A crowd of more than 100 people gathered Wednesday afternoon to watch as workers added the roughly 26-foot steeple to the former Keokuk Union Depot along the Mississippi River. One spectator said he would not have missed it for the world.
Kieth Courtney drove to Keokuk from his home in Wayland, Mo. He found a front row seat in the form of a giant oval-shaped rock to watch a giant yellow crane lift the new steeple into place.
Courtney said the depot remains a major part of his life.
"I was the last ticket agent here," he said. "I was the last telegraph operator here and the last superintendent of the depot who was onsite. This [depot] means 30 years of my life. I spent 40 hours/week here... minimum... a lot of times a lot more than that. It was my life and it fed my family. This was it."
Courtney started working at the depot in the early 1960s and retired nearly three decades later.
He said the steeple was not in place at that time. He said it was damaged by a lightning strike about 15 years earlier.
Courtney said he's glad the depot is being restored to its original, historic look. He said his one hope is that it eventually houses a transportation museum.
“The history of this place is, a lot of it is gone," said Courtney. "What I know about it, I have tried to pass it on to the fellows here but I’ll be 81 years old in October. The history I know is going to be gone before long.”
The depot can be rented for events such as receptions, meetings, and class reunions.
The focus of the renovation this summer has been the roof and the steeple. Crews must still add several turrets and clay tiles before the project can be considered complete.
The Keokuk Union Depot Foundation continues to raise money to pay for the restoration, including the roof. It has brought in nearly enough money to match a $333,333 grant from a family foundation in Wisconsin.