We are working our way south to Missouri to spend some time with family. After leaving Owatonna, Minnesota, we headed south on I 35 towards Des Moines, Iowa. We have been in Iowa for about a week and a half at a KOA Campground at Newton (about 35 miles east of Des Moines on I 80).

Newton, Iowa, is a town in central Iowa with a population of about 15,000 people. Newton’s growth was first fueled by the development of coal mines in the area in the late 1800s. In the 1900s Newton became a manufacturing community, and much of its growth was attributed to the Maytag Washing Machine Company. Newton is the county seat for Jasper County. It has an impressive courthouse in the town square and a lovely downtown area. It is a clean town with numerous turn of the century homes lining the Main Street and a very friendly place.

I’m not sure if the date on this building is 1885 or 1895. See next photo.

If you zoom in and look carefully, you will see most of the “scenes” on this building are painted. There are some “real” windows in there if you look closely.

About 25 miles west of Newton is Prairie Meadows Casino and Racetrack. In 1984, Prairie Meadows received its license to operate a horse racing facility. Groundbreaking ceremonies were held in 1987, and Prairie Meadows conducted its first day of racing on March 1, 1989. Prairie Meadows is a Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse racetrack located in Altoona, Iowa, just east of Des Moines. After the racetrack experienced some financial difficulties, voters approved a referendum in 1994 to allow slot machines to be installed.

The slot machine casino opened in 1995, and by 1996 all bonds were paid off. In 2004 casino game tables were added and by 2005 a plan to expand was approved by the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission. In 2006 the addition opened which included two new restaurants, and a 1,200 seat concert hall opened in 2007. AND, get a load of this: Prairie Meadows is owned by Polk County and operated by a local, non-profit, 13-member board of directors. Revenues from the casino and race track are given to various community projects in the Des Moines area!

I have never been to any kind of horse races even though Jack has gone several times with his brother and occasionally with friends. Prairie Meadows was having Quarter Horse racing one evening so we decided to go. It wasn’t very crowded, so it was just right for me to “learn the ropes” about horse racing. I don’t care much for any kind of gambling (I almost ALWAYS lose, so it’s not fun for me 😂), but I did enjoy watching all the preparations before the races and, of course, the actual races.

This is the area where they first brought the horses out and walked them around some to warm up.
It was a chilly night, so we sat inside. We still had a great view.
These are the photos of the first race…the ONLY race we won anything. 😂

I had the “photo” finish before the track posted it! And I was correct!!

One day we drove to Pella, Iowa, which is 30 miles south of Newton. It has a population of about 10,000. Pella was founded in 1840 by immigrants from the Netherlands, and to this day, it still has a strong Dutch influence. Pella is home to several manufacturing companies including the Pella Corporation (think windows and doors) and Vermeer Manufacturing Company. Also, is was the childhood home of Wyatt Earp, and his brothers, Warner and Morgan, were born in Pella. There are two Dutch bakeries on the lush town square filled flowers, and their strudel pastries and melt-aways are to die for!

This is Pella’s famous Klokkenspel. It was interesting to watch.

Pella has a strong Dutch heritage, and they are very proud of their windmill. It is the tallest working windmill in North America. It was designed and built in Hoogmade, Netherlands, then de-assembled, shipped to Iowa, and re-assembled in Pella in 2002. It is an 1850s style “koren mill” or grain mill.

Wyatt Earp’s childhood home.

The Iowa Speedway is located across the interstate, just a few miles from our campground. It is a state-of-the-art 7/8 mile paved D-shaped oval track and motto sports facility. The track was designed for year-round use by NASCAR Champion Rusty Wallace. It includes 25,000 grandstand seats, and was the first track in the world to protect fans and drivers through the use of the SAFER barrier technology that surrounds the entire track.

The official pace car.

There were no big races scheduled during the time we were in Newton, but the track is quite impressive. The weekend we were scheduled to leave the area the track was hosting the Rusty Wallace Racing Experience. One can schedule either a driving experience (at only the small cost of $399 for 4 laps and up) or a ride along experience starting at $149 (3 laps) and up. Thank goodness driving a race care isn’t on my bucket list because that is a little “steep” for our retirement budget.

