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Newton Historic Preservation Month to be observed

Published: Wednesday, May 8, 2013 11:53 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, May 8, 2013 12:23 p.m. CDT

May is National Historic Preservation month and the appropriate time to recognize a division of Newton’s City government that has kept a very low profile over the last six years.

In September, 2007, the Newton City Council created the Newton Historic Preservation Commission. The goal of the commission is to help preserve and interpret the history of our community within the fabric of our county, state, and nation.  

The commission serves at the pleasure of the City Council with all relevant authority retained by the Council. The current commissioners are:  Fred Chabot, Larry Hurto, Kathy Jones, Mary Jo Niskin, and Rita Reinheimer. Erin Chambers, Newton’s Director of Planning and Zoning, serves as staff support for the board.

Since 2009, the commissioners have been working toward placing Newton’s Downtown Business District on the National Register of Historic Places. They have worked under grants from the Iowa State Historic Preservation Office, which oversees and critiques every aspect of our grant performance.

To date, the Historic Preservation Commission and other volunteers have donated more than 2,000 hours of time to researching and writing about the architecture and history of our city and its downtown buildings. 

We recently began working on our third, and final, grant project. In the coming months, our professional consultant will prepare paperwork for the nomination to the National Register.

Following the completion of the papers, the commission will submit them to the state for suggestions and approval. If all goes well, the State of Iowa will then forward the nomination to the National Park Service, which makes the final designation.

What will this mean for Newton?

There are many benefits of listing our downtown on the National Register including:

• Increased exposure and marketing opportunities for our town

• Tax credits and other incentives for rehabilitation by property owners

• Improving the chances for obtaining a “Main Street Iowa” designation

A listing on the Register does not change a property owner’s rights. The property owner retains the right to make changes to the building, sell it, or even demolish the structure.

Why our downtown?

When people think of National Register buildings, they often think of classical architecture, such as that seen in Grinnell’s downtown. Newton’s business district has a very different look. 

Many of our city’s business buildings were constructed in the 19th century, but during the 1950s and early 1960s, a number of them experienced drastic changes to their facades as Newton’s economy prospered. The new look of the buildings reflects a national mid-20th century modernist sensibility to streamlining buildings, with a perception of progress. 

It is this mid-century modern look — now more than 50 years old and, therefore, historical in nature — that gives our downtown its defining character and eligibility for the National Register.

In the coming weeks and months, commissioners will be providing more information about the downtown and its fascinating history through a series of public meetings and newspaper articles. We hope our efforts will provide Newton citizens with a greater appreciation of our city and bring about a renewed sense of pride in this place we call home.

How can you show appreciation for our downtown? Stroll around the town and look at the buildings, visit and support the local merchants, and take part in some of the “May is National Historic Preservation Month” activities.

Two events are currently scheduled: 

Larry Hurto will present “An 1884 Retrospective on Downtown Newton” 7 p.m. Thursday, May 16, at Bridgehouse Coffee Co. at 111 W. Second St. N. As part of his presentation, he will be showing images taken by 19th century photographer Fred Clifford.

Dr. Tom Hoover will lead “A Walking Tour of Maytag and Howard Snyder Homes” 9 a.m. Saturday, May 18, meeting in front of Shay’s Tea Room at 223 W. Fourth St. S. Participants should wear comfortable walking shoes. In case of rain, the tour will be held on May 25.

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