What would possess a man to contact the state of Iowa and ask them if he could turn a small piece of land, owned by the Highway Commission, into a park? Some would most likely say it would be crazy-- why waste your time? What good would it do? Yet, a man with very little gave this small piece of earth, not only his hard work fortitude but also gave it his whole heart and soul. This compassionate man was full of gratitude from his safe return to his hometown after serving in World War II. He made a promise, coming home on the Queen Mary, that he would do something for the good of others. That little Park is still located in Northeast Iowa. Its “engineer” is no longer, but his legend remains especially in the heart of his family who continue to advocate for the Park and for him.
In July of 1955, after obtaining the go-ahead from the Highway Commission, Bob Carey took his 1928 Model A Ford with his handmade wagon and began tearing out weeds, junk, and brush. This Iowa man’s dream was to turn the unused parcel into a place for tired travelers’ and locals families to enjoy.
Actual Picture of Bob Carey building the Park-July 1955
Before long, the little piece of land flourished. Young Maple Trees were dug up out of the woods near Castalia owned by the Charles Linderbaum family. Flower Beds were hand planted to bloom in the spring along with anything Bob could barter for. Picnic tables and chairs were created from old scrap Iron and the tree limbs he trimmed while cleaning up the parcel. A fireplace was pieced together from native stone along with iron that he recycled from his gas station. A picnic shelter went up along with a few relics such as an old horse plow and a switch from the old B.C.R.N. railroad (built through the small town in 1889). Within a short amount of time, the weeded lot was looking more like a place where others would take their families, enjoy a picnic or stop for a much-needed rest.
Post Card of the Park painted by Alberta Snyder of Winthrop, Iowa
Visitors from all over stopped to enjoy. In 1962, over 2,200 visitors stopped at the small park. Notes from travelers were left while signing the guest book letting Bob know how wonderful the park was and to thank him for his hospitality. The Iowa State Highway Commission made it a point to stop off at the park to see what kind of changes became of their small piece of land. Perhaps the most exciting visitor was Babe the circus elephant. Even an elephant needs to get out and stretch her legs and she picked the perfect stop to do it!
His promise made as it was evident by the appreciation of others. Numerous Thank You notes were often left along with a few dollars in the donation box to help Mr. Carey continue to provide upkeep and maintenance. Campers were always welcome for no charge and the entrepreneur made sure they had everything they needed and more to be safe and comfortable throughout their stay. He even left his gas station bathroom open and available for the visitors to use. Hand built Flagpoles held the US Flag and Iowa Flags, as well as giving honor to those who lost their lives protecting those flags. Every single morning Bob could be seen flying the flags and every evening at dusk, making his trek to take them down again.
Each year, the park would grow and thrive. In 1976, with the help of the local Historical Committee, a Log Cabin was added to provide history and culture. The It took a lot of hard work and effort from many individuals including Bob. The Historical Committee of the Ossian Crown Club sought out a cabin but would not have been able to get the cabin if it wasn’t for Dr. B.E. Vagts. Doc Vagts, a local Veterinarian seen the cabin many times while giving Vet care for a farmer in Fayette County. Doc knew the Committee was searching for a Log Cabin so he “put a bug in the ear” of Herman Pape. The Pape family generously donated the Log Cabin to be moved to the Park. Reilly Construction of Ossian provided a lowboy semi truck to haul the cabin from the Pape farm pasture to the Park. Bob was able to use his Wrecker to lift the cabin and swing it onto the trailer. All the long hours and hard work were donated in-kind like the man who dreamed of making a weed infested lot into a beautiful place for others to enjoy!
Actual picture of the Log Cabin located in Carey’s Park
Bob Carey and his daughter Dolly Carey Panos along with Skippy the family dog and Bob’s 1928 Ford Model- A that he used to clear the land for Carey’s Park & Campsite