Podunk Center gains infamy while being sold
|This building is the restaurant at Podunk Center, located on county road P71 in Madison County. (CNA photo by AMY HANSEN)|
Editor's note: This is the second in a two-part series about the Iowa town of Podunk Center.
WINTERSET — In 1969, Homer Weeks put the town of Podunk Center up for sale.
By this point in time, the town consisted of a grocery store, double garage, gas station and a large, main building that housed living quarters and a coffee shop.
The town’s location was nine miles south of Winterset and six miles north of Lorimor.
It was a two-inhabitant town with the Weeks couple being the only population. They put the town up for sale because they wanted to move to Winterset after Homer Weeks was burned in a gasoline fire.
The Des Moines Sunday Register ran a story that the town was for sale for $7,000. It was advertised that the advantages to living in Podunk Center were clean air, plenty of parking space and low taxes and crime rate.
Life Magazine even ran an article about the town in the April 18, 1969, issue.
A flood of telephone calls and telegrams of buyers from Washington, D.C., Canada, Bermuda and London, England came in. At one point, bidding rose to $17,000, but no buyers actually went through with the sale.
That all changed when a man in California heard about the sale of the small, Iowa town.
John J. Garr was in Los Angeles when he heard a story on the evening news with Walter Cronkite about Podunk Center.
Garr was familiar with the Midwest with 17 years as an employee of the Chicago Department of Safety working as a firefighter under his belt.
In 1971, he purchased the rural community for $10,000 with the intention of restoring it to the hub of the world, which it was originally known as.
However, things didn’t go exactly as planned.
The general store burned down in 1972, and the following year, the four-unit motel was seriously damaged by fire.
The real blow to Podunk Center came in 1975 with the relocation of Highway 169 a-half mile to the west of the town.
By this time, all that remained of the town was a mailbox and a Pepsi-Cola sign with Podunk Center on it.
This didn’t deter Garr since he transported a building from a nearby farmstead onto the remaining foundation of Podunk Center.
The town’s biggest claim to fame actually evolved from false advertising in 1978 by Greyhound Lines.
The bus company was offering customers a one-way, 60-day, go-anywhere special. Posters in the advertising campaign said, “The United States is for sale. Go anywhere in the U.S. for $55 or less.”
Greyhound advertised Podunk Center as the equal to vacation spots such as New York City, San Francisco, Florida, New England, Texas, southern California, the Rocky Mountains, Boston and Arizona.
The poster of Podunk Center showed a tree, road, fence and farmstead. However, the picture wasn’t of the real Podunk Center located in Iowa.
It was actually an image from a Midwestern rural scene taken from Greyhound company files.
“That brought a little more fame to Podunk,” said Wendell Spencer, Madison County Historical Society curator.
The Podunk Center posters were to be distributed to bus terminals and depots in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Davenport, Sioux City, Ames, Marshalltown, Iowa City and Fort Dodge.
Just because Podunk Center might not be a town anymore, doesn’t mean it doesn’t still exist in some shape or form.
John J. Garr died in 1995. His dream of restoring the Madison County community was passed on to his wife Sherron and daughter Lynch.
Podunk Center was transformed from an abandoned town into a restaurant bearing the community’s name by the Garr family.
The restaurant has a Winterset address of 3034 Clark Tower Road. The sign on the building states, “Podunk Center established 1934.”
On the Facebook page for the restaurant Podunk Center, it states the business will be closed for winter and to check back for its spring opening day.
The Garrs could not be reached for comment or to find out a reopening date for the restaurant.
The story of Podunk Center could be similar to many rural-farming communities in Iowa that evolved with lone grocery stores and gas stations, and died after relocations of major state highways.
However, Podunk Center has got one thing going for it that these other towns don’t — notoriety.
Its name alone solidifies that.
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