Preservation efforts are a go

Emily Archer · Wednesday, July 16, 2014
The Muscatine County Fair is in full swing, and while it only comes around once a year there are yearlong plans to make the fairgrounds part of the National Register of Historic Places.

“We did an assessment of the whole county… so that’s what we’re working on right now,” said Lisa Wertzbaugher, member of Muscatine Historical Preservation Commission. “[The fairgrounds] is definitely the largest in scope.”

Most of the buildings, including the posts at the entrance of the grounds, are the original structures of the fairgrounds. The Muscatine Historical Preservation Commission voted to preserve the fairgrounds, in lieu of other buildings and sites around West Liberty.

“What we’re told is a lot of the fairs in the state of Iowa do not have buildings this age,” said Tim Nichols, chairman of Infrastructure Restoration Committee. “We are very unique in that matter.”

Becoming part of the National Register of Historic Places would be a gateway to many benefits.

“As a fairgrounds, if it were to be a historical district, then it will get some of that press and notoriety,” said Nichols. “And hopefully drive some activity and advertising and marketing.”

The process of becoming a historical site includes hiring a historian to assess whether or not the grounds truly count as a historical site.

“I’m excited to be working with the fair board and the Muscatine County Historic Preservation Commission on this project,” said Rebecca McCarley, an architectural historian assigned to evaluate the fairgrounds, with SPARK Consulting in Davenport.

“I enjoyed the preliminary work that I’ve already completed on the property and look forward to the more in-depth research to document the history of the individual building and the fair,” she added.

Muscatine County Historic Preservation Commission released a statement saying that the entire process—collecting pictures, documentation and research—will take over a year to complete.

Research will stretch through the fall, and the [National Register of Historic Places] nomination will then be developed over the winter. It will then be submitted for state and federal review which will extend through fall of 2015.

“For the fairgrounds, since the fair board is working to rehabilitate several of the buildings, they are interested in getting the property qualified for these financial incentives,” said McCarley.

Becoming a historical site not only takes time, but also a lot of funding and support. The Muscatine Historical Preservation Commission has already received three grants from the government, one of which will go towards paying the historian.

“It was a very competitive grant,” said Wertzbaugher. “It was a really big win for us.”

The Infrastructure Restoration Committee has also received 360,000 dollars over a period of five years from Kent Corporation in order to renovate and repair the fairgrounds.

“We’ve got some good momentum, we’ve got a fundraising plan to go out to our corporate partners,” said Tim Nichols. “We will have a tent in the [Muscatine County Fair] with lots of information on our infrastructure and improvements.”

The tent at the fair will also be accepting donations in order to match the funds given to them by the Kent Corporation, and there is also a request for historical photos, personal stories about the fairgrounds and other material that will help in the evaluation of the fairgrounds.

The Infrastructure Restoration Committee is also underway with renovations to some of the buildings on the fairgrounds.

“We have had a fair amount of work days this spring… the arts and crafts building that was leaning and we got that straightened up,” said Nichols. “There’s a lot of history behind that, significant history.”

The fairgrounds becoming a historical site is an opportunity for people to share their stories and photos, along with the effect the fairgrounds has had in the community.

“Our fairgrounds has a historical feel to it,” said Nichols. “It’s got some powerful memories for a lot of people.”
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