Small towns in Iowa all seem to have one thing in common: historic Main Streets. The Main Streets of Iowa are typically composed of a few blocks of low-slung brick buildings. They are simplistic and unimposing, with small businesses on the ground level and housing or office space above. While the historic significance of these Main Streets is appreciated and protected, many of the buildings have fallen into states of disrepair. However, there have been recent efforts to revitalize these downtowns while maintaining the character of Main Street.
Iowa was dealt a huge blow by the farm crisis of the 1980’s, when crop prices were driven down by a bad economy and many farmers could not stay in business. It was at that point in time, as small towns in Iowa began losing population at a much higher rate, that Main Streets began to see neglect. The buildings started to look shabby and local businesses struggled. Communities have begun to respond through revitalization efforts.
This new revitalization trend is a result of the Main Street Movement, a nationwide historic preservation effort that is rooted in the simple idea of preserving and nurturing Main Streets. The thought is that a healthy Main Street helps to maintain small town culture and support economic viability for the community. The National Main Street Center offers support to local communities by providing guidelines and strategies for how to revitalize their own Main Street.
The Main Street Movement seems to have just recently caught on in Iowa, as many communities are now taking steps to improve their Main Street. Towns such as Conrad, Corning, and Mason City have recently undertaken façade improvement projects in an attempt to transform shabby-looking properties into inviting storefronts. These changes show that the buildings are being cared for, without losing their historical charm. Since 2008, 313 downtown businesses in Iowa have undertaken façade rehabilitation projects, with support from Community Development Block Grant funds. Attractive-looking storefronts can help generate more business and bring activity back to the downtown area. This, in turn, spurs greater support for the preservation of Main Streets.
Does your city have a historic Main Street? If so, has your city taken efforts to preserve it? Share your city's stories in the comments below.
Credits: Images by Molly Carpenter. Data linked to sources.