Keokuk Union Depot Restoration Activity

Erected beginning in 1891, the Keokuk Union Depot served the train-traveling public well for nearly eight decades. During that period the building was maintained in serviceable condition and underwent interior remodeling as requirements changed. With the cessation of passenger service to Keokuk in 1967, however, the structure was no longer needed for its primary mission. It was put to use for other purposes for which it was not intended, such as storage of surplus railroad equipment. Except for a brief period when the Depot served as a base for the original Keokuk Junction Railway's tourist operation, during which the waiting room was renovated, the structure was neglected.

If volunteers are not present when you visit the Depot, phone one of these numbers to arrange a tour:

  • 217-242-8931 (M. Bliven)
  • 319-524-1221 (S. Seabold)

In 2011, however, responsibility for the Depot passed to the City of Keokuk and efforts are under way to restore this historic structure and enhance its usefulness as a community resource. This page highlights some of the ongoing efforts in that direction.

Brackets after restoration, November 2016
The decorative brackets under the eaves were restored to their original
faux oak wood grain finish in 2015 and 2016. Photo by Richard Leonard

The major activity of 2015 included the restoration of the eaves and gutters around the waiting room and the restoration of the chimney to its original height. This project was supported in part by the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs' Historical Resource Development Program (HRDP); the contractor was Restoric LLC (then of Chicago, now of Michigan City, Indiana). This was the first step in a three-phase roof restoration project for which the Jeffris Family Foundation issued a challenge grant of $333,000 in 2014. By 2016 contributors had matched the grant at two to one ($667,000) enabling work to go forward. In 2016 the eaves were restored around the remainder of the building.

Chimney before and after restoration
The chimney in 2011 (left), and after restoration
in 2015 (right). Photos by Richard Leonard

Final cap on the hips, 2018
Workmen install the final ridge cap on the hip over the
waiting room, October 2018. Photo by Richard Leonard

Earlier roof repairs were begun in April 2011. The contractor determined that a portion of the inside brick window arch at the front of the building had been weakened through leakage. A woodworking firm made a new arch window casing, which volunteers completed and installed in June 2013.

Arch window frame, 2013
This window frame replaced the deteriorated frame in June 2013.
Photo by Richard Leonard

How You Can Help

  • To enlist as a Depot volunteer, email the Depot Commission:
  • To donate to the effort, visit the Depot Foundation page.
  • Write to Keokuk Union Depot, P.O. Box 463, Keokuk, IA 52632.

Restored ticket office paneling, 2017
In 2017, volunteers removed and restored paneling in the ticket
office in order to hide electrical wiring. Photo by Richard Leonard

Depot volunteers, with funding from two local Quester organizations, have undertaken several interior projects, including repairing and reglazing the windows, formerly covered by plywood. Through antique-and-art auctions at the Depot, the Questers raised funds to restore three of the four exit doors to the waiting room, which volunteers reinstalled in the spring of 2015. These groups have also underwritten repairs to brick work and supported the volunteers in restoring paneling in the waiting room. (The Questers are an organization devoted to the preservation of historical buildings, sites and artifacts.)

Reconditioned waiting room door
Reconditioned northeast waiting room door. Photo by John Miller

Motor vehicle traffic over the brick platform on the railroad side of the Depot, in connection with railroad operations, caused the paving to sink and form ruts. During the summer of 2012 the bricks were pulled up, new sand was laid down and leveled, and the bricks were reset from the northeast end of the building to the southwest, between the building and the train shed support posts. In the photo below, volunteers pose on December 4, 2012 when that goal was reached.

Completion of 2012 phase of platform work
Volunteers pose upon completion of the 2012 phase of platform work.

Northeast window
Volunteers reset frames in the northeast window, July 2012.
Photo by Richard Leonard

Visitors are welcome whenever volunteers are at work at the Depot. Workers will be glad to review our progress, discuss the history of the Depot, and point out important architectural features. Normal workdays are on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday mornings. A job is always available for those unskilled in the specialized tasks occasionally needed, such as electrical work or carpentry.

Locate the Depot on the map.

Municipal tax moneys are not used for Depot rehabilitation. The Depot Commission of the City of Keokuk administers the general efforts, but the Keokuk Union Depot Foundation is charged with raising the needed funds. Viewers interested in supporting the effort may contribute through the Foundation, or send their contributions to Keokuk Union Depot, P.O. Box 463, Keokuk, IA 52632.

