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Renovations Planned, Underway in SE Iowa

Keokuk Union Depot Foundation
The Keokuk Union Depot is just one of the buildings in southeast Iowa getting some work done this summer.

Current and former residents of southeast Iowa are being asked to contribute to a wide variety of projects throughout the region including efforts to restore old buildings and save historic sites.  Tri States Public Radio checked in on a few of these projects this week.

Burlington, which hosted the Iowa Transportation Commission's monthly meeting this week, was approved for a $480,000 grant from the commission for the city to pay for transportation needs.

Steve Hoambrecker, Burlington's Public Works Director, said the money will be used to restore the waiting area at the downtown railroad depot. He said the room, which is known locally as the "Great Room," is no longer great. 

Credit Jason Parrott / TSPR
A fundraising campaign is underway to renovate the Great Room inside Burlington's downtown railroad depot.

"That [room] has been closed off for some time after all of the floods," Hoambrecker said. "Mostly because of the condition of the room.  The windows need to be replaced [and] it really has no HVAC or electrical [systems].  So we are re-opening that ... to allow people to enjoy the space that used to be part of the depot in years past."

Hoambrecker said restoring the Great Room will be pricey, to the tune of about $700,000. With the $480,000 grant from the state and another $120,000 from the city, all that remains is $100,000, which Hoambrecker said the community is being asked to contribute.

"We definitely would love to have a good handle on the amount of pledges and the dollars received somewhere by the beginning of next year. But, this will be an ongoing process," Hoambrecker said.

He expects the project to last through December 2016.

Hoambrecker said he hopes this project also spurs private investment in the depot, leading to more amenities such as wi/fi access and even a restaurant.

There is enough money already to get the project started.  How much of it will be completed will depend on how much of the $100,000 is raised. This project will not include any flood mitigation efforts because the city has already secured about $25-million to pay for those efforts in the downtown district, including the depot.   


The radio story

Local leaders have big plans for a large, vacant lot in downtown Fort Madison.  They say the space between the former Shaeffer Pen plant and the new Dollar General store was the site of a battlefield during the War of 1812.

"The northern boundary is Avenue G and the southern boundary is Avenue H," said Dr. Eugene Watkins.  "That area contains the ravine that was used periodically by the Winnebego, the Sauk and the Menominee when they attacked the fort.  It would be the site of a lot of the outbuildings associated with the fort and the trading post. It saw a good deal of action. It was out in that area that we had soldiers killed in 1813.

Credit Franz Hoenig
Supporters hope to eventually build an interpretive center at the site of a former battlefield in Fort Madison.

Watkins is the Site Manager of Old Fort Madison, the replica of the fort that now stands along the Mississippi in Riverview Park.  

The effort to preserve this location picked up steam when it appeared the site could be developed for commercial use.  That's no longer a threat, said Watkins, because of the efforts of the North Lee County Historical Society and the Friends of Old Fort Madison to raise $50,000 to purchase the land this summer.

Watkins said with the site secured, the focus has shifted to what to do with the former battlefield. He said the Walker Collaborative, a planning group from Tennessee, was hired to develop a feasibility plan for the property, specifically focusing on potential uses.

"The main document is really complete," said Watkins. "It's just down to the little revisions on maps or anything that there were questions on."

Watkins said the revisions are being sent back and forth between himself, the Walker Collaborative and the National Park Service, which oversees the program that provided the grant Fort Madison is using to pay for the study.

He said the most feasible option is an interpretive center, explaining Fort Madison's historic past and its role in the War of 1812.  He said this plan will show organizations with grant money available that Fort Madison is serious about preserving this site.  The plan is expected to be delivered to Fort Madison by the end of the month.


The radio story

Crews are replacing the eaves and the chimney at the Keokuk Union Depot. It's just a sneak preview of what's planned for the historic site along the Mississippi River.

"It's going to look a little messy for a couple of weeks on the up-river side," said Janet Smith. "But it will be put back together soon and it's giving us an opportunity to inspect the structure around the eaves and that will help us with the overall roof restoration project. [This work is] part of that overall project."

Credit Keokuk Union Depot Foundation
Crews are working on the roof at the Keokuk Union Depot.

Smith heads the Keokuk Union Depot Foundation, which received a $56,500 grant to pay for the work.

"Because this is a state grant it has very strict standards for rehabilitation for historic buildings," Smith said.

The company running the project is Restoric, L.L.C., from Chicago, Ill. The company is headed by Neil Vogel, a Keokuk native.

"It's great working with him," Smith said.

This smaller project is expected to be completed by October.  The next phase, the full roof restoration, will begin once the foundation can raise $1-million. 

Smith said it's well on its way, having raised $425,000.  She said once the local effort hits $667,000, the Jeffris Family Foundation, from Wisconsin, will donate the remaining $333,000. 

Fundraising is also underway for the general fund with a concert by Chuck Mitchell scheduled for Friday, Aug. 21 at the depot.  Smith said, "it does take some money to keep the lights on and the air conditioner running."


The radio story

This summer might be remembered in the tri-state region more for the stormy weather and torrential rains compared to the typical blazing sun and high humidity. That's certainly the case for Dr. Eugene Watkins, who is the site manager for Old Fort Madison.

"It's a little bit of a nightmare," Watkinds said, referring to the effort to repair the Fort along the Mississippi River following a powerful storm that hit southeast Iowa in late June. 

That storm has already resulted in the awarding of a Presidential Disaster Declaration.  In Fort Madison, it knocked down a roughly 20 foot section of the large timber wall that surrounds the Fort.

Credit Franz Hoenig
Work is underway to rebuild a wall at Old Fort Madison that was knocked down during a severe thunderstorm in June.

"We are, right now, replacing that," said Watkins.  "Alliant Energy has donated poles and we are currently squaring them up and re-pointing them. Hopefully, here in a couple of weeks, we will have a wall back in place."

The timbers are being crafted to historic standards.

"One of the letters that we have concerning the original Fort talked about the pickets being 12 to 14 feet long," said Watkins.  "We cut them down quite a bit and then they will go 2 to 3 feet in the ground so we will have about a 10 to 11 feet [tall] wall across there when we are done.  Then we are doing what they did at the time, cutting down two sides so they are flat."

Watkins said that will allow them to be installed without gaps like in other parts of the pre-existing wall. He said the work should be completed in a couple weeks, which would give his staff plenty of time to prepare for the re-enactment of the Siege of Old Fort Madison, which will be held in mid-September.

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.