Historic signs approved
Tuesday, December 17, 2013 6:42 AM
Signs providing information on the city's past, situated throughout the downtown and historic district, should be one more tourism draw for Decorah, according to Ed Epperly.
The Decorah man asked permission for the signage during Monday night's Decorah City Council meeting; the request was unanimously approved.
Epperly, a retired Luther College professor, and Decorah High School art teacher Elizabeth Lorentzen have been developing plans for marked walking trails. One will start at the College Drive bridge, continue through the downtown area and end at the new Oneota Valley Family Eye Care on Water Street. Another will start at the Winneshiek County Courthouse, and proceed west on Broadway through the Broadway-Phelps Park Historic District.
The signs will include photographs and text explaining the historical and architectural backgrounds of buildings along the street. They will be placed across the street from the building being depicted so visitors can read the sign, then look up and see the modern-day view. Depending on the location, the buildings could look much the same, drastically different or no longer be there. Each sign will be at least 20 inches by 30 inches.
It will give visitors a way to appreciate Decorah's "interesting, quaint, 19th century look," Epperly said.
After the meeting, Epperly told Decorah Newspapers that although the first floor of several downtown buildings may not look the same as when they were built, the "saving grace" is the upper stories remain basically unchanged.
Funds are being raised for the signs, which cost about $1,000 each, and are similar to those used in state and federal parks.
"They are durable and guaranteed for 10 years," he said. "They require minimal maintenance."
Epperly said 20 signs are planned, and existing kiosks downtown will be incorporated into the walk.
In addition to $20,000 for the signs, there will be additional expenses of about $3,000 that could be covered through "in-kind contributions." He asked the city to cover part of the in-kind contribution by having the street department install the signs.
Gary Rustad, chair of the Council's street committee, said Street Department Commissioner Dave Tollefson and his department are "happy" to do the work. The signs will be located at the end of the block in a place that won't eliminate any parking spaces, Rustad said.
Before the Council voted on the request, Benjamin Kratchmer, a member of the Decorah Historic Preservation Commission, said the Commission was not aware of the proposed project until two hours prior to the Council meeting.
"It is our purview to give advice to the Council on projects of this nature," he said.
Kratchmer asked that the action be tabled until the Commission can review it and make a recommendation.
Ad hoc committee
Epperly said he didn't contact the Commission because he didn't think the project was a "preservation issue." Epperly said he and Lorentzen have been working as an "ad hoc committee" with the backing of the Winneshiek County Historical Society.
Epperly said he needed the Council's approval to continue fundraising efforts. He said he or Lorentzen would meet with the Council or the Commission to hear members' suggestions.
"We need all the help we can get," he said.
"I think we can all head down the road together on this," Council member Paul Wanless commented. "I think the parties could all get together and review the whole package as we go."
Council member Rachel Vagts agreed with Kratchmer the Commission's role is both preservation and education and that Epperly and Lorentzen should meet with the Commission.
"This is an important opportunity for partnership," she said.
"It appears all are willing to work together," Mayor Don Arendt said.
"It's a good project ... It's really exciting for downtown," Council member Carolyn Corbin said.
Epperly said he was inspired to pursue the project after visiting Natchez, Miss. this summer, where they have historic walking trails called "Museum of the Streets." He has proposed the Decorah trails be named "Walk into the Past."
To donate to the project, send a check to the Winneshiek County Historical Society, PO Box 63, Decorah, IA 52101. Epperly said several pledges have already been made: Decorah's Self Supporting Municipal Improvement District, $2,000; Decorah Downtown Betterment Association, $1,000; Luther College, $1,000; Decorah Bank and Trust, $1,000; and Hawkeye Stages, $1,000. Funding appeals have been made to several other organizations.
Epperly said the Walk into the Past trails could compliment the 11-mile Trout Run Trail that encircles the city and focuses on physical activity and natural beauty.
"This is an urban trail that focuses on architecture, culture and history, with an element of education," he said.