Monday, June 9, 2014

The Great White Way

Once known as The Great White Way, the road we know today as White Pole Road has quite a history. July 20, 2014 will mark the 100 year anniversary of the road, the first of its kind in Iowa- river to river. Long before the days of high speed interstate travel, roads like this were busy with travelers, a town every several miles and loads of sights to see along the way.

Today's White Pole Road is vastly different from the road of 100 year ago. Back then the road was mostly dirt, and not the easiest way to travel during snowy or rainy times. It was maintained by local farmers who dragged and smoothed the surface with pretty primitive equipment.  But as cars became increasingly more popular, people demanded a safe and convenient way to travel and so......the road began to evolve.

As one of the state's most well-traveled roadways, towns and businesses sprouted up all along the road. Restaurants, service stations and motels were kept busy by travelers. But like everything else, progress has a way of changing things, and when Interstate 80 was completed in 1965, the popularity of this quaint stretch of road waned as travelers opted for the higher driving speeds, no stop signs, and no slowing to go through the towns. Businesses suffered, towns lost population, and the American vacation changed.

Today, the White Pole Road is 26 miles long, beginning just east of Dexter and ending in Adair. The towns of Stuart, Menlo and Casey are along the route. The white poles remain, even if they are much more modern. Each town has so much history in it's stories, from Bonnie and Clyde to the first Jesse James train robbery, what today is a sleepy cluster of rural towns was once a busy and bustling part of the state.

Dexter-  The town of Dexter lies just inside the Dallas County line. Today's Dexter is very different from the old Dexter. A large canning factory and a college were once part of life here. Today it's very much a typical farm community. Dexter is probably most well known for it's 1933 shootout with the Barrow gang and Bonnie and Clyde. The gang hid out in a field just north of town and sought help from the town doctor to help with wounded members. In 1948 Dexter held a National Plowing Match during which President Harry Truman visited and addressed the crowds. Recent excavation work at that site unearthed parts of the scoreboard and other items. Dexter has a museum that houses many items and shares the history of this little town.

One of Dexter's moved beloved businesses is the world famous Drew's Chocolates. Truly hand-dipped chocolates are hard to find in this day of automated factories. Every single piece of candy at Drew's is crafted by hand in the decades-old family-owned shop. They also carry ice cream seasonally, serve lunches, and several Iowa wines are available. This is a MUST SEE on your visit to Dexter!

Stuart- Four miles along White Pole Road brings you into Stuart. Stuart is unique in that it sits partially in Guthrie County and partially in Adair County. Founded in the 1860s by Charles Stuart, who established the town along the railroad. Stuart shares a little in Dexter's history with Bonnie and Clyde. The former Stuart Bank was robbed by Bonnie and Clyde and the Barrow gang on April 16, 1934. Many of Stuart's residents are employed at the nearby egg farms and each year the town celebrates Good Egg Days in June.

On the eastern edge of Stuart is a business that's so much fun to visit- it has something for everyone- Carver's Ridge. What started as a landscape business has evolved into custom engraving- from boulders to small rocks to baking dishes and stemware, and a unique and inviting retail shop packed with beautiful carved and etched items, gourmet foods and Iowa wines. Handmade jewelry fills a display in the center of the room, which is beautifully decorated with the most amazing carved/etched items- wine stoppers with an initial carved in the rock. Wine glasses with a monogram or clever saying. Baking and casserole dishes that are personalized or simply say "Baked With Love." Besides the retail store, Carver's Ridge also offers painting classes throughout the year, where guests are treated to refreshments, a memento etched glass and create a beautiful canvas painting to grace their wall at home!

Also located in Stuart is the historic All Saints Center, which was destroyed by an arsonist on October 22, 1995. It took several years but the townspeople raised the funds to restore the building, and it now serves as a community center, hosting meetings, weddings and other occasions. 

Menlo- Travel about 5 more miles to the west and you reach the little town of Menlo. The White Rose Gasoline attendant stands in all his neon glory, welcoming you to Menlo. 

Menlo was founded in 1869 along the railroads but never reached the population as nearby Stuart. Today Menlo is a very small community with a cafe, and a nearby ethanol plant and egg farms, providing employment. Menlo is home to one of the region's only Christmas Parades, complete with floats. The Menlo Cafe was a great place to stop for lunch- the cafe, open for breakfast and lunch only, is a busy place around the noon hour! People from the neighboring towns make their way over for lunch specials, homemade desserts, and a bit of gossip with the locals.

Casey- Also straddling the Adair/Guthrie county line is the little town of Casey. Well known for it's multitude of antique shops and Veterans' Park, Casey was founded on January 12, 1898 by an Irish railroad foreman.

Adair- And finally, out road trips end in Adair. Named after General John Adair, who served during the War of 1812, Adair also has a very interesting past. On July 21, 1878 the first successful train robbery was committed in Adair by Jesse James and the James-Yeager gang. They derailed a train, killing the engineer and made off with $3,000. 

Just off of the town's main street is the primitive jail building from many decades ago. Hopefully the current owner has plans to restore this important piece of history. It would make a cute location for pictures- throw the kids in there and take their picture peering through the bars!

Known as "The Happiest Town on Earth" and home to the famous Smiley Face water tower, the town was nearly hit by an F5 tornado on June 27, 1953, which would have been devastating to the community.

The White Pole Road is a great destination for a day trip. You can easily spend a day stopping in the local businesses and chatting with residents. Everyone has a story to tell. Restaurants, taverns, antique shops, gift shops, parks, camping and motels offer places to go and places to stay. Come take a ride on the Great White Way.