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Bethel AME Church turns 150, and other notable Iowa City anniversaries in 2018

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Iowa City as seen from a window of the Tin Goose, June 7, 2018. — Emma McClatchey/Little Village

Ask people in Iowa City about anniversaries and 2018, and for most, one immediately comes to mind: it was the 10th anniversary of the devastating floods of 2008. That shouldn’t be a surprise; the historic level of that year’s flooding and the damage it caused brought dramatic changes throughout eastern Iowa. But there were other notable anniversaries celebrated in Iowa City this year, as well.

In 1868, just three years after the end of the Civil War, a group of ex-slaves living in Iowa City bought a lot on Governor Street for $50, and built Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The 150-year-old church has remarkable history, overcoming many challenges, including two mysterious fires and Iowa City’s constantly changing population, and has played a vital part in the life of the city.

While Bethel AME has been elevating people’s souls for a century and a half, this year marked the centennial of the Iowa City Municipal Airport doing the same to people’s bodies. It holds the distinction of being the oldest civil airport west of the Mississippi. The anniversary celebration in June featured the “Tin Goose” — a restored 1926 Ford Tri-Motor aircraft. Little Village hitched a ride on the Tin Goose, and brought along our videographer to show readers how modern Iowa City looks through the windows of a vintage aircraft.

Longtime-favorite businesses in Iowa City also marked milestones in 2018. John’s Grocery turned 70, while both Crowded Closet and the Haunted Bookshop turned 40. And the Mayor Youth Empowerment Program celebrated 50 years of serving the community. Founded in 1968 as a city program to help disadvantaged youth, it has evolved over the years into a nonprofit providing services to over 100 people with disabilities in its Adult Day Program and Residential Program.

“We’re dedicated to providing advocacy and person-centered services which facilitate personal growth and community inclusion for people with disabilities,” Chief Program Officer Megan Gerber told Little Village.

The Bethel AME Church of Iowa City in April 2018. The church has maintained a presence on Governor Street for 150 years, through fires and expansions. — photo by Jav Ducker

Keeping the faith: Iowa City’s Bethel AME Church celebrates 150 years

In 1868, church members built a one-room sanctuary where the congregation worshipped until 2010, when a new, larger sanctuary was built behind the original structure. Despite its small physical size, Bethel has played a large role in the greater Iowa City community.

“Before coming here, I knew Bethel has a phenomenal reputation in Iowa City for generosity, for helping people in need,” said Rev. Kimberly Abram-Bryant, who has been Bethel’s pastor for three years. “The church also has a great tradition of hospitality, of welcoming students who have arrived in a new community and at a new school, where the predominant culture is caucasian, and who might be having difficulty making connections.” [read more]

The Tin Goose, a 1926 Ford Tri-Motor aircraft at the Iowa City Municipal Airpont, June 7, 2018. — photo by Jason Smith

Iowa City Municipal Airport celebrates 100 years of history

Founded just 15 years after the Wright brothers flew the first motor-powered aircraft, the Iowa City Municipal Airport is the third most active general aviation airport in Iowa, and the oldest civil airport west of the Mississippi. It became a designated fuel stop for transcontinental air mail flights in 1921 (just five months after the system started). In 1927, the first commercial passenger flight came into Iowa City; that same month, Boeing Air Transport, who handled certain airmail routes, assumed responsibility for the airport, and ultimately invested more than $200,000 in improvements — equivalent to well over $1.5 million today. [read more]

Service recipients and staff members of the Mayor’s Youth Empowerment Program celebrate 1,000 Facebook likes in a photo from their Facebook page, posted July 6, 2018.

Mayor’s Youth Empowerment Program celebrates 50th anniversary

One of MYEP’s main goals is for its service recipients to be “viewed and engaged as members within the Iowa City community,” Megan Gerber said. Members of the Residential Program live in typical neighborhoods, and they often volunteer with local organizations, like the Crisis Center, where they help stock shelves at the food bank. Service recipients have also volunteered at the Iowa City Animal Care & Adoption Center and the University of Iowa College of Engineering. Recently, MYEP welcomed RAGBRAI participants and passed out bottled water.

“Iowa City is an incredible community to be a part of,” Gerber said. “The local businesses and our neighbors who live next door to the people we provide services to just welcome us with open arms.” [read more]

John’s Grocery, March 9, 2018. — photo by Paul Brennan

John’s Grocery hosting 70th anniversary party

This year marks the 170th anniversary of a grocery store existing on the corner of Gilbert and Market Street, though it’s only been called John’s for 70. In a way, John’s is Iowa City’s oldest business, first opened in 1848 by Samuel Baker.

The shop changed hands several times, and was called Valentine’s Grocery when John Alberhasky bought it in 1948, renaming it for himself. The store is now owned by John’s son, William, and managed by William’s son, Doug.

“It’s amazing that Grandma and Grandpa started this, and in the past 70 years my dad and all six of his siblings have worked in the business,” Doug Alberhasky said. “I’ve worked here really for the past 31 years, and just the fact, in this day and age, that a little mom-and-pop business can not only survive but thrive is pretty amazing.” [read more]

Crowded Closet — photo by Zak Neumann

Crowded Closet celebrates 40 years in Iowa City

Forty years ago, a small group of Mennonite women opened Crowded Closet Thrift Store in Iowa City. What they hoped to achieve is reflected in the motto on the sign at the Gilbert Court store: “A world of difference.”

Proceeds from Crowded Closet go to public service organizations, including Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), which sponsors relief and development programs around the world. Since opening in 1978, Crowded Closet has raised $8 million for the organizations it supports. [read more]

Nierme, the Haunted Bookshop’s mildew-sniffing wonder, gets some well-deserved love from store owner Nialle Sylvan. — photo by Zak Neumann

The Haunted Bookshop turns 40

Despite its spooky-sounding name and the fact it’s in one of Iowa City’s oldest buildings, any mysterious noise heard in the Haunted Bookshop is likely the work of the shop’s cats, not ghosts.

The store’s name comes from Christopher Morley’s 1919 novel, The Haunted Bookshop. The only unquiet dead in the novel are “the ghosts of the books I haven’t read,” the fictional shop’s owner tells another character. “That’s why I call this place the Haunted Bookshop.”

The bookshop had three previous locations before it was moved to the historic Wentz house on N Gilbert Street in 2013. Built in 1847, the Greek Revival-style house is the only remaining two-story 19th-century house in Iowa City constructed from native stone. [read more]


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One thought on “Bethel AME Church turns 150, and other notable Iowa City anniversaries in 2018

  1. I really enjoyed reading about these “Iowa City Anniversaries. Thanks for focusing on them. I realize, once again, how quickly time passes. It is good to remember “the beginnings of what have become established places and events

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