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The benefactor of Baxter

By Staff | Oct 25, 2008

The Baxter Inn as it appears today. EDN photo by Michael Tidemann

If you’re ever in the Des Moines area and need a place to stay, you really should consider the quaint, six-room Baxter Inn, the only accommodations in this town of 1,052 people.

Located just northwest of Newton, Baxter itself is located amid a rampart of rolling hills leading toward the state capitol of Des Moines. The inn itself is in a 1900 bank building that was renovated to practically new condition.

This is more than a story of an inn, though. It’s a story of how one man’s generosity and love for his hometown helped save an entire community and to this day provides a source of money for the local school district.

Pat Milligan was born in a house on Baxter’s Main Street, just south of what is currently a bank and across the street from the Baxter Inn, a bank building when it was first built. Milligan, who now lives in Arizona, and his brother, Sid, who lives in Algona, completely restored the Baxter Inn to its current glory as well as the east side of buildings in the block to the northwest where O’Kelly’s Steak House is located.

A few years ago, the Milligan brothers donated both the Baxter Inn and O’Kelly’s to the Baxter School Foundation which has used the lease proceeds for much-needed school projects.

The Baxter Inn, as shown in the photo taken 1909 when the building, then a bank, was just nine years old. Photo submitted

“I’ve always been real active in our community as far as economic development and growth,” said Milligan Friday from his home in Arizona.

Milligan said he first bought the building to use for offices for his trucking company. Later, he finished off two rooms upstairs for his drivers. As the business grew, he bought the property across the street to the northwest. Renovation of the former bank building continued to the point that it now has six rooms, three on each floor.

“I just didn’t see our main street doing that well unless something was changed,” said Milligan. He’s glad that he renovated the buildings that comprise most of Baxter’s downtown, though. He seems even more glad that the school district is the recipient of the lease proceeds.

“It’s really a good community,” Milligan said of Baxter. “I think it all ties together.”

One of the downstairs rooms is dubbed the Canfield Room in honor of Doc Canfield, another Baxter mover and shaker from the town’s early days.

Milligan isn’t Baxter’s only cheerleader though.

Neil Seales, superintendent of Baxter Schools, came to Baxter 34 years ago as a new teacher. He liked what he found so much that he stayed, eventually becoming superintendent.

Seales is about as big of a Baxter backer as you can find. He proudly notes that during the last 114 years, Baxter School District voters have never turned down a bond issue. In turn, they demand that their children get an education that’s every bit as good as what they could get in the Des Moines school systems. And they get it.

“It’s allowed us to do some educational grants,” most notably for the music and talented-and-gifted programs, Seales said. “If it wasn’t for people like Pat, that have the financial wherewithal to do it, it wouldn’t have happened,” Seales said of the building restoration and subsequent revenue stream for the school district.

In addition to the historic restoration on Main Street that has benefitted the Baxter School District, the district itself has been a trusted custodian of its own historic heritage. The original 1916 school building stands proudly in the center of the current school complex, as well as the 1924 building.

With a K-12 student enrollment of about 440, the Baxter school added an office complex in 1996 and community wellness center in 2006, the latter paid for with a Harkin School Grant. Both the library and wellness center are joint city and school projects, making the Baxter School truly a community facility for everyone.

“It’s been a very supportive community,” Seales said. “The most unique thing in the community is the support for the school.”

Baxter is assured of having students who are ready for learning. Just east of the school is a state-of-the-art early childhood center built on land that Milligan donated to the school.

The community also has a full-service clinic and supermarket, amenities usually not found in communities of 1,000.

And so much of it is due to the legacy of a man who loved his community so much that he refused to let it die.