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Downtown Osceola added to National Register of Historic Places

Supported by 42 historical buildings and its role as a center of commerce and government, the Osceola Commercial Historic District has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The announcement comes from the State Historic Preservation Office, which oversees the National Register of Historic Places program in Iowa in conjunction with the National Park Service. The State Historic Preservation Office is overseen by the State Historical Society of Iowa, a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.

“We’re pleased the Osceola Commercial Historic District has been added to the National Register of Historic Places, and we commend all the stakeholders who worked so hard on this successful nomination,” State Historian Laura Sadowsky said. “This recognition marks an important milestone for Osceola as it continues to preserve the legacy of its past for future generations of Iowans to enjoy.”

The nomination was spearheaded by the Osceola Chamber Main Street Design Committee. They worked to update old records of businesses in the downtown to develop as complete a history as possible for the project.

“Osceola has always been a city based on growth and business, especially in the downtown,” said Derek Lumsden, Executive Director for Osceola Chamber Main Street.

In its nomination form, the district highlights the three-story 1882 Arlington-Howe-Garner Hotel, Lyric Theater, 1935 federal post office, original city hall/fire station and landmark water tower among the district’s 42 contributing buildings.Thirty-one of those buildings were cited for their Italianate, Queen Anne, Classical Revival, Art Deco and Mid-Century Modern architectural styles.

“The range covers buildings that were designed and built throughout the history of the downtown, but a great many represent the final surge of building that concluded well before World War I,” according to the nomination form. “The other focal point is the 1956 Mid-Century Modern style county courthouse that occupies the center of the square.”

As part of its nomination, the district also cites its early access to railroads and development of local banking in addition to the growth of newspapers and adventurous community promotions that brought thousands of tourists to the area for camping and holiday shopping.

Downtown Osceola is still known for its ability to draw people for shopping and events.

“Downtowns are the heart of any community and it’s always great to see them utilized…people in stores shopping or on the Courthouse Lawn enjoying some event,” said Lumsden. “It really makes the community feel more closely knit when everyone is out with their neighbors shopping local.”

As it happened, Osceola’s history of 44 major fires beginning in 1874 guided the development of the current historic district. In response to several devastating fires, city leaders left gaps between buildings, reduced the scale of ornate cornices and favored new construction of brick and metal buildings.

The threat of fire also forced local government officials and the community to develop an early volunteer fire department and municipal water supply, which was developed in 1903-1904 with the construction of a reservoir, an 80-foot steel 60,000-gallon water tank and an electric pump. After 50 years of service, it was replaced by the current water tower in 1957.

“Through this nomination process, we learned a lot about the history of the downtown and just how much it has meant. People have always been willing to fight for it and to make sure that they never gave up. The fire history alone shows just how resilient this downtown can be,” said Lumsden. “This recognition opens us up to so much more potential through tourism and potential grants/tax credits that the sky is really the limit moving forward.”

The Osceola Commercial Historic District was one of 11 Iowa properties that recently were added to the National Register of Historic Places along with the Davenport Bag & Paper Company Building, East Des Moines Industrial Historic District and Pella Collegiate Neighborhood Historic District.

Iowa has more than 2,300 properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which can be found on the Iowa Culture app. More information about the National Register of Historic Places is available at iowaculture.gov or 515-281-5111.

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