Webmasters note: This was taken directly from a copy of a manuscript written by Antoinette Adkins. It has not been edited or updated and was written sometime in 1993.
TAKE TIME TO REMEMBER DEXTER – 125 YEARS
First, I wanted to say that all of the historical material was taken from The History of Dallas County published in 1879 and the Dexter Centennial Book, 1968.
I am supposed to report on 125 years in Dexter. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about our past history, but became convinced in a hurry that there was no way I could crowd 125 years into 20 or 25 minuets. No doubt I've left out many important facts, but I hope I bring back memories.
The prairie must be the beginning of any historic Iowa story. At least 5,000 years ago, many Indian tribes roamed this land taking their food where they found it in the field, the stream, and the forest. As all men must, they passed on to happier hunting grounds, but they still remain a great part of our past.
A Quasquincentennial is 125 year in solar time. In our era it has other dimensions. Think for a miinte bout these changes. It is the span between the creak of the wagon wheel and the roar of the jet plane, the satellites and men walking on the moon; between the danger-fraught pony express and the smoothe luxury train and instant world-wide news coverage on television; between the flicker of those hand-dipped candles and the dazzling glow of a thousand electric lights. It's a long old trail from the boiling wash kettle in the back yard to our automatic washers and dryers and from those crude log cabins to our modern air-conditioned homes and condos.
Three of these children married members of the John Maulsby family. The name is familiar to many of us.
During this time, the Marshall family had become highly regarded in the community and quite wealthy. Their main interest was in agriculture. Marshall became concerned about the future of his family if they continued to farm in Indiana. The top soil was thin, and after about 12 years of farming, it was almost completely washed away and he knew of no method of replacing it.
Iowa finally become a state in 1846. The tract of land known as Dallas County was included in the territory which the Sac and Fox Indians ceded to the United States in the Treaty of 1842. Word had reached Indiana of the wonderful prairie land and great possibilities for the future in Iowa.
Marshall's wife had passed away the year before, and even though he was 66 years old, he decided to head West. In the sping of 1855, he and all of his family except one son, Maben, who went to seek his fortune in Michigan, hitched up their horses and headed for Iowa. The John Maulsby family and some other neighbors joined them in this venture. By using horses instead of oxen, they could cut two weeks off their traveling time, making the trip in four weeks instead of six.
When the Marshall's got to the southwest corner of Union township, or about three miles north of the present Drew's Candy Shop, They knew they had reached their desination. It had everything that they were looking for: rich, level prairie land; a river and a spring; timber for houses and out-building; and fuel and fences. Also, there was an abundance of fish and game for food. He immediately purchased 480 acres of prairie land at $1.25 an acre and 30 acres of timber land. This land extended from the Raccoon River to ¾ mile north of Drew's Candy Shop and ½ mile west.
It was a busy time: breaking sod, planting sod corn, pumpkins, squash and beans; cutting timber and building cabins. By fall, they felt that they were in shape to survive the winter. Maben, the son who had gone to Michigan to seek his fortune, lost no time in coming here also.
By 1863, only 8 years later, many settlers were getting their farms into good production. I decided that Maben, or Mabe as he was called, was quite a business man. He would try almost anything to make an honest dollar.
By this time, there were many cattle and hog feeders. Mabe, among other things, had gone into the livestock buying business. That Fall, he had bought nearly 3,000 head of hogs. He hired a man named Billy Thornburg and kept him busy all Fall driving those hogs to Des Moines where there was a packing plant. Can you imagine driving a few hundred head of hogs all the way to Des Moines? Also, he and a Mr. Madren had 700 head of stears. They paid farmers $0.75 a head and $0.03 a pound gain for wintering them. Some farmers mad as much as 12.75 a head.
The land where Dexter now stands was a Government Land Grant to Margaret Lacey, which she obtained in 1855. It was 160 acres, which she sold to Mabe Marshall for $640.00 or $4.00 per acre.
In 1868, the Rock Island Railroad had been in Des Moines for a few years, and was in the process of extending its tracks westward. When it became a fixed fact that the railroad would come through here, Mabe set aside 80 acres of the land he had purchased from Margaret Lacey. He gave 40 acres to a Mr. Kimbal and kept the other 40 acres for himself. Then, with the assistance of A.J. Lyon, the town was surveyed and platted in June, 1868. It was called Marshalltown. Later, when it was learned that there was already a Marshalltown, Iowa, the name was cheanged to Dexter, after a famous race horse.
