Our Out and About correspondent Dan Kaercher often goes far afield to acquaint us with Iowa’s county seat towns.
This week he’s close to home. In fact, many folks could bicycle to where he’s going. From the Des Moines area it’s the Clive Greenbelt Trail to Waukee to the Raccoon River Valley Trail. Or come from the other side and go south from Jefferson and east at Panora on the same trail.
The destination is Adel.
At the eastern end of the trail that runs through Adel, about 20 miles away is a metro area that numbers from about 300,000 to over 400,000 people, depending on how you count it.
Adel has about 4,000 residents.
We wondered how a small town retains it’s identity and sense of community with a big city so close and a lot of residents who work out of town.
So we asked Adel native and long-time Mayor Jim Peters. He works in West Des Moines.
Mayor Jim Peters, Adel: “We've been very judicial in our approach to make sure that we have controlled growth and the type of growth and activity that lends itself to a small town.”
Chad Bird, Adel City Administrator: “We've got so much rich history, architectural buildings, and of course our brick streets and so we really capture those, we embrace our history.”
City Administrator Chad Bird is a native of Waverly.
He literally works in Adel’s history. City Hall is a refurbished building that began life as a glove factory.
The jewel in the crown though is the Dallas County Courthouse.
Dedicated in 1902, it cost about $109,000 then.
Mark A. Hanson, Dallas County Supervisor: “In that era it was a competition almost between the counties to erect an edifice that would be of importance and of character to their becoming of age.”
100 plus years later a restoration is nearing completion because Dallas county citizens supported a $10 million dollar bond issue.
The result is a building with modern mechanics that is structurally sound, environmentally friendly and retains its architectural heritage and beauty.
And it’s still a good brag.
Incorporated in 1847, Adel also boasts that it’s the hometown of Nile Kinnick.
Kinnick was the 1939 Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Iowa, a member of the legendary Ironmen. Grandson of an Iowa Governor from Adel, Kinnick and his grandfather are recognized in an exhibit at the Adel Historical Museum which was the first 2-story brick schoolhouse in town.
Community is often about a shared past, but you can’t live on history alone. And while Adel has continued to grow, it hasn’t been immune to the economics that have emptied store fronts across the state. Still in recent years it has gained more businesses than it’s lost.
Some of those new businesses help make the Adel area a destination for out-of-towners. Just north of town there’s the Penoach winery and nursery.
In town you can find boutiques like The Cameo Rose Collection which features lots of Victoriana, Adel Quilting and Dry Goods, Garden Gate Antiques ...
And then there’s Atherton House. Oldest of the specialty shops, it carries items from all over the world that must be hand made and definitely not plastic. They sell to people from all over the country. Co-owner Miriam Dunlap lives in Winterset.
Miriam Dunlap, Atherton House: “Adel is one of the most progressive towns. We love the charm, the brick streets and the quality of the services and the businesses in town.”
Another new specialty business is housed in this old 1919 Ford dearlership building.
Brick Street Muscle sells classic and muscle cars. And people come from all over to buy them. The business also started the Brick Street Classic Car Show. In its fourth year, the show is held on the Courthouse square the first Saturday in June.
Two newer festivals include the Iowa Book Festival held in April and July’s Raccoon Valley Wine Festival.
The granddaddy of them all is the Sweet Corn Festival. Started in 1979 and held in August, it was twice named the Best Special Event by Main Street Iowa. These days, it serves 7 plus tons of sweet corn free – along with all sorts of other entertainment on the square.
It doesn’t seem to matter whether people live in Adel and work out of town, or live out of town and work in Adel. They all share a pride of place and the desire to build a good life. That’s just what a community is.
Additional Images: Adel Partners Chamber of Commerce, Dean Westergaard, Iowa Living Magazines