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.
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.
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.
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).
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.