They immediately began selling lots as $100 each. All on the west side of Marshall Street belonged to Mabe and those on the east side were Mr. Kimbal's. The first lot was sold to Hunter Brother's. The first merchandise was sold from a store operated by Cheesmand & Ellis. Hunter Brother's building was completed next and was stocked with drugs and groceries. A short time later, they sold their business to J.G. Stanley.
Railroad fever was running rampant. Business buildings and houses were being built everywhere. All the lumber was hauled from Des Moines by teams. Even though the railroad was running through Dexter, they were so busy hauling their own supplies that they were not really in business yet.
A great fire started on the morning of September 28, 1870, two years after the town was platted. At least eight buildings burned. Many predicted that the town would never recover, but happily the burned districts was speedily rebuilt with even better buildings and houses. Business was scarcely interrupted. One year later, or when Dexter was only 3 years old, the population numbered over 750 and houses were in great demand.
It is hard to visualize that in eleven short years, a piece of prairie land could be transformed into a thriving little city with a population of nearly 1,000 people and 72 distinct businesses. (one source said 79). It was listed as the most flourishing town between Des Moines and Atlantic. Here are a few of the businesses: 4 physicans, 3 attorneys, 3 millinery stores, 2 jewelry stores, 2 hotels, 3 shoemakers, 4 dry goods stores, 2 clock stores, a steam mill (this blew up later and killed one of the Maulsbys), 2 saloons, a newspaper, a livery and feed stables, etc.
Farm life was improving, too. In 1877, the Marshall farm was one of the finest. The house was a “large, double, two-story frame house with a fine cellar which was almost like another story.” A wind-powered water system provided fresh, running water to the house and out-buildings.
From the time of its founding, Dexter has always provided school for its children. One year after the town was platted, Mabe tore down his old log cabin. Many said it had been used as a chicken house for three years. Anyway, he tore it down and rebuilt it on a space he had reserved for a school at State and Locust Streets, where Bert Harris lives now.
In May, his son-in-law started a subscription school there, charging $2.60 to each pupil for the Summer term. It ws much too small, so the next year, a public school with two stories and five rooms was built at the north end of Marshall Street. At the time, Dexter was eleven years old. There were 200 pupils enrolled and five teachers employed. I wondered if four rooms and four teachers might have been for grade school and perhaps the superintendent taught the entire high school. One teacher was a Miss Hanah Neal.
The Dexter Normal School was a two-story brick building. It was built in 1879 and was in operation until 1905. The Bisbee Dormitory was just east of it. According to the pictures in the Dexter Centennial book, the public school was where Dewey Vote lives now, on the corner of Marshall and Washington. The Normal School was where our Dexfield Elementary School stands now and the Bisbee Dormitory, in the old B.C. Hemphill house. Dewey said that he found many old slate blackboards on the wall as he was remodeling his house.
The school where our children were educated was built in 1905, costing $12,000. The Dexter School consolidated with the Redfield school in 1959 to form the Dexfield Community School. The new Dexfield Elementary building for third through sixth grades was built in the 1970s.
Dexter has slways been a strong religious center. Churches came in almost with the first settlers. One source said no doubt the first religious service was held by the Quakers, since the Marshalls were Quakers, but I found no record of either a Meeting House or a Meeting.
The Methodist Episcopal Chruch was organized in 1862 in the Haines School House west of Dexter with 4 members attending. Later, after the depot was built, services were held there. Ther first church was built in 1873, and the present on in 1909, cositng $5,510.
The Presbyterian Church was organized in 1868, the same year as the town, and there were six members. They met in the houses and a schoolhouse until two years later when the first church was built. The present building was built, costing $10,000, and was didicated in 1910.
The Zion Lutheran Chruch was founded in 1871 with nine members. The first services were held in a rented building. Theree years later, they bought 3 1/2 acres from a Mrs. McMenamin and built a building at its present site. The building served as a church, a parsonage and a parish school. Pastor Craemer was there for a very short time, then Pastor Horn, who also served as the teacher in the school, with an average of 25 to 28 students. Margaret Adkins says she imagines that classes were taught in German. The present building was dedicated in 1958, the building and furnishings costing $125,000.
