AMES, Iowa- Dave Baker had an interest in political history at a young age. While in college he interned at a historical museum, and realized there were many fascinating stories of Iowa history, that most people were not aware of.
So he picked his camera up with the intention of documenting some of Iowa’s towns.
The project kept picking up steam as he learned at one time there were so many towns, many of which now are never thought of.
“I decided to embark on a project kind of out of the blue where I was going to go to every community in the state of Iowa take a picture because I like photography and put together a photo book,” said Baker. “Turns out that idea really was a little bit half-baked and it’s really evolved since then, I’m still hoping to put out some books several books.”
Now he has a blog about Iowa called 29th State. He also speaks to historical groups around the state about many towns that are no longer around.
“When I first started doing this my goal was to go out and interact with the existing communities in the state,” said Baker. “What I noticed, as I started looking at my checklist which I got from the Secretary of State’s website, there were communities that weren’t listed on there.”
Baker also found a ghost town in Jasper County he has a personal connection to.
His great great great great grandfather, also named, David Baker helped to found the town. He also may have contributed to it’s demise.
“Greencastle was a very very successful community in the 1850’s but it didn’t get a railroad stop,” said Baker. “When the railroad passed two miles north of Greencastle, my ancestor donated land to the railroad to put in a station, and that’s where the town of Mingo came in.”
Greencastle now is unincorporated, but has 9 or ten houses there, no businesses or school. Baker speaks to various historical groups about his research. He is advising that Iowa may have more towns turning into ghost towns.
“There’s a lot of towns here in Iowa they don’t build the committees with people they may not be around another 50 years in an Jasper County I’m thinking of Valeria,” said Baker.
In the town of Valeria, there were people who had moved there recently, who disagreed with that take, they believed the town has a bright future, as there’s talk of a business opening in town. But not everyone shares that.
“It’s slowly dying church is the only thing the only landmark left,” said Mel Morrissey, who grew up in Valeria. “Here used to be when I was in grade school and high school when the bus came through we went to Mingo was our school bus came through and pick up 8 to 15 kids the time, I told my wife the other morning when the bus went through I don’t think they picked up one.”
Baker plans to photograph all of Iowa's 947 towns. He has documented all former and current towns in 37 of Iowa's 99 counties.
Baker gives presentations on history around Iowa. You can check out his Facebook Page 29th State Here.