116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DYERSVILLE — Four miles northeast of town lies the reason many people come to Dyersville. But the Field of Dreams isn’t the only major-league attraction to this city of nearly 4,500 residents, lying 64 miles northeast of Cedar Rapids.
As you turn off Highway 20, you’ll see the twin spires of the Basilica of St. Francis Xavier, soaring above the treetops at 212 feet each. Before you get there, you’ll pass the National Farm Toy Museum, a point of pride for the city known as “the farm toy capital of the world.” The 44th annual National Farm Toy Show & Auction is so big that it will be spread over several sites this weekend.
Wherever your interests lie, Dyersville, founded in the late 1840s, hits a home run.
Field of Dreams
“People will come Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They'll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past,” James Earl Jones said, wrapping his mellifluous voice around the dialogue in “Field of Dreams.”
The 1989 fantasy film that gave us the phrases “If you build it he will come” and “Is this heaven? No, it’s Iowa,” continues to capture the fancy of moviegoers, baseball fans and the kids they want to introduce to the site where Hollywood met Heaven.
On Oct. 27, they came from Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin, leaving their signatures on the Field of Dreams guest book.
A toddler girl ran the bases as her father cheered her on; two businessmen from Kansas took a break from their meeting in town to see the site for themselves; and a young family from Illinois unloaded balls, bats and gloves from their car, to strike up a game.
Three generations of visitors sat on the wooden benches where in the movie, Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) sat with daughter Karin (Gaby Hoffmann) to watch the ghost players emerge from the cornfield onto the ball field.
A mom and two kids smiled for selfies in front of the picture-perfect white farmhouse just steps from the ball diamond. Others ducked into the bright red barn to check out the T-shirts and souvenirs in the Baseballism store.
Outside the barn, a guide in a replica vintage ball uniform waited for people to arrive for his next 30-minute house tour. I’ve seen the movie several times, and since I spend most weekends in a farmhouse, I decided not to toss out $20 for the tour. But don’t let that stop you — the guide assured me the tour is worth it. For hours, prices and more information, go to fieldofdreamsmoviesite.com/home-tour
No one will be emerging from the corn these days. A combine and grain truck were harvesting the corn around the major-league diamond. A few rows would be left standing behind the movie site until its soft closing Oct. 31, then the rest would come down, making way for next spring’s planting, and the Aug. 11, 2022, Major League game where the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Red will emerge from the corn to play on a regulation field christened this past summer.
The movie’s ball field will reopen during the National Farm Toy Show and Auction this weekend. After that, it will be closed for the season, but the house and other Field of Dreams draws will remain open.
If You Build It Exhibit: Also closed for the season is the If You Build It Exhibit, filling a corner storefront at 201 First Ave. E. It will reopen in May, and rounds the bases with a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the movie, as well as the history that inspired W.P. Kinsella's 1982 novel, “Shoeless Joe,” adapted for the screen shortly thereafter.
Linda and Perry Swenson of Hudson, Wis., visited the exhibit last week, soaking up the details in the colorful panels and 3D displays. Visitors can even suit up in vintage baseball attire to create their own baseball card, using a Snapchat filter.
“‘Field of Dreams’ brought us here,” Linda Swenson said. “We love the movie and we’ve seen it lots of times.”
Any time of year, you can snap your own photo outdoors by the building’s Ghost Player mural, to look like you’re emerging from the corn. Details: ifyoubuilditexhibit.com
According to xavierbasilica.com/history, the first Catholic church in Dyersville was built in 1862, just south of the basilica. Seven years later, that first structure had to double in size to accommodate the number of Catholics moving into the area.
By 1880, congregants had again outgrown the space, so construction on the current building began in September 1887. The Gothic-style structure at 104 Third St. SW was dedicated on Dec. 3, 1889, the feast day of St. Francis Xavier for whom it is named. The interior painting was finished in 1905, and restored in 2000-2001.
In recognition of the architecture and the congregation’s faith, a proclamation by Pope Pius XII elevated it to the rank of a minor basilica in 1956. In 1989, the Basilica of St. John in Des Moines became Iowa’s only other minor basilica.
Today, the Dyersville parish has about 5,000 members, and the sanctuary can accommodate about 1,000 people. The public is welcome to attend Mass or to just come inside to see the visual splendor of the architecture, altars, windows, the massive pipe organ, relics and statuary. It’s a glorious space in which to sit quietly and meditate in peace, regardless of your faith. All are welcome.
The side doors are open daily from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., and group tours can be arranged. Details: xavierbasilica.com/guest-info
Farm Toy Capital
Building on a family hobby that began in Fred Ertl’s basement in 1945, the Ertl Company opened its farm toy manufacturing plant in Dyersville in June 1959, moving production from earlier sites in Dubuque.
In 1970, Joe Ertl opened Dyersville Die Cast, and in 1978, its sister company, Scale Models Toys, which continues to make miniature tractors and implements. TOMY International and SpecCast also manufacture scale-model toys.
This long history has led not only to the creation of the National Farm Toy Museum, 1110 16th Ave. SE, but the sale of farm toys at the museum’s gift shop; the next-door Plaza Antique Mall, 1235 16th Ave. Ct. SE; and the TOMY (formerly RC2 Ertl) Outlet Store, 2021 Ninth St. SE.
The two-story toy story museum, which opened Nov. 6, 1987, contains a manufacturing history timeline, farming dioramas, miniatures on display, all tracing the evolution of farm equipment. It’s a treasure trove of fun and education for all ages.
National Farm Toy Show & Auction: Thousands of people will flood Dyersville from Friday through Sunday, Nov. 5 to 7, 2021, for this 44th annual event. The auction will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday at Beckman High School, 1325 Ninth St. SE, across the street from the farm toy museum. A display contest also will be held in the Beckman school gym. More than 200 exhibitors from about 20 states will be selling toys and collectibles at the school, the museum, two outdoor spaces east of the museum and at the nearby Commercial Club Park, 225 11th St. SE. Details: toyfarmer.com/2021-national-farm-toy-showreg.html The annual summer farm toy show is held the first full weekend in June.
Dyer-Botsford Historical House & Doll Museum, 331 First Ave. E, open May to November: Home to Dyersville’s founder, James Dyer Jr., his wife, Ann, and their three children, this restored Victorian structure looks like a life-size doll house. Visitors will see antique furniture, vintage wedding dresses, a miniature hand-carved circus, a rare German feather Christmas tree, Dyersville history displays and more than 2,000 dolls. Details: dyersvillehistory.com/dyer-botsford-house
Heritage Trail, 2022 Beltline Rd.: This 30-mile, all-season trail has trailheads at several Dubuque County towns. This former rail line beckons hikers, bikers, skiers and snowmobilers through a valley 450 feet deep, and past old mining and mill towns. Details: dubuquecountyiowa.gov/Facilities/Facility/Details/Heritage-Trail-6
Lodging: Tourists will find several lodging options in town, including motels, bed-and-breakfasts, and the Field of Dreams house (starting at $500, fieldofdreamsmoviesite.com/home-rental). Nearby towns also offer campgrounds and other lodgings.
Dining: Local bars and restaurants cater to all manner of appetites, from grab-and-go to pizza, Mexican and Chinese fare to Dyersville Family Restaurant at 226 First Ave. E, Brew & Brew coffee shop cafe at 213 First Ave. E, and Textile Brewing Company, in a beautifully restored sewing factory that retains much of its original charm, at 146 Second St. NE.
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