In 2009, a vacant building on Main Street collapsed on itself. No reason was given for the collapse, most thought age and neglect were the primary reasons. The building was a music store in it’s last use and had been empty for 10 years.
And then the people came out and told how it was one of Keokuk’s most historic buildings, been there forever and now, greatly missed. Except for the part where no one even looked twice at it while it was standing and no one really cared.
Back in the day it was Wright Fashion, a women’s clothing store, before that, a distillery and a hardware store. But the consensus was that it was old and historic. And then for no reason it just fell down. The city contacted the owner and got nowhere, the owner seems to live out of state and has no money to clean up the giant mess. So it sat for a while and then the city decided to take on the chore of removing the rubble.
Digging down, the crew discovered a basement with arches, seemingly a part of the sewer system that once was underground the building.
Some of the townsfolk stepped in and pointed out the historical and possible commercial aspects of this ‘new’ hole on Main Street.
************ of the Keokuk Historic Preservation Society believes the historic remains are a look into Keokuk’s historic sewer system, “miles of brick sewers one could row a boat through,” and should be preserved.
“Are we going to designate this site as a piece of irreplaceable history, as an example of the extraordinary underground 19th century masonry on which the city is built or are we going to destroy it and cover up the evidence?” he asked.
And of course I had to ask, ‘irreplaceable history’ ? ‘extraordinary underground 19th century masonry’ ? It is just a sewer system built a long time ago, no one cared about it then and I thought no one would care about it now. But that was not all…
Should the city agree to slow rubble removal and proceed in a careful manner, he envisions an “extraordinary historical site.”
“If we do the right thing, (the public) might be able to walk in them, sit at a table in them, have tea and muffins or beer and a brat in the Keokuk Grotto Bistro, totally surrounded by the stone and brick that anchored this town down back in the day, 160 years ago,” ********** said.
“extraordinary historical site.” And now even a name, ‘Keokuk Grotto Bistro’, where we can go eat in the ‘historic Keokuk sewers’. I mean, what were they smoking ? Did the person even consider the cost of taking a hole in Main street and converting it into a cafe ? The city codes ? Wow, Keokuk can hardly keep a regular restaurant open for business and now someone wants to open another in a hole, so we can look at the sewer arches while we bite into a brat. What a joke.
Others soon chimed in with their take on the matter. One observant local suggested a quaint below ground park, where the upstanding citizens could go and sit a various picnic tables and other seating arrangements and have tea, or enjoy an outdoor game of chess with a friend.
Of course, the people in town with a more sane approach were laughing at these folks continuously, I myself discussed this with co workers and thought these ideas ‘just plain nuts’, and they agreed. We made the jokes, ‘Let’s meet in the sewer and have tea tonight’… And I asked if anyone in all their years had ever seen anyone on a park bench or table ever playing chess outdoors in Keokuk (cue the crickets).
Finally the city filled in the hole and covered it up, planted some grass and there it sits today, a lawn. Someone actually did buy the ground…
***************** of Montrose bought it during a property tax auction in May 2013. ****said it’s next to the new home for Great River Players, a local theater group of which **** is a member.
******* said ***** is open to ideas for the site. **** would like to give the property an “artsy” feel, given its location between the GRP home and the Grand Theater across Main Street.
Artsy, there you go… an artsy lawn… I wonder how much she paid for this prime piece of Keokuk real estate at a tax auction ? $50 bucks ? $100 ?. And the Grand Theater is not across Main Street, well, maybe a little across….
Since then, two more buildings in the ‘business’ district have fallen down also. High winds caused the brick buildings (glad they weren’t made of glass) to fall apart. I guess these collapses had no historical value, as no mention was made of opening a ‘bistro’ in the remains, or preserving the unholy mess for non existent tourists to gaze in awe at…
And it all makes you wonder, if a small cafe was opened, and the sewer arches were preserved for all to see, would anyone outside of Keokuk come to see them ? I seriously doubt it….