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Downtown Osceola added to National Register of Historic Places

Multiple architectural styles and commercial development history cited in nomination

DES MOINES – Supported by 42 historical buildings and its role as a center of commerce and government, the Osceola Commercial Historic District has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The announcement came Feb. 7 from the State Historic Preservation Office, which oversees the National Register of Historic Places program in Iowa in conjunction with the National Park Service. The State Historic Preservation Office is overseen by the State Historical Society of Iowa, a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.

“We’re pleased the Osceola Commercial Historic District has been added to the National Register of Historic Places, and we commend all the stakeholders who worked so hard on this successful nomination,” State Historian Laura Sadowsky said. “This recognition marks an important milestone for Osceola as it continues to preserve the legacy of its past for future generations of Iowans to enjoy.”

In its nomination form, the district highlights the three-story 1882 Arlington-Howe-Garner Hotel, Lyric Theater, 1935 federal post office, original city hall/fire station and landmark water tower among the district’s 42 contributing buildings.Thirty-one of those buildings were cited for their Italianate, Queen Anne, Classical Revival, Art Deco and Mid-Century Modern architectural styles.

“The range covers buildings that were designed and built throughout the history of the downtown, but a great many represent the final surge of building that concluded well before World War I,” according to the nomination form. “The other focal point is the 1956 Mid-Century Modern style county courthouse that occupies the center of the square.”

As part of its nomination, the district also cites its early access to railroads and development of local banking in addition to the growth of newspapers and adventurous community promotions that brought thousands of tourists to the area for camping and holiday shopping.

As it happened, Osceola’s history of 44 major fires beginning in 1874 guided the development of the current historic district. In response to several devastating fires, city leaders left gaps between buildings, reduced the scale of ornate cornices and favored new construction of brick and metal buildings.

The threat of fire also forced local government officials and the community to develop an early volunteer fire department and municipal water supply, which was developed in 1903-1904 with the construction of a reservoir, an 80-foot steel 60,000-gallon water tank and an electric pump. After 50 years of service, it was replaced by the current water tower in 1957.

The Osceola Commercial Historic District was one of 11 Iowa properties that recently were added to the National Register of Historic Places along with the Davenport Bag and Paper Company Building, East Des Moines Industrial Historic District and Pella Collegiate Neighborhood Historic District.

Iowa has more than 2,300 properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which can be found on the Iowa Culture app. More information about the National Register of Historic Places is available at or 515-281-5111.

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