McGregor Historical Museum unveils inland flooding kiosk
By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor
The McGregor Historical Museum unveiled its new inland flooding kiosk with a presentation by Marlys Svendsen, historic project specialist for Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management, at its May 10 open house.
Svendsen first became interested in how McGregor has dealt with inland flooding after a 2008 flood damaged the city’s retention basins. Her studies were part of an 18-month environmental review, at FEMA’s request, to see how area communities were affected. What she found was an important, albeit odd, part of the city’s history.
“Your sewers are special,” she told those gathered at the presentation.
The city’s sewer segments were built from the 1860s to 1890s by the Boyle family, who were well-known local bridge builders. There are two miles of stone sewers and four and a half miles of waterways. Seven to 10 feet deep and eight to 10 feet wide (with a maximum of 14 feet wide), Svendsen said McGregor’s system is similar to systems developed in major cities around the world.
By 1900, the sewer’s ditches, channels and tunnels were mostly complete. However, in 1908, the sewer collapsed near the school. Water on Main Street was six to eight feet deep. Svendsen showed a photograph depicting workers picking up the rocks from the damaged sewer.
“This is what happened every time McGregor had a flood,” she said.
In 1916, the sewer collapsed again. That year, said Svendsen, Main Street was about to be paved, and the flood washed away the loose brick that was ready to be laid. With that flood, she said, the city decided it was time to figure out a solution.
“They knew where the water was coming from, from the hollows into town,” Svendsen said, explaining that an idea was then formed to put check dams in the hollows.
It wasn’t until the 1930s, and the arrival of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), that the check dams were finally built. The CCC brought over 250 men to McGregor and formed Camp Pokette in Tourist Park (what is now Gazebo Park). The men, many of whom were from area towns, constructed buildings and formed a camp newspaper. In 1934, the United States Department of Agriculture surveyed and planned to build the retention basins. By 1938-1939, three main basins—Slaughter, Siegele and Walton Hollow/Pikes Peak—were complete.
“They continue to drain 2,600 acres around McGregor to this day,” Svendsen said.
The CCC men also completed other conservation practices, working in Pikes Peak and planting 300,000 trees in just two years.
“There were 22 CCC camps in Iowa, with 4,400 young men,” she said. “Many of those projects still stand in parks.”
Svendsen said the city’s connection to the CCC and its successful practices to reduce inland flooding make for a special and historic situation. She, along with the museum volunteers, invites the public to take a look at the kiosk and other associated materials. Svendsen also recognized the museum in providing materials for her to create the exhibit and presentation.
“You take the basic data and research materials to put together a story that’s never been told before,” she said.
At the open house, McGregor’s new historic walking tour booklets were also unveiled. The new booklets have been expanded upon from the previous edition, which was released 10 years ago. Over 100 properties, as well as a cemetery tour, are included.
It took volunteers Maureen Wild, Rogeta Halvorson, Lynette Sander and Michelle Pettit over one year to collect and compile the information.
“It was so much fun working with these women who are fascinated with the history of the town,” Wild said. “This book is a minute bit of what could be in here, there’s so much history.”
Booklets can be purchased at the museum and other businesses in McGregor.