Lifting the apex, August 31, 2016
The reconstructed apex to the central tower is lifted into
place on August 31, 2016. Photo by Richard Leonard

The focus of activity in 2016 was the construction and lifting of the apex to the central tower, which had been leveled off around 1950. The Meyer Guild of Chicago, subcontracted by Restoric LLC, built the new apex on the ground. On August 31, 2016, McDowell Crane & Rigging lifted the apex to the top of the central tower, adding 26 feet to the height of the building.

The apex in place, August 31, 2016
In this view of the apex set in place on August 31, 2016, we also see
two of the reconstructed corner turrets. Photo by Robert Woodburn

The central tower was rebuilt to provide additional support for the apex once it was in place. At the same time the four corner turrets, removed around 1950, were reconstructed. During the fall of 2016 the roof of the entire central tower was tiled, after construction of the dormers on both the track and bluff sides. (See the photos below and on the home page.) Brass finials were applied to the peak of the tower and the reconstructed corner turrets.

Brass finials on the Depot's peak
The reconstructed peak of the Depot's central tower
features these brass finials. Photo by Mike Bliven

Roof repair and tiling on the up-river and down-river ends of the building was undertaken in 2017, and completed in 2018 (see the photo at the bottom of this page). For more information about the roof restoration project, visit the Depot Foundation page.

The 1891 plan for the Depot called for a clock to be installed in the dormer of the central tower, on both the track side and bluff side. No clock was ever installed, and until truncation of the tower in the 1950s the opening was filled in with wood. In 2017, after reconstruction of the dormers, the round window was glazed.

Dormer window on track side, 2017
The dormer windows, originally intended for a clock, have
been fitted with glass. Photo by Richard Leonard

Original waiting room benches were present in the Depot until shortly before it was leased to the City of Keokuk, but by the time the City had full access to the building they had been removed. However, a friend of the Depot donated several benches appropriate to the period of the Depot's use in passenger service. Volunteers have painstakingly reconditioned them to restore an authentic appearance to this interior space. (Happily, the original benches were also returned early in 2019 and are in storage at the Depot.)

Reconditioned Waiting Room Bench
Reconditioned bench for the waiting room, 2017. Photo by Richard Leonard

In 2021, interior brickwork in the former boiler room (downriver end of the building) was repaired by a local masonry contractor. Although not in an area open to the public, these deteriorating walls threatened the structural integrity of the building, and repairing them was deemed imperative for the Depot's future usefulness.

Boiler room repairs, 2021
Boiler room interior wall repairs, May 2021. Photo by Richard Leonard

Restoration of the train shed (canopy) began in 2021 with removal of lead paint and repainting of the roof, both top and bottom, by a Quincy, Illinois firm. Some bases that support the roof columns were refabricated by an Alabama firm using an intact base as a pattern, and reset late in 2021. In March 2022 the columns were reinstalled connecting the bases to the roof structure. Members of the Keokuk Fire Department donated their services to repaint the metal work.

Restored Train Shed Columns
Restoration of train shed columns, March 2022.
Photos by Mark Stanley and Sean Rockelman

The Dwell Magazine Award and Video

On March 8, 2012, Dwell Magazine, a San Francisco architectural publication, announced that the Keokuk Union Depot was the winner of the $10,000 "Rethinking Preservation" award sponsored by SubZero. Dwell MagazineThe Depot topped a list of 118 entries on behalf of architectural landmarks. Christen Sundquist Martin, architectural intern from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, entered the Depot in the competition because of its distinction as one of the few remaining depots designed by Burnham and Root. School students from the Keokuk area were instrumental in swelling the vote total for the Depot.

A team from Dwell visited Keokuk in May 2012 and created a five-minute video, Preserving the Keokuk Union Depot. An article on the project appeared in the October 2012 issue of Dwell. The Dwell award underwrote the Historic Structure Report that guides ongoing restoration efforts.

Visit the Depot Gift Shoppe!

Elevated vew of Depot, December 2017
The Depot photographed in December 2017, when most of the roof tiling had been completed.
Tank cars at right are used by Keokuk Junction Railway (Patriot Rail). Photo by Neal Vogel