Keokuk Union Depot Preservation Activity

Erected beginning in 1891, the Keokuk Union Depot served the train-traveling public well for nearly eight decades. During that period the building was maintained in serviceable condition and underwent interior remodeling as requirements changed. With the cessation of passenger service to Keokuk in 1967, however, the structure was no longer needed for its primary mission. It was put to use for other purposes for which it was not intended, such as storage of surplus railroad equipment. Except for a brief period when the Depot served as a base for the original Keokuk Junction Railway's tourist operation, during which the waiting room was renovated, the structure was neglected.

In 2011, however, responsibility for the Depot passed to the City of Keokuk and efforts are under way to stabilize and preserve this historic structure and restore it to usefulness as a community resource. This page highlights some of the current efforts in that direction.

Eaves Deconstruction, August 2015
Initial phase of the roof restoration project included reconstruction
of the eaves and gutters around the waiting room,
begun in August 2015. Photo by Richard Leonard

The major activity of 2015 included the restoration of the eaves and gutters around the waiting room and the restoration of the chimney to its original height. This project was supported in part by the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs' Historical Resource Development Program (HRDP); the contractor was Restoric LLC of Chicago. This was the first phase of the $1 million roof restoration project for which the Jeffris Family Foundation pledged $333,000, to be matched at two to one ($667,000). For more information, visit the Depot Foundation page.

Brackets after restoration, November 2015
The decorative brackets under the upriver eaves were restored to their
original faux oak wood grain finish in fall 2015. Photo by Richard Leonard

Chimney before and after restoration
The chimney in 2011 (left), and after restoration
in 2015 (right). Photos by Richard Leonard

How You Can Help

  • To enlist as a Depot volunteer, email the Depot Commission.
  • To donate to the effort, visit the Depot Foundation page.
  • Write to Keokuk Union Depot, P.O. Box 463, Keokuk, IA 52632.
  • Phone the President of the Union Depot Commission, Debra Marion, 319-520-8830.

New Decorative Brackets, 2012
New decorative brackets under the eaves, 2012.
Photo by Richard Leonard

Earlier roof repairs were begun in April 2011. The contractor determined that a portion of the inside brick window arch at the front of the building had been weakened through leakage, several roof beams were affected by rot, and the decorative brackets under the soffit were damaged. Volunteers made new brackets, and subsequently, a woodworking firm made a new arch window casing. Volunteers completed the casing and set the window in place in June 2013.

Arch Window Frame, 2013
This window frame replaced the deteriorated frame in June 2013.
Photo by Richard Leonard

Preparation for metal roof installation
Pending eventual replacement of the entire roof with clay tiles, workers
install temporary protective metal roofing over the express section
of the Depot, August 2014. Photo by Richard Leonard

The Dwell Magazine Award and Video

On March 8, 2012, Dwell Magazine, a San Francisco architectural publication, announced that the Keokuk Union Depot was the winner of the $10,000 "Rethinking Preservation" award sponsored by SubZero. Dwell MagazineThe Depot topped a list of 118 entries on behalf of architectural landmarks. Christen Sundquist Martin, architectural intern from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, entered the Depot in the competition because of its distinction as one of the few remaining depots designed by Burnham and Root. School students from the Keokuk area were instrumental in swelling the vote total for the Depot.

A team from Dwell visited Keokuk in May 2012 and created a five-minute video, Preserving the Keokuk Union Depot. An article on the project appeared in the October 2012 issue of Dwell. The Dwell award underwrote the Historic Structure Report that guides ongoing restoration efforts.

Waiting room benches were still present in the Depot until shortly before it was leased to the City of Keokuk, as shown in the photo below. Unfortunately, by the time the City had full access to the Depot the benches had been removed. Suitable replacements need to be procured, or reproduced, in order to restore an authentic appearance to this interior space.

