‘Main Street America’ in Webster City
Editor’s Note: This article is part of a monthly series on the history of Webster City, written by local historian, Nancy Kayser
The residents of Webster City were ready to begin a more prosperous life. The Depression and World War II was over. The rationing and shortages of materials was easing. Newly marrieds were eager to begin their careers, find a home and raise a family. It was time for the small-town retail hubs to grow.
By the early part of 1948, town and country residents, led by Chamber of Commerce Secretary Bob Ostlund, had developed a 52-point, ten-year civic improvement program to accommodate the expected growth of the area. The entire program was to be completed in time for the City’s Centennial celebration in 1957.
The group planned for a May 1948 “Greater Webster City Week” (GWCW) to celebrate completing the first phase of the program.
Ostlund was aware that Pathfinder Magazine, the second largest newsmagazine in the United States with a circulation of 1.2 million, had already sponsored “Main Street America” programs in Nampa, Idaho in 1946 and Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania in 1947. He sent a telegram to the magazine in March of 1948 inviting them to come join in the event. He told them, “500 chamber members and all the city’s 8,000 residents were already behind the plan”.
Pathfinder, along with Farm Journal magazine, accepted the invitation. Their sponsorship earmarked Webster City as the third “Main Street America” city in the nation.
Chamber committees, interested individuals, city officials and many service and fraternal organizations began planning for the May 2-9 event. Pathfinder and Farm Journal representatives immediately visited the City to offer support, advice and nationwide promotion, noting that they would not direct or tell the city what it had to do.
The March 17, 1948 front page story by the Freeman Journal reported, “Called by the group ‘an 8,000-man job’, the program consists entirely of projects which can be completed by May 2, the start of Pathfinder-Webster City week.” They reminded readers, “the committee considers the present program only a skeleton of the final plan”.
April 26 to May 1, 1948 was designated as a citywide “clean up paint up fix up” week, asking citizens, business and industry to improve their homes and sites. Two miles of curbing along Second Street were to be whitewashed by the Boy and Girl Scout groups and residents.
Civic groups volunteered to clean up the Girl Scout Lodge and improve the grounds at Kendall Young Park. They also designed and built a dam and roadway to allow easier access.
Volunteers helped the city erect 216 new four-way directional street signs. Howard Wilhelm designed and donated new flag brackets for the electroliers.
There was a critical housing shortage in the City. One item of the 52-point program was to erect 100 new houses each year for the next ten years.
Pete Madsen, along with local businesses and building contractors, supervised the construction of a model one-story Weyerhaeuser modular home at the corner of Cedar and Seneca Streets. Working day and night, the men intended to complete the build in a week, but their efforts were delayed by rain. During the open house held near the end of May, the home was offered for sale at a price of $13,750.
Beam Manufacturing sent 12 men on Doodle-Bugs on a tour down Highway 69 to promote their new product and to deliver an invitation to Governor Robert Blue to come visit the town.
As was tradition during the era, every event needed a queen to lead the festivities. Local young women were invited to submit an 8 X 10 photo to enter the contest. The photos were sent to Hollywood movie star, Ronald Reagan, who selected the queen and her three attendants.
It was estimated that more than 6,000 people were on hand to dedicate the new airport and watch the crowning of the GWCW queen on Sunday, May 2, one of the first events of the week. Visitors also viewed an air show and a massive display of small planes designed for the growing number of private pilots. Earlier, the chamber aviation committee had painted the name Webster City on the roof of the new Naden Scoreboard plant as a directional air marker.
Webster City received national media coverage that week. “Ladies Be Seated”, a daily radio show, was broadcast over 200 ABC stations for two days. It was followed by another national two-day broadcast of “R. F. D. America”. On Saturday evening, the WHO Barn Dance Frolic was broadcast live from Jefferson Auditorium the first ever off-site production of the program.
KVFD broadcast its “Man On The Street” show daily from in front of the theater building
National manufacturers and grocery firms moved Webster City to the top of their shipping lists to provide new items to the local stores for the residents to buy. They also provided items for the Business and Local Industry weeklong display at the Armory. The goal was to remind residents to “shop local and support your community”.
Quaker Oats brought in their spokesperson “Aunt Jemima” who served free pancakes to those attending.
There was a farm machinery show by local dealers and a tractor parade through downtown.
Local high school students got their first introduction to voting machines as they elected senior students to run the city for a day during GWCW.
The schools held an open house to showcase education in Webster City and show the need for new schools which were part of the ten-year plan.
Retail establishments brought in a professional organizer to handle the Fashion Show they sponsored on the theater stage. It was one of the most popular events with models ranging from youngsters to adults.
Topping off GWCW was a huge parade with 65 floats. There were also bicycles, vehicles and 27 decorated doll buggies with prizes for many outstanding entries.
The City also shared its bounty with the Veteran’s Hospital in Des Moines as every pie and cake entered in the baked goods contest was flown in a private plane that afternoon to the veterans.
For one entire week May 2 to 9, 1948 Webster City was the nation’s “Main Street America” town.
Webster City has changed a bit here and there. Nothing stays the same as each generation strengthens the livability of their hometown. The City is comfortable and stable with the same 8,000 population. We are Main Street America.