For Sale: “Grandmother’s House” in Dexter, price reduced

After losing their Iowa farmland (“owned” with the Federal Land Bank of Omaha) during and after WWI, after losing a daughter and a daughter-in-law in the early 1920s, Sherd and Laura Goff moved to Dexter to be near their daughter, Leora and Clabe Wilson, and their seven children.

They bought the big American foursquare house American Foursquare along the highway, which is south across from today’s Dexter Park. Today the house is for sale.

house (2)

Two of Goff’s sons also moved with them–Merl and J.B., whose wife had died, leaving him with an infant and a toddler–Merrill and Maxine. They spent the school year with their Dexter grandparents, and lived with their mother’s family during summers.

Sherd Goff died the summer of 1930, while showing grandsons Delbert and Donald Wilson how to do fieldwork for a farmer. After she was widowed, Grandmother Goff had the Wilson kids take turns staying overnight with her. The house had substantial furniture from the Victorian house they’d lived in in Guthrie Center, and large pictures of ancestors whose eyes seemed to follow those grandchildren around the room.

Because the Goff brothers couldn’t pay for gravel trucks–and their mother’s house had been used for collateral, after living in the house ten years, they ended up moving to Omaha to work for another brother.

Wilsons moved into the big house along the highway the spring of 1935.

They had lived in seven or eight different houses in and around Dexter, the last ones nearby. But Grandmother’s house was last Dexter house they lived in, and by far the largest.

During the Depression, lots of men began walking along the highway, hitchhiking when they could. “Grandmother’s house,” as Wilsons knew it, was along the highway and sometimes men would knock at the back door of the house to ask for something to eat, offering to cut wood or any kind of work in return.

They probably stopped there because the house was large, thinking the people who lived there must have some money. Once Leora gave a sandwich to a man who looked especially down and out. He ate it on the steps of the back porch. After that, men seemed to stop more often. Wilsons decided that he must have put some kind of mark on a nearby tree to let others know they could get food there.

hobo signs

But they didn’t know that Wilsons were living in a house that would be going back to the bank.

This house had electricity, which meant they could listen to their radio again. You were allowed to use a certain amount of electricity for $1 a month. They tried to keep from using more. The rule for using the radio was that it couldn’t be turned on unless most of the family wanted to listen.

Doris and her father worked at the canning factory while living in “Grandmother’s house,” Doris’s senior year. She graduated from high school, then left for Des Moines to play basketball for the American Institute of Business (for tuition) in 1937.

A.I.B. played exhibition games at high schools, including Dexter. When they played at Dexter’s 1916 Community Building (AKA the Roundhouse), they dropped off Doris at the big house to see her family. Her folks and four younger siblings were about to sit down to supper–bread, brown sugar, and water. And here she was, another mouth to feed. Her mother made light of it, just glad to have Doris home with them.

Wilsons lived there four years. When Clabe worked his last WPA job in 1939, remodeling the two-story building which became the library and library hall. The WPA supervisor was looking for a family to live and work on a farm near Minburn. Wilson’s moved that March.


During WWII Doris married a Dexter farmer. They moved back to the area after the war. She often mentioned living in “Grandmother’s house” along the highway. I’ve never been inside it, but we own a big old prairie-style library table that followed Goffs from the Victorian house in Guthrie Center (Mom remembered playing on the shelf under the table during the 1920s) to the big house in Dexter, then Wilsons to Minburn and Perry, then back to Guthrie Center after the war.

Gofftable3 (2)

This house was one of several built in the Dexter area by Harvey Dickson, father of Betty Reed.



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