When History Is Lost

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Release date: 
February 1, 2010
Release Number: 

DES MOINES, Iowa -- The two Queen Ann style houses on Third Street, built in the 1890s, were determined eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. They were also directly in the path of the EF-5 tornado that destroyed almost half of Parkersburg, Iowa on May 25, 2008.

How do you replace history? You can’t and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division (HSEMD) know this.

The National Historic Preservation Act mandates a review process for all federally-funded and permitted projects that will impact properties listed in, or eligible for listing in, the National Register. In conjunction with HSEMD, FEMA‘s Environmental and Historic Preservation (EHP) section works with FEMA’s recovery programs (Public Assistance, Hazard Mitigation) following a disaster declaration and determines if there is an environmental or historical consideration for each project. Although EHP doesn’t have its own funding mechanism, it can identify projects with a historic aspect, and work with the programs to incorporate historic preservation goals into the project development.

If it appears that an emergency action will adversely affect a historic property, FEMA will provide the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) with available information about the condition of the property, the proposed action, and prudent and feasible measures that would take the adverse effect into account, requesting the SHPO’s comments.

Sometimes buildings cannot be restored or relocated without an adverse effect to the historical nature of the building. When that happens, FEMA and SHPO come up with an “alternative treatment measure” that would serve to offset the historical loss to the community. For example, when Parkersburg historic homes were severely damaged by the tornado, FEMA funded the demolition. To offset the loss of those historic properties, FEMA could help fund the renovation of a museum across town. In essence, the effort to renovate the museum mitigates or reduces the historical loss to the community.

Throughout the state of Iowa, in towns like Parkersburg, Cedar Falls, Waverly and La Porte City 3,056 structures have been identified to be demolished due to buyouts or health and safety issues in the wake of the floods and severe storms of 2008. Some of these houses were listed, or eligible to be listed, on the National Register. Some alternative treatment measures to the losses of the historic homes include:

In Parkersburg, EHP proposed installing a boiler in the C.C. Wolf Mansion as an alternative treatment measure for the historic homes lost in the tornado. The Parkersburg Historical Society has restored the Queen Anne style Wolf mansion, preserving it as a museum that is a popular tourist attraction.

In Cedar Falls, The Little Red School House Museum is representative of the more than 9,000 rural schools that once dotted the state. Consolidations eliminated these one-room schools by 1966, but this building survives as a reminder of early education in Iowa. As an alternative treatment measure, FEMA has funded restoration and painting of the schoolhouse.

In Waverly, city historic preservation commissioners asked to have three neighborhoods studied and historic district nominations for the National Register prepared for several hundred buildings in these districts. FEMA will fund the effort and once listed, buildings will have access to federal and state historic tax credit programs.

In La Porte City, the FFA Agricultural Museum features exhibits related to rural life of a bygone era. The Museum is housed in the former fire station and town hall (built in 1876). The former jail (built in 1911) is the Museum's reception area. As an alternate treatment measure, FEMA funded construction of a new roof to stabilize and preserve the jailhouse and fire station.

Last Updated: 
July 16, 2012 - 18:46
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