City says no decision made in Old Fort closure

Group Facebook page says Old Fort "informed" they were closed.

Officials are saying an announcement that the Old Fort is to be closed are premature and the Fort Madison City Council has made no decision on the future of the facility.
Officials are saying an announcement that the Old Fort is to be closed are premature and the Fort Madison City Council has made no decision on the future of the facility.
Photo by Chuck Vandenberg/PCC

FORT MADISON - City officials say news of the closure and demolition of the Old Fort in Fort Madison may be premature.

On Wednesday afternoon, the "Our Old Fort Madison" Facebook page said the Fort staff had been informed they were closed permanently and the Fort would be demolished.

City Manager David Varley said Wednesday afternoon that "someone has spoken out of turn" and that options for the Fort are still on the table.

"We want people to realize that the Old Fort is part of our town's history and no decisions have been made yet. Somebody spoke out of turn. Somebody is posting something that shouldn't be posted," Varley said.

The "Our Old Fort Madison" Facebook page posted the announcement at   around 2 p.m. Wednesday. That Facebook page is not run by the city, according to Varley. He said someone associated with the Old Fort must be administering that social media outlet. The post has since been taken down.

Varley said a press release on the status of the Old Fort should be forthcoming.

"This is supposed to follow an orderly path of this, then this, then we have a plan. Now everyone's getting slapped in the face. This isn't the way it's supposed to go."

That line was reiterated by Fort Madison Mayor Matt Mohrfeld.

"We were preparing a press release that says we're definitely exploring options. Here's the short answer. After we inspected it, (Fort Madison Fire Chief Joey Herren and Building Director Doug Krogmeier) said this cannot be occupied. It is that far gone," Mohrfeld said.

"But there has been no concrete decision. The City Council has not gotten together. There could be recommendations from staff. But we're taking Joey and Doug's advice serious. It is not in a condition that we can have the public in it."

Mohrfeld said after Tuesday's City Council meeting that options on the table included closing it, but that would have to be a City Council decision and the council hasn't discussed it.

"We haven't even updated the city council officially on some of these reports," Mohrfeld said.

"Is it going to be a tough path forward?  Yes, But it's been years of not putting forward a good maintenance plan, and years of mismanagement."

On Thusday of last week, the group toured the facility. Varley said he was surprised at some of the conditions of the 38-year-old Fort.

Mohrfeld said Old Fort Director Dr. Eugene Watkins has been in meetings to discuss the Fort. No one was at the  Fort on Wednesday afternoon.

Mohrfeld said the city will not go against the recommendations of Herren and Krogmeier

"We cannot, and will not  go, against Doug and Joey's assessment. We will not put people's safety at risk," he said. "But nothing has been finalized on our end."

The Fort is fully owned and operated by the city and any decisions, Mohrfeld said, would have to come from the council and that hasn't taken place.

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  • MJKilloren

    The Fort is our heritage and it’s sad that it has not received the attention necessary to maintain a safe environment. Yes, it is showing its age and needs attention. I know personally that the site manager Dr. Eugene Watkins put hundreds of hours of physical labor in all kinds of weather conditions making repairs and replacing logs. In addition to his physically demanding work, he was always focused on presenting a realistic presentation day after day to tourists and was always well received by all who witnessed his detailed accounts of our city’s early days. Dr. Watkins is also a nationally recognized 1812-era historian and whose name is often seen in books as a source expert. We are indeed fortunate he has elected to accept this demanding challenge in representing Fort Madison and hopefully will continue to impress the riverboat passengers who voted the Fort as their favorite venue. If the city can afford a boat harbor and park upgrade, it can pursue a Fort upgrade. Sincerely, Michael Killoren, creator and producer, The Building of Fort Madison: America’s First Fort on the Upper Mississippi.

    Wednesday, January 18, 2023 Report this