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Fort Dodge Fun Facts

  • 20 July, 2020
  • Andrea Parrott

Since we aren’t traveling to Fort Dodge this week for RAGBRAI XLVIII, we gathered some fun facts and interesting tidbits for you. Fort Dodge really has it all, big name concerts, a variety of manufacturing industries, a famous clown, and oh yeah, an even more famous giant!

Fort Dodge Fun Facts

Fort Dodge traces its beginnings to 1850 when soldiers from the United States Army erected a fort at the junction of the Des Moines River and Lizard Creek. It was named after Henry Dodge, a governor of Wisconsin Territory (which had included Iowa until Iowa became a state in 1846). The fort was abandoned by the Army in 1853. 

In 1872 the long and continuing history of gypsum production in Iowa started when George Ringland, Webb Vincent, and Stillman T. Meservey formed the Fort Dodge Plaster Mills to mine, grind, and prepare gypsum for commercial use. The Company constructed the first gypsum mill west of the Mississippi River, at the head of what is now known as Gypsum Creek. 

The major industries of Fort Dodge are biofuels, livestock feed, gypsum and limestone mining, can production, drywall manufacturing, trucking, the manufacture of veterinary pharmaceuticals and vaccines, and retail. 

Gypsum rock is processed into drywall and plaster products at several Fort Dodge manufacturing facilities. Drywall was patented by a Fort Dodge resident, and the gypsum used to create the Cardiff Giant hoax of the late 19th century was mined at Fort Dodge. Currently National Gypsum Company, Georgia Pacific Corporation, Celotex Corporation, – now CertainTeed corporation – and the United States Gypsum Company operate gypsum facilities in and around Fort Dodge. 

The “travelling version” of the Cardiff Giant

The Cardiff Giant was one of the most famous hoaxes in American history. It was a 10-foot-tall (3.0 m) purported “petrified man” uncovered on October 16, 1869, by workers digging a well behind the barn of William C. “Stub” Newell in Cardiff, New York. Both it and an unauthorized copy made by P. T. Barnum are still being displayed. 

Fort Dodge is the home of Fort Dodge Animal Health (a division of Boehringer Ingelheim), a major producer of pharmaceuticals and vaccines for veterinarian use.  

At least three major national trucking companies (primarily flatbed carriers serving the drywall industry) are based in Fort Dodge. The city also serves as a retail center for North-Central Iowa. 

For most of the 20th century, meatpacking was a major industry in Fort Dodge. The last two large meatpacking plants (owned by Iowa Beef Processors and Hormel) closed during the 1980s, when such companies moved their facilities closer to beef production in western states such as the Dakotas. One of the laboratories of Fort Dodge Animal Health was built on the site of a former Hormel processing plant. 

The Fort Dodge Correctional Facility, a 1,250-bed medium-security state prison, opened in 1998. 

The Fort Museum and Frontier Village is located on the southwest edge of Fort Dodge. It is a full-scale recreation of a military outpost on the prairie from the 19th century. It also features a reconstructed village from the same time period. Additionally, The Fort Museum has a replica of the Cardiff Giant, an archaeological hoax sculpted from gypsum mined at Fort Dodge.  

A “Frontier Days” event is held annually on the Fort Museum grounds. It features a parade, beauty pageant, historical reenactments, a buckskinner camp, and live entertainment. 2014 marked the 40th year of the event. 

The Blanden Memorial Art Museum, the first public museum of art in the state of Iowa, is located in the historic Oak Hill district of Fort Dodge. The Blanden, opened June 5, 1932, is renowned as one of the finest small museums in the nation for its extensive permanent collection as well as popular touring exhibits. The permanent collection on display includes European and American artists prints, sculptures and paintings. 

Shellabration is an annual rock concert held in late July/early August at the Oleson Park Music Pavilion, featuring nationally touring rock groups. Previous performing bands include Journey, Foreigner, REO Speedwagon, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. 

The Lizard Creek Blues Society sponsors an annual blues festival, “Blues Under the Trees,” every summer, drawing blues musicians from all over the United States. 

Fort Dodge Choir Boosters (affiliated with Fort Dodge Senior High School) hosts the annual “Fort Dodge Choral Festival,” which features high school and college choirs from around the upper Midwest under the direction of a nationally recognized conductor/composer. 

Fort Dodge Senior High School serves as a host location for the Iowa state marching band festival, state Solo & Small Ensemble festival, and regional high school jazz band competitions. 

