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Jasper County Tribune

History in the making

Main Street prepares historic district application for downtown Colfax

COLFAX – More than a century ago, Colfax was a happening place.

From grand hotels to the beautiful opera house, people would come from across the globe to taste the “cure-all” mineral water and admire the cast-iron architecture in the city’s downtown.

On May 1, Colfax Main Street transported a handful of community members back to this time through a public presentation of their National Register Historic Places nomination application at the Colfax Historical Society.

“Colfax is not the only community to find mineral water in Iowa, but it was only one to find it and really transform it into something much greater than just a single well pumping out water,” architectural historian Jennifer James said. “There are so many stories about the different entrepreneurs, companies and ways (mineral spring water) has been used ... we want to dive into the water, if you will, and explore that history.”

The work on getting more than six blocks between Division and Front streets of Colfax into the National Historic Registry began in 2014, when James conducted a year-long historical preservation study of downtown Colfax, sharing the architectural changes the area has seen over town’s 150-year history. The study, dubbed the Spring City Commercial Historic District Findings, explored 100 different properties, both existing and since demolished.

After Colfax Main Street was awarded $6,460 grant from the State Historical Society of Iowa to hire James to continue preparation for the National Historic Registry nomination application in July, the group submitted an application for historic district consideration in the fall.

Officials said James and CMS will present the application in June at the State Nominations Review Committee Meeting, where the committee will decide whether to approve the application to be submitted to the National Parks Service and turn a section of Colfax into the Colfax “Spring City” Commercial Historic District.

The grant was part of the State Historical Society of Iowa’s Historical Resource Development Program.

During the presentation, James said districts listed on the national registry typically see internal job growth, boosts in the local economy, and federal and state tax incentives.

“A historic district is just really all carrot, no stick. There are no restrictions placed by the National Registry District,” she said. “It is just economic development, great marketing and allows (residents) to really understand their heritage.”

In addition, she said 85 percent of net jobs come from businesses with less than 20 employees. The architectural historian said rehabilitating the older buildings typically creates cheaper and smaller business spaces within a city, which is an ideal location for start-ups.

She said the revitalization work is more labor intensive compared to new construction and normally uses more local materials and services.

James said through this, more jobs will be added to the area and attract more people to live in Colfax.

“There is a lot of interest from millennials in authentic places to live in work, and finding uniqueness, interest in heritage and a return from growing up in the suburbs to finding authenticity in a smaller town or a city,” James said. “That attraction for businesses and residents that can be found by creating and celebrating the heritage that is inherited in older commercial districts can be a real draw in bringing in that next generation.”

Across the more than six blocks between Division and Front streets, there are about 33 contributing buildings, sites and structures in the historical district. There are also about 15 non-contributing building and structures, according to James.

All of which document Colfax’s rich history.

“The (public library) building is notable because it was built by Iowa’s premiere architectural firm, Proudfoot, Bird & Rawson, which potentially has three pieces of its architecture on one intersection (in Colfax – the telephone building and possibly the Methodist church),” the historian said. “For those who have access to those buildings, there is separate national register work that has been done that kind of creates an automatic national register listing for any building associated with that firm. That’s how important that firm is.”

James said the SNRC meeting is set for June 8. She said in July, the district will then submit an updated application with the recommendations acquired from the June 8 meeting. The application will then be submitted for final review by the State Historic Preservation Office In August.

The National Parks Service will review the application in September. She said she hopes Colfax will be officially added to the national register as early as November.

“How good of a Christmas present would it be to get the historic district listed in Colfax,” Larry Hurto, historian and project volunteer said. “That would be great.”

To get involved with the Colfax Main Street or for more information, visit, call 515-674-9071 or find Colfax Main Street on Facebook.

Contact Anthony Victor Reyes at

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