Since 1983, an Assembly of God church has been located on State Street. Also in 1870, a Universalist church was located for a few years.
Every town must have a Burying Ground, as it was called then. Located one-half mile south of town, it was laid out in 1870 and was described as a most beautiful location for a cemetery. The Dexter Cemetery Association was formed in 1910. Then in 1951, they disbanded and the care of the cemetery was turned over to the city. In 1957, the town purchased land across the road east for a new cemetery. The first burial there was Lulu Weesner.
It is supposed that the first birth and death were a child named John Howards. He was born in 1869 and lived only a very short time.
A few businesses that served Dexter and the surrounding community for a long period of time were as follows:
J.G. Stanley came to Dexter in 1869 and as I stated before, purchased the Hunter Brother's Drug Store. Years later, his son, William, took it over and it was in continous operation until it closed its doors in 1958, after nearly 90 years. Many of us remember J.G. wearing his little black cap and sitting in front of the store. We'll never forget Bill and his kindness to everyone.
Another business of long standing was Blohm's Meat and Grocery. In 1888, George Blohm opened a butcher shop south of where Webb's Cafe was. He moved to a new location, then later in 1918, into the new building on Marshall Street. It continued to be a family operation until it was sold around 1971, after about 85 years in business.
Also, Jim Adkins opened Adkins Food Store in 1925. It was the first self-serve store in town. It continued to be a family-operated store for over 50 years. It was sold in 1978 and continues to server the community.
In the Isenberg Pharmacy ad in the Dexter Centennial book, it says, “We are happy to be a part of the team of druggist who have served Dexter for the past 100 years.” Bob and Marjorie Weesner continue to operate that store.
In 1936, Doctors Chapler and Osborn opend a Clinic Hospital in the former Jake Lenocker residence. There were five beds and two cribs. They employed three people. The clinic moved to a larger quarters in 1940. A new addition was constructed in 1959 a the cost of $126,000. Over the years, they expanded from a five-bed camacity to twenty-one beds and from three to sixty-some employees. The clinic closed in 1980 when the doctors retired due to ill health.
And of course Drew's Candy Shop was a family-operated business for some forty years and is still open under new ownership.
Also, Don Willeke and Tony Pivonka's filling station is among our older businesses.
In 1930, the Dexter library was formed in a vacant room in Allen Percy's upstairs law office with 100 donated books. Later, it was moved to the old City Hall and then to its present location in 1939. In 1992, the library had a total of 7,384 items to be checked out, including books, magazines, audio and videocassettes. It had a circulation of 13,000 – 21 per capita – the second highest per capita circulation in Dallas County for 1992.
The Round House was completed in 1917, costing $10,000. So far as is known, it was the first of its kind on the American Continent. Extensive repair work is being done to restore it at this time.
In 1967, the City Council purchased three acres of ground on State Street for a City Park. With continuous improvements, we now have one of the finest small town parks.
Now for a few Headlines and Bit and Pieces:
In 1908, the Dexter Creamery was located at the northeast corner of the Maurice Neal farm and had 10 cream patrons. Although Jim Miester was only 10 years old, he had charge of one of the pick-up routes. Perhaps the largest shipment of butter at one time was nearly two tons. Shipments were made every three days. They moved to their new uptown building in 1915. We all remember Bill McMenamin as the owner and Ward Paullin as the butter-maker.
The Dexter Canning Factory was here from 1903 to around 1939. During the 1919 canning season, a record of 92,000 cans of corn was finished in one day's work.
In 1910, President Taft made a whistle-stop here. He was presented with a small silver spoon and a cup inscribed “To Our President Who Smiles.”
In 1911, the Dexter Gas Plant exploded. One man died of burns.
In 1933, there was the Barrow Gang's shoot-out at the old Dexfield Park. Three of the gang escaped and one of the two captured died of gun-shot wounds.
In 1939, the Dexter Schoold Band went to the National Band Contest in Minneapolis and won second place. There was a bandstand in the middle of the intersection from 1917 to 1937.
In 1948, 75,000 to 100,000 attended the National Plowing Match. President Harry Truman, his wife, Bess, and daughter, Margaret attended.
January 26, 1955 at 5 P.M., a United Airline plane with 36 passengers and a crew of three made a forced landing at Fred Lenocker's farm.
