BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – The flooding of 2019 took a toll on the Old Fort as far as numbers, but the added American Cruise Lines traffic helped offset some of the loss.
Dr. Eugene Watkins, Site Manager of the Old Fort said a fundraising effort is currently underway through Friends of the Old Fort, which operates under the North Lee County Historical Society’s 501c3 arm.
Watkins said funds are needed to help replace some of the interpretive items at the fort.
“At this point, the main part of the fundraising is to replace those things that are wearing out,” Watkins said Wednesday afternoon.
“The fort is close to 30 years old and a lot of the equipment and clothing is just getting old and is need of replacement.”
Other items that will have to replaced in the near future include firearms and trade goods that add to the factory display at the fort.
The historical society has set an immediate fundraising goal of $10,000.
“Of course, we’d take more than that and can certainly use more than that, but at this point we’re trying to raise enough money for replacement of things wearing out, but we will also need to start looking at getting materials for additional repairs.”
Watkins said the flooding kept numbers down in the early part of the season, but the cruise lines helped the fort rebound as far as attendance. He hopes that future years and the possibility of adding Viking Cruise Lines docking either in Fort Madison or nearby could result in more passengers being bused to the Fort.
“The boats have been an extremely positive addition,” Watkins said.
“The more of those we see, the better off we’ll be doing. I don’t know that we’re in dire straits or anything right now but we’re moving along as the facility has always done.”
He said the Old Fort was never planned to be a money maker, but to help bring people into the city to spend money in other places as well.
“We’re lucky to break event year after year. The real value is the money that is being spent all over town when these people come in,” he said.
“The flood last year really messed things up for us in general for the year. We didn’t even get opened until late July and then we had lots of repairs to do.”
Some of those repairs include fixing a wall that has fallen down. Watkins said the facility has the timbers to replace the walls, but they are in need of someone with equipment to come down and lift the wall so the timbers can be replaced.
“We don’t have that equipment. We have the materials but we’re hoping someone would donate some time and machinery to help us get that repaired as well.”
The Old Fort typically has attendance ranging from 4,000 to 5,000 during a three month season in the summer and fall. He said if cruise line traffic continues and improves it could double those figures.
The North Lee County Historical Society launched the fundraising drive in December. A release from the society said funds allocated from the city have been exhausted. The society announced the fundraiser on Facebook indicated $10,000 was needed and has had some response from inside and outside the city, but additional funds are still needed.
“As Fort Madison business, industry and individuals have donated thousands of dollars to the PORT trails, Central Park bandstand and other causes the Society feels we need to support Fort Madison’s Number 1 tourist attraction in the same spirit,” the release indicated.
“We need the funds now as the uniforms must be special made from suppliers and may not be purchased at retailers but ordering now may insure delivery by tourist season.”
Donations can be made via mail to: NLCHS – Friends Committee, PO Bo 285, Fort Madison, Iowa 52627 or drop your donations by the museum in the old ATSF Depot at foot of 10th Street in Fort Madison, which is open 7 days a week.