ONAWA, Iowa | Signs along Iowa Avenue in Onawa welcome visitors to "The Widest Main Street in the U.S."
According to longtime resident Terry Virtue, Iowa Avenue measures 150 feet from north-side storefront to south-side storefront.
Why is this east/west thoroughfare so wide? One legend says the width has its foundation, literally, in the railroad. Planners laid out the town with the belief that tracks coming from Denison, Iowa, would run through the heart of this community. Unfortunately, that never materialized.
Jo Petersen, who once directed the talented-and-gifted curricular efforts for the West Monona School District in Onawa, said another theory centers in fire prevention or fire control. A wider-than-normal main street would keep flames and sparks from bouncing across the street.
The Eskimo Pie was created by Christian Kent Nelson, an Onawa teacher and owner of the Royal Ice Cream Parlor nearly a century ago. Nelson was said to have dreamed up this chocolate-covered treat when a boy in his store couldn't decided whether he wanted a candy bar or ice cream.
Nelson soon went to work tinkering with ways to have melted chocolate stick or mesh with bricks of vanilla ice cream. As he worked, he invented a dipping machine that did the work and, thus, created the Eskimo Pie, a name coined in 1922 by Clara Stover, the wife of Omaha-based candy manufacturer, Russell Stover.
Nelson amassed a fortune from his treat and his relationship with the Stovers. He continued to work, however, and wrapped up his career in 1961 working at Reynolds Metal Co., where he invented ways to manufacture and ship Eskimo Pies.
The Eskimo Pie first hit the consumer market in 1921. Country singer George Jones recorded a song named "Eskimo Pie" in 1957. And, in the 1996 crime drama, "The Chamber," convicted murderer Sam Cayhill (played by Gene Hackman) requested the frozen treat and a cup of coffee for the last meal he'd have before his execution.
The line connected two Siouxland figures: Onawa's Eskimo Pie and Hackman, who attended high school in Storm Lake, Iowa, during his sophomore year in 1945.