Patriot Rail Aids Iowa Depot Restoration

Patriot Rail Aids Iowa Depot Restoration

By Eric Berger

Restoration of the historic Keokuk, Iowa, Union Depot is a step closer to completion with the donation of $7,000 by Patriot Rail, which operates Keokuk Junction Railway over the former Rock Island tracks next to the building.

Built in 1891 with Romanesque Revival styling, the unusual structure was among the final projects of noted architect John Wellborn Root of Burnham & Root, one of the premiere architectural firms in 19th-century Chicago.

The donation was announced on August 21 by Janet M. Smith, president of the Keokuk Union Depot Foundation, a non-profit established to facilitate the restoration of the depot following its acquisition by the City of Keokuk in 2011, the year the station was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The group has presided over its transformation from a ghostly reminder of its former role as a unique city focal point into an open community event center. In the first phase of the project, its imposing tile roof and 64-foot central tower were restored to their original design in work completed in 2018. Work continues on the restoration of the exterior masonry of the central tower and waiting room sections.

An impressive structure even at its nadir, the building lost 24 feet of its tower in a 1937 fire and lost its primary function when passenger service to Keokuk was discontinued in 1967. Railroads put it to various uses in the decades that followed. Initial restoration work was done in the waiting room in the early 1990s, but it was largely relegated to use as storage space after the railroad was sold to shortline holding company Pioneer Railcorp in 1996. The Pioneer lines were acquired in 2022 by Patriot Rail.

“We are thrilled to be a part of helping … to restore this beautiful building,” said John Fenton, CEO of Patriot Rail.

Restoration of the waiting room’s interior masonry, marble and tile floor, period lighting and updating the restrooms are to begin in 2024.  The Patriot Rail donation will assist with this work.

“We’re gratified by Patriot Rail’s interest in our historic depot,” Smith said. “We’re looking forward to a continuing relationship with the railroad that operates the trackage adjacent to the depot.”

More information can be found at keokukuniondepot.org/foundation.html.

This article was posted on: September 11, 2023