Campustown — 30 years back

Michael Craighton

Thirty years ago, Welch Avenue and the stretch of Lincoln Way on either side were much like students know them today, only busier.

Lee Harms, an ISU alumnus, said he frequented Campustown for daytime meals and nighttime fun.

Harms and his wife, Pam, were both raised in Ames and graduated from Ames High School.

Lee graduated from Iowa State in 1982. Pam worked in Campustown, though she didn’t go to Iowa State.

“I spent a lot of time there between classes,” Lee said. “There were a lot of good places to eat in Campustown.”

Some of these included a restaurant that stood just west of Welch Avenue. Campustown also offered quicker dining options, with joints like Dairy Queen, McDonald’s and Hardees, all within walking distance of campus.

Just east of Welch on Lincoln Way was a small shopping area, with boutiques ranging from clothing stores to salons.

The night life was much more active as well, Lee said. The legal drinking age in Iowa in 1980 was 18, meaning that virtually every student at the university was legally allowed to drink alcoholic beverages. Non-drinkers had the option of two theaters in Campustown: the Varsity and the Collegiate Theater.

Despite the popularity of Campustown, many older students with cars chose to frequent downtown Ames. With a half-dozen bars and several restaurants, weekend nights saw a great deal more activity in that area than is seen today, Lee said.

Campustown, however, was always the focal point of student night life.

“On Friday and Saturday nights, it was busy,” Lee said. “Bars were crowded, but there were also people in the streets. There were a lot of people in the streets.”

Prior to the VEISHEA riots, much of the festivities of that week — some officially sponsored, many not — were focused in Campustown.

“Campustown was quite the party scene back in the day,” Pam said. “Less so now, but that’s probably because of [new VEISHEA policies].”

Pam reminisced on her many nights spent in Campustown.

“Lots of great times down there,” Pam said. “You could walk to Campustown and have a blast and you didn’t really have to walk into [any bars].”

Both Lee and Pam recalled the atmosphere and experience of VEISHEA week in Campustown.

“VEISHEA was a huge, huge event,” Pam said. “Everyone was there, everyone took part in it. That was really when Campustown was swinging.”

For this generation, Campustown defined social life at Iowa State.

“[It wasn’t] just with alcohol, but with the food,” Pam said. “It was just the place to be.”