MUSCATINE, Iowa—In January, Mussels of Muscatine an organization which works to preserve Muscatine’s pearl button history and promoting local mussel raising for clean water initiatives, worked with Preservation Iowa to have the Fairport Fish Hatchery pump house placed on their 2020 Most Endangered Property list. At the time, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources planned to demolish it. In response to growing public interest, the department halted demolition and held a public meeting March 9 at the National Pearl Button Museum @ History and Industry Center.
Despite wet weather, supporters for saving the pump house came to the public meeting. These advocates, including Terry Eagle, director of the National Pearl Button Museum and a member of Mussels of Muscatine, emphasized the building’s historical significance.
Built in 1908, the pump house originally belonged to a federal biological station tasked with raising mussels to increase stock for the pearl button industry. As demand for shells dropped, the site became a fish hatchery. Today, the pump house stands as the only remaining original biological station building. Eagle and others hope to save it to use as an interpretive site to tell this part of the pearl button industry’s history and to connect it with modern efforts at the hatchery to raise mussels to improve water quality. “The reason we think this building is important is because it shows the importance of the mission,” said Eagle.
Along with seeking public input, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources used the meeting to outline their rationale for demolition. According to Andy Fowler, an employee at the hatchery, the department sought to tear down the pump house due to flood damage. “It has some major structural issues, and it’s in the flood-way, and it’s flooding more and more often,” he explained.
Fowler elaborated that for the department to make repairs to a building in the flood-way, they would need to secure a flood plain permit, requiring them to make changes to the building to either move it, elevate it a foot above the 100 year flood mark, or make it watertight. These options proved technically unfeasible or cost prohibitive, leading the department to consider demolition their best option.
Eagle acknowledged that meeting the flood requirements posed a major challenge to saving the pump house. However, he believed that it could possibly qualify for an exemption. He cited the preservation of the Red Brick Building or Pearl City Station on the riverfront in Muscatine as a case where a historic building had received an exemption for restoration.
After the meeting, Fowler shared that he would continue to accept public comments about the pump house for several days before passing them along with the information he gathered at the meeting to higher officials, including Iowa Fishery Bureau Chief Joe Larscheid. Fowler did not have an estimate for when to expect a decision on the pump house’s fate. If you would like to comment, Fowler encourages you to email him at [email protected] or call him at 563-263-5062.