About 30 miles west of Des Moines is the “one horse town” of Dexter. It’s a small town, easy to bypass; if you did detour through you wouldn’t think much of it.
Which would be a shame. Within this town lies history, entertainment and some of the country’s best chocolates. Let me show you around…
The White Pole Road
The second sign you notice- after the “One Horse Town” sign- as you exit I-80 and turn toward Dexter welcomes you to the White Pole Road. The White Pole Road originally ran from Des Moines to Council Bluffs and offered a straighter, flatter drive than the “river to river” road across Iowa. It was lined with poles painted white to encourage drivers to use the “Great White Way”. The road was built and maintained by local farmers from its inception in 1910 until the road was merged with state roads. In 1965 Interstate 80 was completed, fewer people traveled the “Great White Way” and the white poles disappeared.
After numerous renaming by the state of Iowa, state highway 925 was given to the counties and white poles once again line the road between the towns of Dexter and Adair. The towns along the road host annual fundraisers such as bicycle rides, tractor rides, marathon garage sales, progressive dinners and motorcycle rides. Stop at a Casey’s or Kum & Go Convenience Store in any of the towns to pick up an audio tour CD ($10). You can also print a map (and roadside bingo cards!) here.
Built in 1916 plans were drawn for a building so unique it was “deemed the first of its kind on the American Continent”. The architect was Major Matthew Leander King- grandfather to actor Nick Nolte. Though it appears to be round at ground level, it is actually an elliptical shape. The domed roof is supported only by the walls- which caused much worry about the roof’s stability. So much so that cars were driven up ramps onto the roof to alleviate fears.
The Roundhouse features a box office at the entrance and a performance stage at the rear of the building. The wooden floors are marked for a basketball court. This building has seen plays, musicals, sports events and graduations.
In 1975 the Roundhouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is used constantly by the town of Dexter and the communities along the White Pole Road as the main location for potlucks, parties, bazaars, fundraisers and community gatherings.
In the past few years major restorations have been completed which guarantee the Roundhouse will continue as the center of the community for years to come. It is still visited by architects, engineers and contractors who marvel at its 30′ high dome. It is thought to be the only building of its kind in Iowa; possibly in the nation.
Phole’s Pharmacy and Museum
On July 23, 1933 the Barrow Gang (ie: Bonnie & Clyde) purchased bandages and other medical supplies at this drug store. The gang were camped out at nearby Dexfield Park and were preparing to head back to Texas as Buck Barrow’s wounds were grave.
Their campsite was found. A posse was quickly formed and was waiting when the gang returned to the campsite. It was here that Buck and Blanche Barrow were captured. Buck died a few days later in nearby Perry, Iowa. Blanche was taken into custody and stood trial for her crimes.
Just a couple doors down from the pharmacy is the Dexter Historical Museum. Inside its door lies a treasure trove of Bonnie and Clyde memorabilia as well as other notable town history including Henry Truman’s campaign speech in Dexter. The museum is open Saturdays May thru October or by appointment.
Located on the west side of Dexter, Drew’s chocolates has been fork dipping their homemade chocolates in this location since its inception in 1927.
The small, unassuming red house is given away only by the sign in front proclaiming “Drew’s Quality Chocolates”. The location is not handicapped accessible; you enter and immediately follow a flight of cement steps into the shop. Once you open the door the aroma of fresh chocolate greets you and it’s difficult to take in all the options. Try the Drew Drops or the home made fudge fork-dipped in chocolate. My daughters love the chocolate dipped gummy bears and I was enticed by the chocolate dipped red licorice. Store hours are: Mon-Thurs 9am-6pm, Fri-Sat 9am-5pm, Sun 12pm-4pm. Phone numbers: 515-789-4540, 800-243-7397.
Of all Iowa’s tiny towns I’ve visited none has more heart than Dexter. It’s worth the short detour off I-80.Jody Halsted calls Iowa home- and is proud of it! You can read more about Iowa and her family’s journeys at Have Kid Will Travel.