Notable Places in Fort Dodge 

Fort Dodge’s historic Oleson Park Bandshell

  • Wahkonsa Hotel 
  • First United Methodist Church 
  • County Courthouse 
  • Abandoned Rosedale Dairy, once manufacturer of Eskimo Pies 
  • Hawkeye Theatre 
  • Oleson Park and Oleson Park Music Pavilion, featuring woods, hiking trails, and the bandshell, also known as the Karl King Bandshell. The pavilion is associated with Karl King, a famed composer for concert and military bands, who advocated for its construction. It was built as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project. The poured concrete structure was built in a Modernist style with Art Deco overtones and it is known for its acoustical excellence. It was dedicated to King in 1976 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. 
  • Snell-Crawford Park (located at Williams Drive and 12th Avenue North) is a local favorite for weekend recreation. It has a disc golf course, three sand volleyball courts, a jogging/walking/bicycling trail, picnic tables, and grills. Soldier Creek runs through the park. 
  • Rosedale Rapids, the city’s new multimillion-dollar aquatic center, opened north of the roundabout intersection of 10th Avenue North and North 32nd Street in July 2010. The aquatic center features swimming pools, water slides, and a lazy river. 
  • John F. Kennedy Park is the nearest camping facility to Fort Dodge. It has a large campground, a lake with a swimming beach, a playground, and hiking trails. Lakeside Municipal Golf Course, an 18-hole course, is located here. 
  • The 300 acres (1.2 km2) Gypsum City Off-Highway Vehicle Park opened to the public on July 6, 2006. The park is located on abandoned gypsum mines. Plans are in place for the park to be expanded to as much as 1,500 acres (6.1 km2) in the future. 
  • Fort Dodge is a top tubing destination in the state, offering the swift and clear waters of Lizard Creek, solitude on the Des Moines River from Fort Dodge to the Dolliver Memorial State Park, and the nearby lake at Brushy Creek. 
  • The Fort Dodge Country Club par 71 golf course is one of Iowa’s top courses. 
  • Woodman Hollow State Preserve lies roughly 7 miles southeast of Fort Dodge. 
  • Fort Frenzy opened east of town in late 2013. It features family-friendly activities such as an arcade, bumper boats, bumper cars, mini golf, go karts, laser tag, skating, and bowling. 


Notable People from Fort Dodge 

Lew Anderson as Clarabell the Clown.

  • Lewis Armistead (February 18, 1817 – July 5, 1863), as part of Pickett’s Charge during the Battle of Gettysburg, he led his brigade to the high-water mark of the Confederacy 
  • Lew Anderson (1922–2006), last Clarabell the Clown on Howdy Doody 
  • Samuel Z. Arkoff, B movie producer 
  • Cathie Beck, journalist and writer 
  • Suzanne M. Bianchi (1952–2013), sociologist 
  • Joan Blaine, actress 
  • Scott Bloomquist, race car driver 
  • Clara Breed, librarian and activist on behalf of Japanese-Americans during World War II 
  • Holm O. Bursum, politician for the state of New Mexico 

  • Cyrus Clay Carpenter (1829–1898), Governor of Iowa 
  • Nick Collison, professional basketball player 
  • Gene Elston, sportscaster and Baseball Hall of Fame honoree 
  • Nate Erdmann, professional basketball player 
  • Lou Fiene (1884–1964), Major League Baseball pitcher 
  • Gene Ford (1912–1970), Major League Baseball pitcher 
  • Robert Garrison, sculptor 
  • William Greehey, (businessman and philanthropist born 1936) born in Fort Dodge and graduated from Fort Dodge Senior High School in 1954. Founder of Valero Energy, Nustar Energy, and the 2001 recipient of the distinguished Horatio Alger Award 
  • Thomas Heggen, author of Mister Roberts, which was made into a Broadway play and a Hollywood film 
  • Walter Howey, journalist and editor 
  • Mary Kelly, artist, social activist, educator and writer 
  • Corita Kent, artist, social activist and nun 
  • William S. Kenyon, U.S. senator and federal appeals court judge 
  • Karl King, conductor 
  • Bill Koll (1923–2003) NCAA champion, Wrestling Hall of Fame member 
  • Lisa Koll (born 1987), NCAA record holder in 10,000 meters 
  • Mitch Krebs, news anchor 
  • Richard D. McCormick, director of Wells Fargo & Company 
  • John M. Peters, lawyer and legislator 
  • Katie Porter, member of the United States House of Representatives from California’s 45th congressional district 
  • Daniel Rhodes, ceramic artist and author 
  • Robert Schliske (1924–2007), member of the Wyoming House of Representatives from 1971–1975 
  • Steve Stark, television producer, president of production, MGM Television 
  • Brad Steiger (1936-2018), writer 
  • Jeff Struecker, U.S. Army chaplain and author 
  • Bill Tilghman, lawman and gunslinger 
  • Don Ultang, Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer 
  • Betsy Warland, poet and writer 
  • Dale Warland, choral conductor and clinician 
  • Kevin Wickander, MLB player 

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