By Aaron Steinmann
In recent months, the sites and communities of Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area, nestled in Northeast Iowa, have weathered Mother Nature’s worst. Just weeks after an F-5 tornado ravaged portions of the Heritage Area, historic floods devastated countless communities during the floodwaters slow trek across the Heritage Area.
While volunteers spent countless hours sandbagging and moving artifacts, in many areas the rising waters could not be tamed. Now that the floodwaters have receded, the true extent of the devastation continues to be uncovered. With all 37 counties of the Heritage Area being declared a Presidential Disaster Area, it’s estimated that one-third of the 106 Silos & Smokestacks partner sites were impacted.
Over two months have passed since the floods and business as usual seems like an unfamiliar concept to many affected by the floods. As some begin the long and challenging process of rebuilding, others sit in limbo unsure of what the future holds.
At Ushers Ferry Historic Village in Cedar Rapids, 34 of the 36 buildings were submerged, with the log cabin being washed downstream. While three buildings have been deemed completely destroyed, limited resources and manpower have hindered full assessment of the damage. Though there is hope to rebuild the village in some capacity, the future currently remains uncertain. Further downstream in Cedar Rapids, the African American Historical Museum & Cultural Center of Iowa and the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library set on opposing banks of the Cedar River yet suffered much the same fate. While buildings were secured and artifacts moved, neither were fully prepared for a crest of 19 feet above flood stage. They join countless others like the Ice House Museum in Cedar Falls in the long process of developing a plan to rebuild.
Nestled along Iowa’s Rivers, the mills of the Heritage Area are no stranger to floods, though 2008 has proven especially tough. To help with assessments and restoration planning, Silos & Smokestacks and the Iowa Historic Preservation Alliance hosted Trillium Dell Timberworks of Knoxville, IL on a tour of Wapsipinicon Mill, Independence; Motor Mill, Elkader; and Potters Mill, Bellevue. Like many historic structures, the Wapsi Mill had never had the opportunity for an expert in timber framing to evaluate the mill. It’s hoped this will provide a starting point for continued preservation for these remnants of Iowa’s history.
During and after the flood, the unity of the Heritage Area has continually been shown as partner sites work to help each other. The unaffected Brucemore Historic Site in Cedar Rapids setup their Garden House as preservation headquarters for teams of out-of-town professionals, and the Iowa Masonic Library & Museum is currently housing staff from the African American Historical Museum along with a mini exhibit. While buildings have been devastated and many artifacts lost, the true story of the Heritage Area, which lies in the communities and people of the region, will continue.
A disaster relief fund has been established to help in the recovery and rebuilding efforts for the region. Checks may be sent to:
Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area
SSNHA Save Our History Fund
PO Box 2845 Waterloo, IA 50704-2845
Featured thumbnail and photo by Dusty Allen Smith on Flickr