The Paving of White Pole Road in Dexter

There’s an old highway that runs through my small hometown of Dexter, Iowa. Even though it was the main road between Des Moines and Omaha, it wasn’t even paved until 1929.

Designated White Pole Road in 1910, it followed the Chicago Rock Island and Pacific Railroad, staying within one mile from the tracks. Poles painted white made the route easy to follow. 

When Sherd and Laura Goff moved to a two-story house in Dexter in 1924, the highway was just across the sidewalk from the front porch.

Goff’s lived here until 1935, when Clabe and Leora Wilson’s family moved in from a nearby house–1935.

During the drop in farm prices after the Great War, Sherd Goff had lost most of his money. They also lost a 28-year-old daughter in 1922 to probably a brain tumor. And two years later, a daughter-in-law died of mumps shortly giving birth. Their widowed son and two small children also lived with them in Dexter, plus another son and daughter.

They moved to Dexter to also be near their oldest daughter, Leora Wilson, and her flock of children. In 1929 Wilsons were living down the street just south of Goffs’.

Doris Wilson, Sherd and Laura’s oldest grandchild, was in 6th Grade the fall of 1929. The Eastman Kodak camera company gave six free Brownie cameras to 6th graders in local schools. Joe Harlan got one of them. Doris got the last Dexter one.

I’m guessing the smaller Brownie Camera is the one that took the pictures below of White Pole Road being paved. It’s the one I remember from when I was a child. The black one may ave been my Great Grandmother Goff’s.

Doris happened to take pictures of White Pole Road, also called the Great White Way, being paved, right in front of her grandparents’ house, 1929.

pave (2)
There’s a big billboard in the pasture across White Pole Road.
paving (4)
A paving contraption at work on White Pole Road in Dexter, 1929.

And her Grandfather Goff was part of the excitement, by landing the job of pulling a wooden drag with a team of horses, to smooth the roadbed ahead of the paving machine–when the White Pole Road was paved for the first time.

I have a note that Sherd Goff liked cream soda. I wonder if he had one at the end of this day. I had to check to see if there was such a thing in 1929. Yes, it dates to the 1850s.

Before Interstate 80 was built across Iowa, White Pole Road had plenty of traffic through town. But these days, the White Pole Road Development Corporation keeps those poles painted white between Dexter and Adair, to promote tourism for five small towns with populations of 348 in the smallest (Menlo) to 1695 in the largest (Stuart).

Book by White Pole Road Development Corporation

How delightful it was to figure out that the strange equipment caught on film by my mother as a child was of the first paving of the highway through my hometown.

A 5-minute film about White Pole Road.

The paving of White Pole Road is part of Leora’s Dexter Stories: The Scarcity Years of the Great Depression.



  1. I enjoy the stories that you write. It was nice to hear that your Mom took pictures with that box camera. Very smart lady. Showing process being done as it happened.

    • I wish Great Grandfather Sherd were in one of the pictures! I’m surprised she thought to take some that day, but maybe the camera was brand news. It took their family pictures when Del and Don went to the Navy in 1934.

  2. Hard to believe that these “contraptions” were cutting edge equipment back then.

    • Yes! And that the road was still being “dragged” by horses. It took a while to set those photos in the family history, just worked on the chapter about 1929. I’m writing a book, working title is Leora’s Stories: Those Scarcity Years of the Great Depression. 1929 was also the year all nine children had whooping cough, and the baby twins died of it. I’m about to tackle 1930, when the grandfather (Sherd Goff) dies while showing his two oldest grandsons how to shock oats for a local farmer. There are so many poignant stories.

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