Construction coming to two Iowa City parks

Cabin in Iowa City’s City Park. — photo by Phil Roeder via Flickr

Two construction projects are planned for Iowa City parks: one to renovate the cabins in City Park, and another to replace a shelter and restrooms in Happy Hollow Park.

Historic City Park Cabins

Two cabins in the shade of City Park trees have been covered in blue tarp for nearly three years, but their restoration is now in process, with construction planned to begin this fall and end in October next year.

Efforts will be made to track down historically accurate materials in repairing the roofs, foundations and original wooden logs of the cabins, which were first built in late 1800s and early 1900s. Renovations, completed by Muscatine-based North Construction LLC, will total $256,900 and will be funded through a combination of the City Park Restoration funds, a Historic Preservation Grant and private donations.

According to Parks and Recreations Department Director, Juli Seydell Johnson, the cabins “will be used with youth groups and cub scout groups to see what life was like back in [the mid-1800s] in Iowa City,” and will not be available for open renting.

While these cabins are designated as historic landmarks, they have an unusual history, according to Sydell Johnson, who spoke at Tuesday’s city council meeting.

These cabins were not actually built in 1840. The single room cabin was built on the Johnson County Fairgrounds in 1889 for a historic demonstration of pioneer life at the Johnson County Semi-Centennial. It was relocated to City Park in 1918. The double log cabin, meant to replicate early trading posts (such as the historic John Gilbert Trading Post) was built at City Park in 1913.

Seydell Johnson said they are historically significant because they were built very much like the originals would have been and have been heavily used for camps from 1976 until 2008, when they began to heavily deteriorate. She said she heard that they were also once used as concession stands.

Mayor Jim Throgmorton said these cabins represent a predominately white settler history, and he urged Seydell Johnson to consider creating an education component to these cabins that recognizes the complex history of the people in Iowa City in the mid-1800s.

The original John Gilbert Trading Post was built in 1836 south of present day Iowa City near the Keokuk Reserve, according to Lynn Marie Alex in Iowa’s Archaeological Past. Alex said that same year two thousand Meskwaki led by Poweshiek and Wacoshashe were relocated near the trading post where they were able to trade and establish credit with Gilbert. But when that area was opened to Euro-American settlement in 1839 they were forced out of that land, moving further west to Marengo.

“I’m wondering about programing, expanding the thinking about how these two cabins can be used so that they can be meaningful to people outside of the white settler narrative,” Throgmorton said.

Design for a new restroom planned for Happy Hollow Park in Iowa City. — image via Iowa City Parks and Recreation

Happy Hollow Park Shelter Construction

After a year of planning, renovations for Happy Hollow Park’s shelter and restrooms will begin July 21 and are expected to finish in October.

The project, which is expected to cost $182,250, will build new a new shelter and restroom in a similar location to the current buildings. The design is based on the historic architecture of the Northside neighborhood.


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“[Happy Hollow Park] will be an appropriately historic park when we are finished,” Seydell Johnson said.

According to a report on the Northside Neighborhood for the National Register of Historic Places, the park used to be a brick yard. The sloping hills surrounding the it were formed by the extraction of clay for brick making, which was then used to construct many of the early homes on Iowa City’s north side.

Council Member John Thomas said that since this restoration project went through the historic preservation commission “it gave the design a focus — the results are very pleasing to everyone.”

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