BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – A move to transfer ownership of the city’s chimney monument at the site of the original Fort Madison has been put to the side as one group works to restore the monument.
Fort Madison Mayor Matt Mohrfeld originally had scheduled discussion on transferring ownership of the monument to the North Lee County Historical Society, but NLCHS representative Andy Andrews said that’s not what the group is looking for.
Andrews told Mohrfeld at Tuesday’s City Council meeting held via teleconference, that he was only looking for authorization to submit a grant proposal for $20,000 to repair the monument.
Two years ago, city officials were unsure if the city even owned the monument, but since that time documentation has been uncovered that shows the historical piece had been deeded to the city.
Morhfeld told Andrews that the email he received from the historical society indicated a wish to take ownership of the monument and eventually move it to the Battlefield Park being built just to the east of Dollar General on the city’s east side.
“Right now we aren’t asking to move it, just asking the council to approve a resolution to authorize us to get the $20,000 then we can proceed with repairs,” Andrews said via phone.
“We’re not asking for ownership. If we want to move the property, then we’ll come back to the council again.”
Andrews said the grant has to be applied for by May 15th. He said the NLCHS has bids to repair the 1908 monument for about $14,000. Workers would remove the chimney from it’s pedestal, relocate it to the parking lot across the highway and do the repairs there, then reassemble the monument.
Councilman Bob Morawitz said he didn’t think it was a responsible move to repair the monument without moving it to it’s permanent location. He said the current location subjects the piece to vibrations from trains and vehicles.
City Manager David Varley said the current plans for the reconstruction of that section of Highway 61 include a pull-off area where cars can stop and view the chimney with the fort and Mississippi River in the background.
Mohrfeld said he’d like for the historical society and the local Daughters of the American Revolution, who originally owned the piece, to get together and formulate a long-term plan.
Councilman Rusty Andrews said the first priority is to preserve the monument. He said the top five feet has substantial cracking and over the years moisture has gotten in and frozen in the winter causing more damage.
“If an entity like the historical society or the DAR wants to get involved and preserve it, neither can apply for grants without the blessing of the city,” he said.
“The city needs to embrace someone out there who wants to raise funds for it, because nobody has the money right now.”
Mohrfeld said he heard from the DAR and they wanted to pull back from the project and take another look at what needs to be done.
The council did approve the NLCHS request to apply for grant funding by a 6-0 vote. Tyler Miller was absent from the meeting.
In an unrelated issue, Fort Madison’s Historical Preservation Commission is asking the city for permission to put the #2319 Locomotive on the National Register of Historic Places. The locomotive currently sits in Riverview Park.
Morhfeld said the move equates to taking on the locomotive for life and maintaining it.
Commission President Chris Sorrentino said he’s spoken with state officials on several occasions and he didn’t see a downside to applying for the national register.
Councilman Mark Lair, who serves as a liaison to the commission, said recent bouts of flooding have done damage to the tiles the locomotive sits on, and the city may consider moving it to a better location. He suggested moving it west by the caboose closer to the museum on a little higher ground.
“It’s not a matter of if, but when, we’re going to spend money to replace the ties,” Sorrentino said. “If further conversation takes place to move it closer to the caboose we’d entertain that, but we have not been able to find any downside for it being added to the register.”
Having the locomotive on the national register could open up the commission and the city to grants to help maintain and market the locomotive.
Varley said he believes the move wouldn’t put any additional strain on the city.
“There are no regulatory conditions that go with it. I concur with what Chris is saying. The application has to be done online, and that will take a little bit of work that has to go through State Historical Preservation Office and they have to decide if it’s worthy. They have to give it their blessing and then it gets bumped up to the federal level for approval.”
In other action, the council:
• approved the first reading of an ordinance to rezone 2324 and 2332 Avenue J as a high business district. The move would require to more readings or a council-approved waiver of the second reading.
•approved a contract with Meller Excavating to resurface city parking lots at 8th Street and Avenue D, and 8th Street and Avenue F, with permeable pavers as part of a grant-funded storm water mitigation project.