White painted telephones line old US Highway 6, also known as old Iowa Highway 925, between the Iowa towns of Dexter to Adair.
In 1910 there were only two main routes across Iowa. One was the “River to River” road from Davenport through Iowa City, Grinnell, Des Moines, Adel, Redfield, Guthrie Center, and Atlantic, to Council Bluffs. The other was “The Great White Way, also starting in Davenport but traveling south through Earlham, Dexter, Stuart, Menlo, Casey, and Adair. An automobile club painted white bands on telephones to guide tourists.
There was a competitiveness between the two routes, settled in 1912 with the Great Automobile Race Across Iowa. Two men, one driving an Oakland on The Great White Way, the other steering a Pop-Hartford along River to River, sped up to 37.5 miles per hour across Iowa. The winner–the Oakland and The Great White Way–finished 36 minutes ahead of the other car.
By 1922, portions of the road were combined with River to River in creating a federal road, then paved in 1930. During those days, so many people drove through Dexter, say between Des Moines or Chicago and Omaha, that everyone knew it was the town where you always stopped to get Drew’s Chocolates right along the highway.
But in 1965, Interstate 80 was completed, bypassing towns along the old route, including Dexter.
Recently a corporation was formed to promote the towns of Adair, Casey, Menlo, Stuart, and Dexter along the 26 mile route. 700 of the white poles are being kept up along the highway, as well as annual activities featuring the route as a slice of Americana.
Dexter, located at the east end of White Pole Road, is especially known for its 1916 Community House (Roundhouse), Dexfield Park and the 1933 shootout with the Bonnie and Clyde Barrow Gang, President Harry Truman’s speech at the 1948 National Plowing Match, and of course, Drew’s Chocolates.
The Dexter Museum has items and displays about each of these features, and more.
This is a fun audio to have along as you travel White Pole Road.
Sources: Reflections Along the White Pole Road by White Pole Road Development Corporation, 2008; “Return to White Pole Road” by Jill Brimeyer in The Iowan, July/August 2006.