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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

History of downtown is nationally recognized

Friday, November 16, 2012

(Photo contributed) Many buildings on Central Avenue in Le Mars, shown in this 1920s photo from the Plymouth County Museum, still remain today. The nomination of the downtown business district to the National Registry of Historic Places was approved by the National Park Service Nov. 6.
The historic areas of the downtown Le Mars business district are now listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.

The listing recognizes the historical significance of the area in American history, local history and the significance of architecture of buildings.

It offers opportunities for financial incentives and grants for property owners who rehabilitate commercial buildings and historic homes in the downtown area.

(Photo contributed) A 1920s photo shows a view of Central Avenue Southeast, where many of the buildings have been preserved to this day. Recently, Le Mars' nomination of the downtown business district to the National Registry of Historic Places was approved by the National Park Service.
The downtown Le Mars area was added to the National Registry of Historic Downtowns Nov. 6, according to Mary Reynolds, Main Street Manager for the Le Mars Area Chamber of Commerce.

She said she was delighted that after more than a year of in-depth study and research the downtown had been added to the National Registry.

"With this listing, we will be able to show people that we have a wonderful downtown, a great history behind our community and that, as we continue to restore the downtown buildings, we're bringing back that look of yesterday," Reynolds said.

The area included in the new listing on the National Registry of Historic Places by the National Park Service is described with street boundaries

"It is bounded by Second Street North, Second Avenue West, First Street South and First Avenue East," Reynolds explained.

Reynolds, Iris Hemmingson, Le Mars Historical Preservation Commission Chairwoman, historic commission members and volunteers worked on the nomination.

The consultant was Kerry Davis, Preservations Solutions architectural historian.

Buildings in the area designated as the Le Mars Downtown Commercial Historic District date to the 1880s, Reynolds said.

Hemmingson extensively researched property ownership and business locations for the nomination.

"The research of the downtown buildings has been most interesting and to find one building that had been moved to another area and since covered up with other siding was very interesting to me," Hemmingson said.

She referred to the current Jim Flaherty Insurance building, 124 Plymouth St. S.W., which is considered one of the oldest wooden buildings in downtown Le Mars.

Hemmingson said she was astounded by the number of fires that decimated the downtown.

One of the volunteers, Diane Deiterman, of Le Mars, searched through all the early newspapers and noted anything that had to do with buildings, Hemmingson said.

"Diane found numbers of fires that threatened our downtown district. When the buildings were rebuilt of more fire-proof materials, they still burned -- being started by adjacent fires," Hemmingson said.

The puzzle has always been, just how much of the 'new' building included remnants from the old, she added.

There have been a lot of serendipities through the research process for the nomination, she said.

"It was great to be able to tell people a little bit more about their building when they were rehabbing second floors; to be able to verify who really was up there (in the past)," Hemmingson said.

Connecting the names of some of the people in the community to some of the buildings was also an "extremely" interesting part of the nomination process, according to Hemmingson.

With the national listing in place, she said she hopes that owners of downtown buildings will use a green method of restoring their storefronts by preserving the original windows.

Those windows are very prevalent on the second floors of downtown buildings, she said.

Hemmingson said her regret is that the geographic area included in the historic district is not greater.

Davis, the local historic preservation commission's consultant, had advised local project leaders that the opportunity to have the downtown designated by the National Park Service as historically significant was greater using the boundaries she suggested.

The benefits of the new designation go beyond historical significance, Reynolds said.

"If people are looking at restoring a building, they can contact me and we can start to explain to them how they an look at state and federal tax credits," she said. "There are some rules with the restoration work for the tax credits, but we can get them started on the right process."

Through the local historic preservation commission, a file will be kept at the Chamber office of every building that exists in the historic district and information about that building through the years of its history, Reynolds said.

The Chamber office is at 50 Central Ave. S. E.

Anyone with vintage pictures of commercial buildings or houses is encouraged to contact Hemmingson, commission members or Reynolds.

"We frequently are called on for such photos," Hemmingson said of the commission's work.

The nomination booklet will also be available at the Le Mars Public Library, 46 First St. S.W.

People who have additional information about the downtown areas in the nomination ares encouraged to pencil that in at the nomination book at the library, Hemmingson said.

A celebration of the National Registry listing is planned after the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

The January event will be at the Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor, in downtown Le Mars, Reynolds said.

"This is prestigious -- that we're recognized for this wonderful, rich history that Le Mars has," she said.

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