Community hopes to renovate historic cabins


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Two log cabins have sat abandoned in City Park for decades.

Several Iowa City organizations, however, want to revive the cabins for community use.

"There are few things that remain to tell us about the people who first came here," said Joyce Carroll, Iowa City Parks and Recreation supervisor.

The effort to restore the cabins, led by Carroll, will cost an estimated $100,000, said Mike Moran, director of Parks and Recreation. Funding, Carroll said, will have to come from grants and other fundraising efforts because of the department's budget restrictions.

The cabins were first built in 1889 by the Old Settlers of Johnson County — an organization of families whose ancestors had originally settled in the area. The organization built the cabins as a tribute to their ancestors. One cabin resembled a typical family home and the other was a replica of the trading post of an influential local figure John Gilbert, according to documents from the Office of the State Archaeologist.

"For me, it's an emotional attachement to the earth and where we came from," Carroll said.

Iowa City Parks and Recreation Department officials have teamed up with the Office of the State Archaeologist to restore the cabins. Moran said the department has been working the past six months preparing for the start of the fundraising efforts.

Carroll said she hopes to gain support from other local historical organizations — like the Iowa City Historic Preservation Commissions and the Friends of Historic Preservation — for continued support.

Carroll said collaboration among the community is important and "forms a sense of community."

The cabins were used frequently over the last 123 years, Carroll said. Old Settlers of Johnson County held their meetings in the cabins and Girl Scout camps, Pioneer Days, and even weddings were held at the cabins. Extensive deterioration, however, has forced the department to close the cabins, which have been unused for the past 40 years.

Patti Mott still remembers her time as a Girl Scout camping out in the cabins. The 76-year-old said she and her troupe roasted hot dogs and sang songs around the campfire outside the cabins. Mott also learned the history of the site and their city.

"They were important lessons for us as little girls." Mott said, adding "Not only was the area part of Iowa City's history but we learned about our cultural heritage and became better Americans because of our experience there," Mott said.

The new resotrations will reopen the area for local groups to use the buildings for scouting, nature hikes, historic events, reenactments, and festivals.

Carroll said no money has been collected for the restoration so far, though the department has applied for several grants. The department will likely host its first fundraising event this year.

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