Dawson Depot needs trunks, crates, pre-1960 luggage to exhibit

Pete Malmberg, the Dallas County Conservation Department’s historical and cultural resources coordinator and curator of the Forest Park Museum, has amassed a fair number of old trunks, crates and luggage for the Dawson Depot exhibition rooms, but more is needed to fill the freight scale and give an authentic look to the depot, he said.

The restored Dayton Stagecoach Inn opened in April.
The restored Dayton Stagecoach Inn opened in April.

The successful opening reception at the Dayton Stagecoach Inn April 24 was another milestone for the historic preservation efforts of Dallas County Conservation Board.

The Dayton Project took 11 years to complete. That may sound like a long time but for a historic preservation project, that is a standard time frame. Another project, the Grand Army of the Republic Building in Redfield, took far longer and cost more than $150,000.

The Tile Barn and machine shed shelter at Hanging Rock Park and the Redfield Depot also took considerable time and effort. Historic preservation projects are a great lesson in learning patience!

Why do historic preservation projects take so long to complete? We are frequently asked this question by the public.

Simply put, they take a great deal of grant funding and private matching donations to complete, along with difficulty finding the right historic preservation architects and building contractors. Dedicated historic preservation architects and restoration contractors respect a historic building’s integrity and try to retain as much of the original building as possible during restoration efforts.

The Grand Army of the Republic building in Redfield was almost completely recreated.
The Grand Army of the Republic building in Redfield was almost completely recreated.

Sometimes this is extremely difficult. The Grand Army of the Republic building in Redfield is a good example. The building was so deteriorated that it is largely a reconstruction, with only one original window and a few original studs and floorboards.

Many federal, state and local agencies and non-profit organizations are constantly debating what to do with the many historic and sometimes just old buildings and structures in their care. Our National Parks and Forests are filled with deteriorating structures.

My uncle, a retired state parks administrator, is touring many of these sites before they are gone. When I toured an abandoned resort once owned by lumber barons in Northern Minnesota with him, he commented, “This won’t be here much longer.”

The fact the Dallas County Conservation Board is willing to tackle these kinds of difficult and, to be honest, sometimes rather frustrating projects is a tribute to our current executive directors, three past executive directors and some very supportive board members. Several Dallas County volunteers have also played key roles.

We now have one historic preservation project still to be completed: the Dawson Depot. The depot project started a number of years ago, when our department acquired the extremely decrepit but well-built structure.

We now have the exterior and half of the interior completed. The old waiting room and office now houses restrooms, benches and exhibits about the depot and the old Milwaukee Railroad. We receive many favorable comments from the public about this area.

This leaves the uncompleted freight and baggage room. The freight area should have the walls covered with heavy lumber to a height of 12 feet. Unfortunately, we still don’t have enough lumber from salvaging efforts to completely cover the walls. We are currently looking at several options for getting around this challenge.

The other difficulty we have is that the room should have several pallets of crates, pre-1960s luggage and other goods waiting to be shipped, along with a well-filled depot freight scale.

I currently have the depot scale filled with appropriate artifacts, with descriptions and Dawson history in the window. However, I still lack enough luggage and crates to fill the rest of the room. This is the only one of our museums where I have this problem.

Iowans like to see a large number of well-arranged artifacts in all of their museums. We achieved this in all of our other sites, so it makes the Dawson Depot Freight Room stand out like the proverbial sore thumb.

If any readers have pre-1960 luggage, steamer trunks, crates and the like that they would like to donate for the freight room, please contact me at Forest Park Museum at 515-465-3577. In the meantime, please be patient as we all work to complete this project.

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