Imagine Northeast Iowa

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History in the Downtown: Watching Waterloo Come Back to Life
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History in the Downtown: Watching Waterloo Come Back to Life

In many communities where shopping malls and urban sprawl exist the once thriving downtown became extinct. However with time and re-found interest, there is life breathing again in these old buildings. These once sleeping keepers of time have re-awakened to tell their story again. This could not be more true than in Waterloo, Iowa. The downtown is stretching its muscles and shaking off the last few lags of sleep. The pulse of the city is quickening, and the buildings are filling again with restaurants, offices, jewelry shops, clothing shops, antique shops and more.

My husband and I both love historic architecture and history. As a young couple, much of our dating took place in downtown Waterloo. We would walk around and experience various historic landmarks. We enjoyed the four goddesses that once perched on top of the county court house, but now overlook the Cedar River. We explored the Masonic Temple, and Elks Club on Park Avenue. We imagined the time shoppers fulfilled their Christmas shopping lists at the Blacks Department Store. We mourned the loss of the livery stable that stood on the corner of West Park and Jefferson. We giggled at the east-west argument that settled in having two Carnegie libraries, one on each side of the river. Being that we graduated from both high schools, he from East and myself from West, we keep the rival alive. We imagined the church built from a single boulder, and tried to picture its existence on Mulberry Street. On hot days we sat on the steps by Memorial Hall to be cool by the river. Mostly we would soak up the air conditioning while sitting on the mezzanine in the Russell Lamson Hotel building. It's safe to say that we fell in love with each other and Waterloo at the same time.

 A lot of time was spent talking and imagining life as it once was downtown. When passengers rode on the trolley car, and the downtown was a mecca of activity for its citizens. This is why we chose the downtown as the location for our antique shop, Shoppe on the Corner. We chose the Russell Lamson building which was once a fine hotel, built in 1914 by Clyde Lamson and Lillian Russell Lamson. Clyde Lamson, was a well known figure in real estate circles in Waterloo, and Lillian was the daughter of Rensselaer Russell, one of Waterloo's first bankers and an extensive land possesser in Black Hawk County. His historic upper class home still exists, and is a part of the Grout Museum District. Lavish parties were once held in the beautiful historic Russell Lamson Hotel lobby, and one can picture the well to do ladies in their ball gowns and finely dressed gentle men socializing there. The Russell Lamson underwent a nine million dollar renovation in the last couple of years and its lobby is now the breath taking space it originally was. When people come in to shop at our antique shop and ask me questions about the building, I always ask them to step into the lobby. It makes me smile to hear their surprised voices when they experience this grand space. If you are ever in Waterloo, Iowa I encourage you to do the same.

  1. Imagine Northeast Iowa Support
    Imagine Northeast Iowa Support
    Thanks for this wonderful good news, and inspiring report of Waterloo, Lisa! We love it so much, we just posted it on our Imagine Northeast Iowa Facebook page! Cheers!

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