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Redfield: Community sprang from side-by-side settlements

This Redfield School was built in 1922 and much of it still stands. It had been Redfield, then Dexfield, High School and is now a part of the West Central Valley School District.
This Redfield School was built in 1922 and much of it still stands. It had been Redfield, then Dexfield, High School and is now a part of the West Central Valley School District.
Redfield residents 100 years ago traveled to the center of town to fetch water from the town pump.
Redfield residents 100 years ago traveled to the center of town to fetch water from the town pump.

Redfield actually got its name from the founder of a nearby settlement and almost became the Dallas County community that wasn’t.

Confused?

Most people know that Redfield was named after Col. James Redfield, an early area settler who later fought in the Civil War with the 39th Iowa Infantry.

However, Col. Redfield actually founded Wiscotta, adjacent to Redfield. The community of Redfield was initially called New Ireland, so named by the Cavanaugh Brothers, also early settlers of the area.

The confusion was cleared up when the railroad went through Dallas County.

James Redfield worked tirelessly in an effort to build Wiscotta as the leading of the two side-by-side communities. He attempted to force the post office to be located in Wiscotta and worked hard to get the Rock Island to run its tracks there.

However, the rail was laid through New Ireland; Col. Redfield purchased New Ireland and the community was re-named Redfield.

Wiscotta, of course, no longer “officially” exists, although the area south and east of old Highway 6 that runs past Redfield is still known as Wiscotta. Although Redfield was incorporated on March 21, 1881, becoming

an “official” Iowa community, the area was settled much earlier.

The first known log cabin in the area was built in 1847, soon after the Sac and Fox Indians left the area, by David Daily and Redfield became a part of the Frink and Walker State Coach route in 1853, serving as such until 1855.

It was just a year later that Thomas Cavanaugh sold the land to James Redfield, Achsah Moore Redfield and Luther Redfield. Three years later the name was changed to Redfield, honoring James Redfield.

Redfield was elected to the Iowa Senate in 1861 and Co. H 39th Iowa Volunteer Infantry mustered in the park in Redfield.

Three years later in 1864, Col. Redfield was killed in action during the Civil War and is buried at Wiscotta Cemetery.

During that era, there were no roads and all supplies were carried by river and wagon — mail delivery was sporadic. In the early years of Western Dallas County there were no mills, no stores, not a post office nor school house, church or trading point.

Because settlements were often a distance from the nearest homestead, danger was always present and families often banded together to make lists of supplies needed. Men would be sent to the nearest trading post.

In addition to several log cabins, a number of sod houses were also built in the Redfield area.

As the area became more inhabited, it became more and more apparent that Redfield, not Wiscotta, would be the area’s center of population. By 1864, traffic from Davenport to Omaha was routed over a primitive road cut through the wilderness a mile north of Wiscotta.

During the four years leading up to that, the town of Wiscotta became nearly deserted and many of the stores, businesses and houses were moved to Redfield.

A narrow gauge railroad that had been built between Waukee and Adel was expanded westward through Redfield in 1879 and that event virtually ended the switch of population from Wiscotta to Redfield.

Although many men in the community donated their labor to help build the railroad, others were against it, fearing it would ruin the horse market and eliminate many jobs.

However, it was the discovery of gold in California that did more to take away men from the labor force of the area than any other. With promises of earning up to $1,000 a day mining for gold, many Dallas County residents, including those in the Redfield area, packed up and left for the West Coast.

Yet, Redfield thrived.

Businesses continued to spring up, churches flourished and schools were built.

Like most pioneer towns, fire was a constant danger as firefighting equipment was primitive, at best. Redfield, too, suffered fire damage with a complete block of downtown businesses was destroyed in March of 1900. The first was along Thomas Street between First and Second.

Carrying water by buckets, townsfolk battled the blaze gallantly and were able to save the Redfield Hotel.

A second fire, in August of 1911, again destroyed part of the north side of Thomas Street.

One of the first schools in the area was built in the 1880s and a brick addition with two more classrooms was added in 1909.

The old Redfield Consolidated School was built in 1922 and was used through 1959, when Redfield and Dexter joined to form Dexfield. Dexfield later became part of West Central Valley along with the former Stuart-Menlo district.

The old Redfield school is still standing, although additions have been built around the 1922 building and it is now the West Central Valley Middle School.

Another important part of Redfield’s history is the “Underground Railroad.” The “railroad” was so-named because if offered a safe haven for freed slaves during the Civil War.

A number of early settlers were Quakers from Indiana, who did not believe in slavery and as more slaves were freed from slaveholders, they needed safe haven. Many of the slaves were moved along a path to safe places in the East, but needed safe places along the way.

Many of the slaves who passed through Redfield were freed in Kansas.

Redfield celebrates its tradition yearly when it hosts the Old Settlers Reunion. It’s not known exactly when the Old Settlers Reunion began, but one longtime resident said decades ago “there has always been Old Settlers as long as there has been Redfield.”

Celebrations were held as early as 1887.

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