The name "Dyersville, Iowa" may not ring a bell, but millions have seen it in "Field of Dreams," the 1989 movie that starred Kevin Costner. About 300 miles from the Twin Cities in eastern Iowa, the destination makes an inexpensive weekend getaway. If you make the five-hour journey, you'll be rewarded with family activities both indoors and out. You can bike to Dubuque on the 26-mile Heritage Trail, play baseball on the actual Field of Dreams, or visit a museum with hundreds of tiny farm toys. There's even an unexpected Gothic basilica.
One Iowa farm
The cornstalks hadn't come up yet, but I could imagine Shoeless Joe Jackson and the ghostly White Sox emerging from the fog on the chilly April morning I visited the Field of Dreams, 3 miles northeast of Dyersville proper. I had embarked on this Iowa trip the previous day, date of the Twins' home opener. Although I'm not a sports nut, the sound of baseball games brings back happy childhood memories of my father listening to games on Saturdays -- especially if his beloved Orioles were playing.
"Field of Dreams" was filmed on this farmstead during the blazing summer of 1988. Hollywood scouts had roamed the area looking for a piece of land with a big white farmhouse on a hill and the perfect angle for sunsets behind the corn. And here they found it, on the property of the Lansing family, which has farmed this land for more than 100 years.
The baseball diamond stands as it did in the movie, in a peaceful setting of hills, farmhouses, horses and cattle. If you sit on the bleachers and watch the landscape, you can imagine the long row of headlights at the end of the film, the cars streaming in from the crisscross of farm roads.
The Field of Dreams site is refreshingly low-key. As the owners say on their website, "The best thing about this place is what isn't here" -- that it's up to visitors to bring their own dreams. The only sign of commercialism is a concession stand where the family sells memorabilia: souvenir regulation baseballs, bats, T-shirts, books, postcards and more.
A notice on one of their wooden announcement boards states, "It was built, and now you've come." Indeed, people from as far away as Australia and Japan have made the pilgrimage to the site. The Field of Dreams is open 9-6 daily April through November, and admission is free (28995 Lansing Road; 1-888-875-8404; www. fieldofdreamsmoviesite.com). Bring your bat, ball and glove. Play catch with your kid.
Tiny tractors and more
Dyersville is home to the National Farm Toy Museum, a sprawling two-story collection of thousands of tiny tractors, combines, miniature farm replicas and more. You don't have to be a toy connoisseur to enjoy a visit. In addition to the cases of farm toys from all over the world, dioramas depict the history of agriculture back to the 3000s B.C., and film footage shows highlights of the development of farm machinery and companies like International Harvester. The museum is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Admission: $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, $3 for ages 6-17, free for ages 5 and under (1110 16th Av. Court SE.; 1-877-475-2727; www.nationalfarmtoy museum.com).
A number of farm toy stores and manufacturers also call Dyersville home. The Summer Farm Toy Show, an annual gathering of collectors and enthusiasts sponsored by the museum, is June 3-4. Thousands of farm toy memorabilia items will be available for sale and trade, and a tractor parade passes through downtown.
Hit the trail
Across the street from one of Dyersville's regular city baseball fields -- not the dream one -- is the old railroad depot, which marks the beginning of the Heritage Trail. Twenty-six miles of crushed limestone bicycle trail made from an old railroad bed pass through woodlands and prairies, mining and mill towns, to Dubuque and the Mississippi River. Trail fees are $2.10 per day (www.inhf.org/iowatrails/heritage-intro.htm).
In downtown Dyersville, you'll find one of the nation's 52 basilicas, the only one in a rural community. It's open daily from sunup to sundown. The Basilica of St. Francis Xavier, known for its Gothic architecture, has 64 stained glass windows, five marble pieces from the floor of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome and a chip from the grotto at Lourdes, France (104 3rd St. SW.; 1-563-875-7325; www.xavierbasilica.com).
As I was pulling out of the parking lot at the Field of Dreams, a van from Indiana arrived. Three generations tumbled out with bats, balls and gloves and headed for the diamond, as families have been doing since 1989. In those patchwork fields by the Field of Dreams, it felt comfortable to be nestled in the middle of the American Heartland.
Barbara J. Tuttle is a Minneapolis freelance writer.