We couldn’t get very close, so my photos aren’t very good. If you zoom in, you might see how steep the bank on the track is or a few more details. The Newton Airport landing strip runs right along one of the main parking areas.

We have enjoyed our short time in central Iowa, and we will be moving on soon. Where? Well, stay tuned…

So, for now ….. “On the Road Again!”


Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Highway: Vinton, Iowa

Vinton, Iowa doesn’t have much to do with Laura Ingalls Wilder, but it is “related” to her. Laura’s sister, Mary, went blind in the spring of 1879 at the age of fourteen as the result of a serious illness. She no longer could attend any of the regular schools.

The Ingalls family had recently moved to DeSmet in Dakota Territory. Her father, Charles, was a resourceful man who found helpful colleagues such as attorney, Visscher V. Barnes, who began to work to find resources for Mary to attend a blind school in a neighboring state.

In a series of letters to the secretary of the Dakota Territory, Mr. Barnes described Mary as a young and intelligent lady who ought to be provided for in some way. He described Mary’s parents as unable to make much provision for either treatments or education. He also inquired about territorial laws that might apply and would assist the Ingalls in sending Mary to a school for the blind.

The Iowa College for the Blind in Vinton accepted the contract with the governor of the territory to educate its blind students between the ages of five and twenty-one. The paperwork was begun to certify that Mary was blind and unable to obtain an education in Dakota Territory and that she was entitled to the benefits of a school for the blind for the term of five years. Mary carried the signed documentation with her when she traveled to Vinton, Iowa, and entered the blind school in November, 1881.

Mary actually attended the blind school in Vinton until 1889 after the territorial council extended the number of years each blind student was entitled to schooling. Laura described the change in Mary’s behavior and contentment in her her book These Happy Golden Years. After Mary had been at the blind school for two years, she made a visit home on the train by herself and “moved easily around the house instead of sitting quiet in her chair.” She was “gay and confident.” Mary learned how to do many things at the blind school such as sewing, knitting, beadwork, read books in Braille, and play the organ. When Mary finally returned to DeSmet in 1889, she used her newfound skills to help earn money for the family. She played the organ at her church for many years.

We visited the town of Vinton, Iowa, yesterday. Over the years The Iowa College for the Blind (which opened in 1852) had become the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School then the Iowa Educational Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired. In the fall of 2011 the school no longer had a residential component after a violent storm with straight wind speeds of over 110 miles per hour damaged the building significantly. Shortly after that storm the blind school closed. Visually impaired school-aged children now received specialized instruction in their local school.

There are several buildings on the campus. Since 2008 the newer buildings are the North Central Region headquarters for the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC).

Here are a few pictures of the main building. Although I couldn’t find any corner stone or date on the building, after doing some research online, I’ve come to the conclusion that this building was the original building where Mary attended (minus some of the “newer” additions which are obviously constructed of different materials). At any rate, Mary Ingalls definitely was in the blind school on this site.

This is the front. I couldn’t get the whole building in one picture, so the next two photos are also of the front.

These last two photos are of the back of the building. If you look closely, you can see the additions that were constructed with different building materials.

Here are some photos of the downtown area. Some of the buildings are quite old. One building even has the date 1875 on it, so that building would have been there when Mary Ingalls was attending the blind school.

Look closely at the top of this building for the date.

Vinton also had a square and a courthouse that was beautiful. There was a restored 1856 Vinton courthouse bell on display in front of the present courthouse that was built in 1905.

Front of the courthouse.

Side of the courthouse.

That’s about all for Vinton, the Iowa College for the Blind, and Mary Ingalls. We had a lovely afternoon visiting there.

There are three more places along the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Highway I still need to visit: DeSmet, South Dakota; Independence, Kansas ; and, Mansfield, Missouri. I visited Mansfield back in the 1980s, but after visiting all these other places this summer, I will definitely have to go back. DeSmet and Independence will probably have to wait until next summer as we are already working our way back south to Missouri. However, there are a couple more stops on our way there.

So, for now ….. “On the Road Again!”


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