In 1967, Hollywood came to Dexter and filmed the movie Fever Heat.
Remember the thrilling and cold Dexter-Earlham football games on Thanksgiving Day? The date was later changed to Armistice Day.
There have been many fraternal organizations here in the past years, but none are located here now.
We have an American Legion and Auxiliary, Lion's Club, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.
The D.T. Club, organized in 1899, is our oldest study club. The Twentieth Century Club, a Federated Club, was started in 1919. The Golden Age Club is around 30 years old.
Our annual Fall Festival is by no means new to Dexter. Back in the early 1900's, the celebration was called the Dexter Street Fair and lasted three days. Their largest attendance was on September 18, 1901, when they estimated that there were 1500 buggies and wagons in town and 8,000 people celebrating.
Times change, and with this comes changes in businesses also. In the Dexter Centennial book, there were ads by 43 Dexter business organizations. Of these, three remain the same, ten are under new ownership, and thirty have gone out of business. The three remaining the same are Wahlert Plumbing and Heating, Brenton Bank and Don & Tony's Oil Co. The ten under new ownership are Weesner's Pharmacy, Adikins Cash Food, Grainco, Drew's Candy Shop, Carson's Greenhouse, McKee funeral Home, Shaw-Belden Insurance, Dexter Fertilizer, Simpson's Shear Shop and the Dallas County News.
The businesses that are gone are the clinic, the lumber yard, Kramers, Schaaf & Schafer Laundromat, Webb's Cafe, Blohm's Meat and Groceries, Dewey Vote, Lawhead Electirc, John Love's Shoe Shop, Evan's Clothing (later), Dexter Cleaners, Schirm Produce, Parker's Lawn Mower Repair, Verle Christensen's Station, Bochart's Station, John's Tavern, Paul Clausen DX, Paullen Produce, Beane Beauty Shop, Cook's Flowers, Jessie Ross Woodworking, Schafer's Tavern, Attorney Nopoulos, Trent Upholstering, Dexter Motel, Garwood Rest Home, Dexer Cup, Jim's Dairy Sweet, Thompson's Truckline, O.W. Martin Trucking, and McMenamin Trucking. The list is long but we do need to remember them and be thankful for those who served us so faithfully in the past, and those who still serve us.
All is not gloom an doom. We have many new businesses and improvements over the past 25 years. Also many businesses have exanded. Don Rasmussen and Marion Marks started the Ra-Mark business in the J&K Building 1972 and moved into the new building in 1981. It is under new ownership and employs 25 people. They have asked the council for permission to expand. Grainco has constructed a great deal of new storage and drying facilitites. It is under new ownership and employs seven. They, too, plan further expansion this summer. Also, new are Casey's General Store, Our Place, Spikes's Body Shop, Beauty by Biz, Cowboys and Indians, Jodi Basset, DC—Chiropractor, the Dexter Cafe, the Legion Tavern, Marsh's Car Wash, Harris's Bait Shop, nine retirement apartments, a new bank building, a new schoold building, Beaver Lake just north of town, a modern city-hall and fire station in the former clinic building, a well-equipped First Responder group, a city museum, Rural Neighbors food and clothes pantry, a greatly improved water system and sewer lagoons, a truck repair shop and two or three home auto repair shops, a remodeled library and a redecorated library hall. We have twenty or more comparatively new houses and many recently remodeled. The Dexfield School is in the process of studying the advisability of reorganization with the Stuart-Menlo school system. At the last City Council meeting, there were requests for starting new businesses and expanding present ones.
In a survey of my own, which I think is fairly accurate, I found that about 1/3 of the houses in town are occupied by retired persons. This does not mean that 1/3 of our population is older people. We have many young families who commute to other towns for employment.
What about Dexter as a place to live? Many of our families are descended from those early pioneers. Our town has roots. People came and they stayed, prospered and were happy. We may not be going too far industrially, but maybe that isn't the most important thing after all. What is important is that we enjoy life as we find it right here in Dexter—it is a great place to live. This poem is from Jim's Dary Sweet ad in the Dexter Centennial Book. I've only changed the number of years.
It's just a one-horse town near a super highway
But this has been Dexter for 125 years,
so I'll guess we'll stay.
Another 125 years will be our test.
This town is small, but it's one of the best.