With the approval of grant money from the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, downtown Newton is one step closer to claiming a place on the National Registry of Historic Places.
It recently was announced that Newton was one of 12 communities in Iowa to receive Historic Preservation Grant funds from the state DCA to further the registry process, which the city began in 2010.
Of the total $91,051 awarded by the DCA, Newton received 100 percent of the funds requested, amounting to $8,255.
“This is our third grant,” Newton Director of Planning & Zoning Erin Chambers explained. “The first was a Planning for Preservation grant, the second was an Intensive Level Survey of Downtown grant, and this grant is for a consultant to do the work necessary to get it listed on the National Register of Historic Places.”
As the survey wrapped up last June, Newton’s Historic Planning Commission was able to move forward by applying for and, later, securing the necessary funding.
“The grant that we’ve received is for a project that comes directly out of the intensive level survey, so in the 2011-2012 timeframe, our Historical Preservation Commission did very extensive research into every building within the downtown district,” Chambers said.
This district includes buildings two blocks east and west of the Jasper County Courthouse, as well as some to the north and south as well.
“The district is smaller than what we as a city or a community might identify as ‘downtown,’” she said. “It’s more like the heart and the original, oldest part of our downtown.”
The survey constituted an extensive study of each building within the proposed district in order to better understand its place in Newton’s history.
“They researched, in-depth, every single building,” Chambers said. “Each report is probably 15 pages long. We’re talking really in-depth information on the history of the building, as well as an analysis of its architectural quality and historic integrity — how much of its original character does it retain? Those that have more are better resources than the ones that have been remodeled and remodeled again.”
Additionally, the survey looked at the influential factors in the structural development of downtown, one of which, Chambers explained, shaped Newton a bit more so than the others.
“Whenever you establish a district, there has to be kind of a ‘What does this district represent? Is there an era to the district?’” she said. “Ours has three key representations, but probably the most important part of that analysis and the most important era is that mid-century era and the impact of Maytag.”
“If you look at our downtown, it doesn’t look old, like say 1890s old. Because of the great success of Maytag in our community, there was a lot of money pumping through our economy that other communities didn’t have. Because we had that great economic driver of Maytag, our downtown reflects that in the façade changes, particularly in the ’50s to early ’60s era.”
Chambers explained that while many of these changes occurred toward the later half of last century, they are still considered “historic” by the National Parks Service standards.
“Anything over 50 years old is considered historic, so those renovations, while not original, are historic and they speak to a particular moment in time in Newton’s history and an important element in Newton’s history, which was high times and great economic times with the strength of Maytag,” Chambers added. “Our consultant and the state historic preservation office saw merit in establishing a downtown district and that’s why they awarded us the grant to do what we can to preserve the buildings that represent the success of the community.”
The DCA grant money will go directly to pay for consulting services to further move the project toward its completion, with Newton being formally added to the National Registry of Historic Places in mid-2014.
Staff writer Nicole Wiegand may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 422, or at email@example.com.