Iowa Railroad Buildings Elevated
By Margaret Foster | Online Only | Apr. 8, 2011
By some twist of luck, three early-19th-century railroad buildings in southeastern Iowa have survived multiple floods in the past decades. But in elevating the three brick structures—a passenger depot, a freight depot, and a freight office built on the banks of the Mississippi River—locals aren't taking any further chances.
Last month, workers began the challenging task of separating the freight depot and freight office from their foundations, raising them eight feet in the air, and constructing new foundations. The Mission-style passenger depot will be raised next, then restored as an Amtrak passenger depot—a rare endeavor today, when many outmoded depots are simply demolished.
"I don't think there's a case in the Midwest where they've reopened a depot," says Rod Scott, historic resource specialist and hazard mitigation specialist at Jeremy Patterson House Movers, Inc., of Washington, Iowa, the contractor behind the effort. "The teardown era of train depots has been horrendous.”
The Santa Fe Railroad, for whom the structures were built, abandoned the National Register-listed complex in the 1970s. Now owned by the City of Fort Madison, the complex served as a local history museum in recent years.
The project, funded by grants from the state's department of transportation as well as its I-JOBS program, is scheduled to be completed this fall.
Scott says he has been impressed by the integrity of the buildings, despite floodwater damage.
"They're like battleships," he says. "It's just the way we used to build. They built them to last."
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