Before there was a Dexfield Park, Calvin “Pete” Marshall came to Dallas County, Iowa, from Indiana. His pioneer cabin is part of the home of Robert and Dode Reynolds (earlier was the home of Howard and Ardus Walker). He retired to his land across the road and north along the Raccoon River, where he encountered a mineral spring. Meskwaki Indians also lived in that area.
Marshall decided to get in on the mineral springs craze for people looking for relief from arthritis and other ailments. They built a bath house with six copper-lined tubs for people to soak in, and an area where they heated the water. Marshall Springs was popular with people from all over, some of whom brought their own jugs and other containers to take mineral water home.
Heating and hauling the water was too much for a retired man, even with help from two sons. It was known as Dexter Springs for a while, and there were even jugs with “Dexter Springs” on them.
Built along the Raccoon River in 1915, Dexfield Park was funded by four Valley Junction men. One of the first amusement parks in Iowa, it was the largest at one time. Crowds of up to 4000 would swarm there.
One advertisement, urging spending July 4th at Dexfield Park, gave directions to get there from Des Moines by taking the C., R.I. & P. railroad to Dexter on the 8:35 or 11:50 a.m. trains. Or take the C., M. & St. P. to Redfield, leaving Des Moines at 9 a.m. Auto Livery meets the train at both depots.
Or drive autos to 1 ½ mile west of Redfield on the River to River Road (the first road built all the way across Iowa), turn 1 ½ mile south. Autos on White Pole Road (the second road across Iowa) to Dexter turn and drive 3 miles north.
While Dexfield Park was in it’s heyday, Dexter’s population was from 767 souls (in 1910) to 748 (1930). Redfield’s went from 657 (1910) to 870 (1930). So to have 4000 visitors in just one weekend, Dexfield Park had to draw Iowans from all over the area, looking for amusement.
Coming from Dexter, people encountered the steepest hill in Dallas County–Dexfield Hill. In a Model-T, with the gravity fed gas tank in the back, getting down to the park was easy. But returning at night was tricky. Sometimes they have to drive it in reverse, backing up the hill, lights shining down the road.
Located between Dexter and Redfield on the south side of the Raccoon River, Dexfield Park covered 65 acres. Entrance was from the west. A long lane led to a box office to pay $2 for each car, 9 cents per person plus a War Tax of 1 cent.
The Olympic-sized cement swimming pool was fed by Marshall’s spring with a long line of drinking fountains on the south side of the pool. North of the pool was a large bath house that rented out swimming suits and towels. The diving tower was at the east end of the pool. On special days, an expert was hired to make dives from the top of the tower.
South of the pool was a pavilion with a cement floor and a movie screen. Every Sunday night they showed free movies.
On the hillside beyond that was a free camping ground. People brought their own tents and vacationed there.
West of the pool was a large open-air dance hall, where many good orchestras played.
The open-air roller skating rink was on the northeast corner of the park. You could rent skates and skate to calliope music.
Baseball teams came from all over to play on Dexfield’s ball field.
Other attractions: Band concerts, acrobats, singers, ferris wheel, merry-go-round, zoo (with farm animals), games of chance, food stands, bayou with canoes to rent, fireworks. Rides, ice cream, and pop cost 5 cents.
On the south hillside were picnic tables. The park had only outdoor toilets up on the hillside.
After Dexfield Park closed
The park closed in 1928, but was open for a time in 1932. In 1933, a Dexter class got permission for a skating party out there, as the rental skates were still there. After the park had closed, a group of about twelve or eighteen Girls Scouts, lead by Della Gowdy and Genora Cushman, walked out to the area to pick wild flowers for May baskets, which they delivered to Dexter’s elderly and shut-ins. One time they camped there on the floor of the open-air dance hall. They didn’t get much sleep because walnuts kept dropping on the roof.
One time the Girl Scouts were there, they took a hike before breakfast and walked past and greeted another group of campers. Later they realized they’d just encountered the Barrow Gang, now more commonly known as Bonnie and Clyde.
Two members of the Barrow Gang were captured in July 1933 in Dexfield Park after a shootout with a posse. Bonnie, Clyde, and their driver stole a car from a neighbor and got away.
The park had electric lights. One of the old red-shaded lamps at the Dexfield Park marker along the road is an original lamp.
The DNR now owns where the park used to be.
Credits: Dexter Museum, the 1968 Dexter Centennial history, newspaper clippings by historian C. E. Charles, a program on Dexfield Park by historian Rod Stanley, and memories of Maxine (Schell) Hadley, Leone (Coulter) Wells, Ruby (Blohm) Neal, Doris (Wilson) Neal.