New website illustrates county limestone structures

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The Friedlein-Dickson building at 310 North 3rd Street is one of many stone structures in Guttenberg that are featured on the new website. (Press photo by Molly Moser)

By Molly Moser

A new website highlighting the stone structures of Clayton County rolled out last month thanks to years of work by members of the Clayton County Historic Preservation Commission. The eight-member group, with help from over a dozen volunteers from the area, drove every single road in the county to look for rock structures of any kind – be they culverts, bridges, outbuildings, houses, commercial buildings, structures in parks, or even ruins. 

The website is located at www.claytoncountystonestructures.com. It contains roughly 250 images of Clayton County’s stone structures. Sixty-two of those structures are in Guttenberg, with another 38 outside of the city in the Jefferson Township – locating nearly half of the structures in the county in our township.

Guttenberg’s own Gary Goyette cataloged 11 townships’ stone structures, including Guttenberg and the Jefferson township. “In 1856 in Clayton County there were 76 stone masons, according to the U.S. census,” Goyette said, explaining the abundance of stone structures in the area. Forty-nine of those masons lived in the Jefferson Township. “Those were predominately Germans with masonry skills, moving to an area with an abundance of readily quarriable stone.” With the materials and the skills, these masons built many of the structures shown on the new website. 

The project began in 2012, when the Commission and volunteers began taking a photographic inventory of the stone structures. A computer glitch held up the process for months, until Elkader photographer and computer expert David Beck joined the project. With Beck’s assistance, the website was launched in May. 

Goals for the project were two-fold. “First of all, we wanted to record all the structures for historic purposes,” said commission chairperson Ellen Collins. “Secondly, our goal was to increase tourism to Clayton County.” The website catalogs each of Clayton County’s stone structures that are more than 50 years old by township, with addresses listed for public facilities. The group plans to add more information to the website in the future as it becomes available – the purpose of the initial inventory was simply to gather images to document each structure.

“If there is a building you’re interested in, check with the State Historical Society division of historic preservation to find out more information,” advises Goyette, who is an official restoration/preservation consultant with eight years of experience and a master’s degree in the field. If the building is the National Register of Historic Places or is eligible for the register, the State Historical Society will list it in its Iowa building inventory. Goyette recommends contacting Barry Bennett, preservation program manager, with the address of the specific building being researched. Bennett can be reached at 515.281.8742 or by email at Berry.Bennett@iowa.gov.

Visitors to the new Clayton County stone structures website will find many familiar facades on the Guttenberg page, including the office of The Guttenberg Press at 10 Schiller Street. Less recognizable (and perhaps more intriguing as such) include a stone mailbox on Miner’s Creek Road, a stable at 515 Acre Street, and the ruins of an 1840s era farmhouse nearby. 

In the mid 1800s, The Western Settlement Society headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, offered lots for sale in Guttenberg. The exposed limestone and steep bluffs we call home would have reminded early German settlers of the areas along their native Rhine River, and thanks to those German masons, we have many of the historic limestone structures that make our city unique.

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