Original waiting room bench
Waiting room benches while still in place, 2004.
Flickr Photo by David W. Steele

Visitors are welcome whenever volunteers are at work at the Depot. Workers will be glad to review our progress and point out architectural features. Normal workdays are on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday mornings. A job is always available for those unskilled in the specialized tasks occasionally needed, such as electrical work or carpentry.

If volunteers are not present when you visit the Depot, phone one of these numbers to arrange a tour:

  • 319-795-4887 (S. Celania)
  • 319-520-8830 (D. Marion)
  • 319-524-1221 (S. Siebold)
  • 217-440-6615 (R. Leonard)

Municipal tax moneys will not be used for Depot rehabilitation. The Depot Commission of the City of Keokuk administers the general efforts, but the Keokuk Union Depot Foundation is charged with raising the needed funds. Viewers interested in supporting the effort may contribute through the Foundation, or send their contributions to Keokuk Union Depot, P.O. Box 463, Keokuk, IA 52632.

Lifting the apex, August 31, 2016
The reconstructed apex to the central tower is lifted into
place on August 31, 2016. Photo by Richard Leonard

The focus of activity in 2016 was the construction and lifting of the apex to the central tower, which had been leveled off around 1950. The Meyer Guild of Chicago, subcontracted by Restoric LLC, built the new apex on the ground. On August 31, 2016, McDowell Crane & Rigging lifted the apex to the top of the central tower, adding 26 feet to the height of the building.

The apex in place, August 31, 2016
In this view of the apex set in place on August 31, 2016, we also see
two of the reconstructed corner turrets. Photo by Robert Woodburn

The central tower was rebuilt to provide additional support for the apex once it was in place. At the same time the four corner turrets, removed around 1950, were reconstructed. During the fall of 2016 the roof of the entire central tower is to be tiled, after construction of the dormers on both the track and bluff sides and application of the copper finials to the apex and turrets. This is the first phase in restoration of the Depot's roof itself to its original appearance, with tiling of the upriver and downriver ends of the building scheduled for 2017.

Reconditioned waiting room door
Reconditioned northeast waiting room door. Photo by John Miller

In the spring of 2012 the Questers, an organization devoted to the preservation of historical buildings, sites and artifacts, secured a grant for the repair of the windows and replacement of glass. Through antique-and-art auctions at the Depot, this local group raised funds to restore three of the four exit doors to the waiting room. Volunteers reinstalled them in the spring of 2015.

Northeast window
Volunteers reset frames in the northeast window, July 2012.
Photo by Richard Leonard

Because the Depot is located in a lightly trafficked part of the city susceptible to vandalism, the windows had been covered with protective plywood. By 2014 a volunteer project had made substantial progress in repairing and reglazing the windows, and since that time little window damage has occurred.

Window repairs in progress
Not all Depot volunteers are men. Here, one of our lady volunteers
removes old paint from window frames in July 2012.
Photo by Richard Leonard

Motor vehicle traffic over the brick platform on the railroad side of the Depot, in connection with railroad operations, caused the paving to sink and form ruts. During the summer of 2012 the bricks were pulled up, new sand was laid down and leveled, and the bricks were reset from the northeast end of the building to the southwest, between the building and the platform umbrella support posts. In the photo below, volunteers pose on December 4, 2012 when that goal was reached.

Completion of 2012 phase of platform work
Volunteers pose upon completion of the 2012 phase of platform work.

In 2011, volunteers installed temporary curbing on the street side of the Depot and reset the sidewalk bricks. The original limestone curbing, slabs sunk into the ground, has deteriorated. Before bricks could be reset the deteriorated curbing had to be chipped out and overlaid with temporary curbing in the form of 4x6 treated wooden beams anchored with rebar, as a stabilization effort pending eventual restoration.

Art Institute Workshop, June 2013
Students from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago
learn about masonry repair for historic buildings during a
workshop on June 13, 2013. Photo by Richard Leonard

Visit the Depot Gift Shoppe!

Depot Viewed from Upriver End
The Depot photographed on June 28, 2013 while the BNSF-KJRY interchange trackage was empty. Photo by Rob Dunham