock floors and planked ceilings lined with iron. The jail cell bars can still be found at the site, incorporated into the back patio.

Those jail cell bars, along with the exposed old brick in the building’s interior, are some of the space’s most notable features. The 770-square-foot guest suite, which can sleep four people and includes a bathroom and kitchen, is also packed with police and fire mementos.

“We wanted it to be themed for what it was,” Richard said.

Among the mementos are patches, toys, books and a fire helmet that belonged to Charlene’s grandfather.

“It’s like a mini museum in here,” said Charlene. While she and Richard have collected many of the items, their guests have also contributed over the years. “A lot of police and firemen have stayed here and they’ve given us memorabilia.”

Next door, at the Cave Courtyard Guest Studio, or as the Paluccis often call it, “The Caves,” visitors find themselves in a world that’s part elven lore and part Italian villa. Built in 1848 as McGregor’s city hall, the building is one of the town’s oldest existing structures, Richard noted. 

In addition to the city offices, it’s held a tailor shop, salon, lunch room and telephone supply business. Around 50 years ago, world-renowned puppeteers Bruce and Nola Bucknell salvaged and restored the building, living in the upper story and running an art studio downstairs. 

The Paluccis took ownership in the 1990s, operating Cave of the Elves Gift Shop, named for the unique cliff-side caves behind the building that—with their tiny windows and colorful siding and doors—look as if they’re made for a family of elves. Although the couple sold the building after 10 years, they bought it back in 2017 and it now serves as accommodations for four people with a private bath and kitchenette. The cozy interior is decked out in the Palucci’s trademark elves, as well as deep purples, grape vines and other wine memorabilia.

It’s what’s outside, though, that attracts the most attention.

“The caves are the intriguing part,” Charlene said.

They’re best viewed from the tranquil courtyard below—a brick and wrought iron-enclosed space swathed in grape vines and colorful flowers. 

“Guests really like sitting in the courtyard,” Charlene quipped.

She and Richard are grateful to the owners who came before them, who developed the area and preserved the buildings so people can continue to enjoy them.

“They’re kind of amazed when they come to stay here,” said Richard. “When people come on the tour, they can see what people from out of town get excited about when they visit.”

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