MUSCATINE, Iowa–For months, Mussels of Muscatine, a collaboration between the National Pearl Button Museum @ History and Industry Center and other local conservationists, has advocated to save the Fairport Fish Hatchery’s pump house, which the Department of Natural Resources planned to demolish. In June, the department removed the cost for demolishing the pump house from its budget, indicating they have no plans to tear it down this year. Mussels of Muscatine hails this change as an important victory for preserving local history.
While researching the Fairport Fish Hatchery in 2019, Mussels of Muscatine member and National Pearl Button Museum Director Terry Eagle discovered it originally played a role in Muscatine’s pearl button history. He found the hatchery started out as a federal biological station tasked with repopulating the Mississippi River with mussels, which had begun to decline due to over harvesting. After the Department of Natural Resources took it over as a fish hatchery, they removed or replaced the original buildings over the years, leaving the 112-year-old pump house as the only original building.
After hearing that the Department of National Resources planned to tear the pump house down, Eagle reached out to Conservation Iowa, an organization that works to preserve historically significant buildings across the state. Eagle made the case for saving this important link in the pearl button story and helped earn the pump house a spot on Conservation Iowa’s 2020 Most Endangered Properties list.
Seeing how seriously Mussels of Muscatine took saving the pump house, the Department of Natural Resources held a public hearing about their plans for the property March 9 at the national Pearl Button Museum. There, the Department explained the difficulties they faced restoring the aging, flood prone building, and Eagle presented the restoration ideas and eventual goals Mussels of Muscatine had for the property. The Department recorded the feedback they received from Terry and others at the meeting and also accepted public content by phone and email for several more days before passing it along to state officials.
At the end of June, the Department released their final budget without the demolition of the pump house in it. Eagle expressed excitement over the decision and anticipated Mussels of Muscatine partnering with the County Conservation Board to raise funds to restore the pump house and convert it into a museum looking back at the station’s role in the pearl button history and forward to re-propagation efforts. In time, they hope to make it a branch of the National Pearl Button Museum, linking the story of pearl button making told there to the mussel research taking place at the Lucille A. Carver Mississippi River Education Research Station located at the hatchery.
“The vision was to make that hatchery significant in commerce through ecotourism present day,” Eagle explained: “The history needs to be saved, and the hatchery once again should be of importance to the area. Muscatine County Historic Preservation, the National Pearl Button Museum, the University of Iowa, and the Carver Foundation hope to put the puzzle pieces together to accomplish this.”