Early SettlementThe spring of 1846 saw a company of forty-two souls in ten families who left their native Bavaria in 1845, made their way up the Mississippi River by boat from St. Louis, and landed at Dubuque, Iowa. After transferring their belongings to covered wagons drawn by oxen, the ten families moved westward. Their good farming sense prompted them to call the gentle valley they found a few miles south of the settlement of New Vienna their new home.
In 1847, at the age of twenty-six, James Dyer arrived in the area. His family and friends followed from Somersetshire, England. Dyer was a man of means and good judgment and under his leadership an intensive building program was initiated. The town built by Dyer in the midst of the group of Bavarian farmers was known as Dyersville as early as February 13, 1849.
The panics and depression of 1857 and 1873 caused many of the English to leave for more promising places. As the migration of the English continued, they sold farms, homes and stores to German Settlers.
In 1888, many farmers and merchants mortgaged their properties to build a new Catholic church large enough to hold one thousand people. Pope Pius XII elevated St. Francis Xavier Church to the rank of a Minor Basilica in 1956. The Basilica of St. Francis Xavier was recently restored at a cost of over $1 million. It was recently featured on EWTN, a Catholic Television Network, and remains the destination for thousands of visitors each year. With its twin spires topped by gold crosses, the Basilica remains the most predominant edifice in Dyersville.
In 1945, Fred Ertl, Sr. began to make scale models of farm tractors using molds he created and fired in his basement furnace. This hobby led to a family business and eventually to the Ertl Company, which produced toy tractors and farm implements. The popularity of these toys over the years has supported two large toy shows, which are held every June and November. Dyersville is now known as the "Farm Toy Capital of the World" and is home to the National Farm Toy Museum.
In 1982, screenwriter Phil Robinson became interested in the novel "Shoeless Joe." He recognized the potential for this heartwarming story and looked for a setting for the film. In the early months of 1988, Robinson came upon the Lansing farm near Dyersville and said, "That's it! That's my farm!" The movie produced was called "The Field of Dreams," starring Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones. Today the site is well maintained and visited by many baseball enthusiasts.