Honor the past - Commission sees progress in preserving Le Mars history

Wednesday, May 27, 2015
(Sentinel photo by Beverly Van Buskirk) In 1995, Jim Driscoll (left), Iris Hemmingson and Linda Mayrose were appointed to the Le Mars Historic Preservation Commission, with Driscoll as its first chairman. Mayrose currently serves as president, and Hemmingson is now an associate member. The commission is committed to preserving the history of structures and landscapes in Le Mars.

Twenty years ago, when the Le Mars Historic Preservation Commission was established, it had three members.

The commission works to identify the history of Le Mars, its many structures and areas, and records it through various documentations.

In the beginning, the Le Mars City Council appointed Jim Driscoll, Iris Hemmingson and Linda Mayrose, to the commission.

In 1995, the city of Le Mars was looking to become a Main Street Iowa community, according to Mayrose.

"Having a historic preservation commission was a requirement of the Main Street program," Mayrose said.

The Le Mars Area Chamber of Commerce's Main Street's mission is to maintain and improve the downtown historic character through preservation and restoration efforts.

Driscoll was president of the Plymouth County Historical Museum board when he was appointed to the commission.

"At that time we were working to get the museum into the Old Central building," he recalled.

Hemmingson was a museum board member with an interest in community history when she joined the commission.

Mayrose said she has a passion for the downtown area. That passion led to her appointment to the commission.

The commission's first year was one of logistics and of learning what its role in the community was to be.

Hemmingson said the members were trained by a person from the state historic preservation commission on how to set up goals for the local group.

At first, not everyone was interested in preserving old structures, the three recalled.

That support has changed through the years, according to Hemmingson.

"The city council is very supportive of our mission to preserve," said Mayrose.

As commission members, Driscoll, Hemmingson and Mayrose started by documenting a visual history of the community's buildings, landscapes and structures within Le Mars.

Pictures are an important part of their collection, and can include anything from houses and garages to porches and outhouses, according to Mayrose.

"We want to show how things have changed," said Mayrose.

Driscoll owns one of the oldest buildings in Le Mars, the depot at the corner of First Street and Third Avenue Northeast.

"That's one of the reasons I had an interest from the beginning," Driscoll said.

Driscoll also served as the commission's first chairman.

"I appreciated his leadership," Hemmingson said.

Over the last 20 years, the commission has progressed from pictures and tours to the designation of three historic districts.

The commission started the Historic Tour of Homes 16 years ago, which showcased houses in Le Mars at least 50 years old.

The tour features four homes.

"That was probably our first project of how to get the preservation commission out to the people," Mayrose said.

The members then took a larger step, and wrote a grant to be able to survey Le Mars and its historic points.

The commission didn't receive the grant.

"We decided to reapply to get the Le Mars Municipal Park designated as an historical district," said Hemmingson.

The Le Mars Municipal Park and Golf Course Historic District was named in 2001.

The commission next sought a grant to provide money to research the Foster Park area.

"We had a lot of community volunteers helping to do research on that project," Hemmingson said.

Consultants from the state Main Street program also assisted the commission.

The Foster Park Historic District was added in 2008.

It includes the one-block park, and surrounding homes which features a variety of architectural styles.

The most recent project involved researching and getting the Le Mars Downtown Historic District named.

Again, volunteers combed through old records and newspapers to document the significance of the buildings and the businesses.

The Le Mars Downtown Commercial Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in November 2012.

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

The commission has also worked to assist property owners in receiving money to renovate and restore their structures.

Mayrose pointed out two recent projects, the Le Mars American Legion building and the Le Mars Beauty College, which they worked on with Main Street.

The renovation project currently underway in the Le Mars Downtown Historic District includes 29 buildings undergoing facelifts.

The renovation work will preserve the historic look of the downtown buildings.

The 2015 appointed members of the commission are Mayrose, who serves as president, Wanda Wichers, Richard Zeittlow, Jim Rohlfs and Barbara Collins.

Mary Reynolds is the Main Street representative on the commission.

Associate members are Hemmingson, Dennis Hill, Joan Thomas and Steve Collins.

Throughout the years, Hemmingson has collected many photographs of buildings, homes, landscapes and structures in the community.

This year, that collection has been moved to the Plymouth County Historical Museum, where the commission has been given space to store and display that collection.

Members continue to take pictures of buildings, homes and other structures in the community.

Those pictures, they said, document the changes that occur in the community and preserve the history.

Hemmingson encourages people with older photographs to share them with the commission.

"More people are interested in the historic things than when we started on the commission," Driscoll said.

Le Mars Historic Preservation Commission

The purpose of the Le Mars Historic Preservation Commission is to:

* Promote the educational, cultural, economic and general welfare of the public through the recognition, enhancement, and perpetuation of site and districts of historical and cultural significance.

* Safeguard the city's historic, aesthetic, and cultural heritage by preserving sites and districts of historic and cultural significance.

* Stabilize and improve property values.

* Foster pride in the legacy of beauty and achievements of the past.

* Protect and enhance the city's attractions to tourists and visitors and the support and stimulus to business thereby strengthening the economy of the city.

* Promote the use of sites and district of historic and cultural significance as places for the education, pleasure and welfare of the people of the city.

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