Restoring history

Wilson Brewer Park restoration project making progress

-Daily Freeman-Journal photo by Kelby Wingert Philip Grossmann, of Heritage Woodworks, measures a piece of lumber while working on the reconstruction of the Wilson Brewer Cabin at Wilson Brewer Park on Sept. 5.

An ongoing project restoring the facilities and grounds at Wilson Brewer Park continues to make progress.

Wilson Brewer Park, which receives its name from one of the founders of Webster City, was given to the city in 1932 by Brewer’s grandchildren to create a permanent memorial to honor Brewer, the town’s first settler. Frank and Harriet Bonebright, Brewer’s grandchildren, also gave the city the original log cabin Brewer had erected on his homestead in the early 1850s. The Jackson Groves Cabin, which was originally built in 1856, was attached to the Brewer Cabin as an addition by Frank Bonebright in 1931.

The Bonebrights also gave the 1860-built Jameson Cabin to Webster City in 1932.

Together, the Wilson Brewer – Jackson Groves Cabin and the Jameson Cabin, are the oldest structures in the city.

Currently, the cabins are being reconstructed after the two buildings were taken apart last fall in an effort to restore and preserve the 160-year-old log cabins. The cabins have also been relocated from an area near the center of the park to an area about 50 yards east.

-Daily Freeman-Journal photo by Kelby Wingert Jason Roberts of Heritage Woodworks, a company out of Clemons, works to level out the logs of the outside wall of the Wilson Brewer Cabin on Sept. 5.

“(The cabins) had already been moved a couple of times, but these had been put here in about 1930,” said Kent Harfst, Webster City assistant city manager and Recreation and Public Grounds director. “And it’s such a low area of the park, you see a lot of water damage whenever it rains … the logs had a lot of water damage and they just needed some attention.”

The cabins were disassembled by Heritage Woodworks, a company out of Clemons that specializes in this kind of restoration work, Harfst said.

“Last winter, what they did is piece-by-piece they took both cabins down here, took it to their shop and reconditioned them,” Harfst said. “And they did have to replace some of the logs, too. But now they’re putting it back together like a big puzzle.”

The park is also home to the Harmony Center School House, a country school originally built in 1914; the Mulberry Center Church, which was built in Blairsburg in 1890; the first Hamilton County Courthouse, which was used from 1866 to 1876; and the old Illinois Central Railroad Depot, which was built in 1902.

Harfst feels there’s a lot of historical value that the park provides the city and its residents.

-Daily Freeman-Journal photo by Kelby Wingert Heritage Woodworks, a company out of Clemons, is working on piecing together the logs of the Wilson Brewer Cabin at Wilson Brewer Park. The cabin was dismantled so the wood could be restored and reconditioned and the cabin could be moved to a spot in the park with higher elevation.

“The nice things about parks is they’re for all ages, all socio-economic backgrounds, where it doesn’t matter how much money you have or don’t have, that people can come and enjoy and sit underneath a tree and read a book or have leisure opportunities,” he said.

When the cabins are finished being rebuilt – which Harfst estimates will be sometime in October – the buildings will be filled with a variety of historical artifacts from the area.

“It will be fairly historically accurate,” he said.

The funds for the park’s restoration are provided by private donations, fundraising help from the Enhance Hamilton County Foundation, as well as some help from the city, Harfst said.

Once the cabins are finished, the city will move on to updating the grounds at the park, including installing some paved walkways.

-Daily Freeman-Journal photo by Kelby Wingert The Mulberry Center Church was built in Blairsburg Township in 1890. In 1995, it was moved to Wilson Brewer Park in Webster City.

“We would like to eventually have some concrete trails that would connect to all the buildings to make it more user-friendly,” Harfst said. “Right now, the ground is kind of rough, where people that are somewhat physically challenged have a harder time to get into the buildings.”

When that phase is complete, they’ll look into updates to “rejuvenate” the old courthouse building and depot.

“That might be a year or two away,” he said.

The overall project doesn’t have a completion date just yet, Harfst said.

“This is going to be on-going for the next couple of years,” he said. “It’s a work in progress. But the exciting part is we’re getting closer on the cabins.”

-Daily Freeman-Journal photo by Kelby Wingert The old Harmony Center School House was built in the summer of 1914 to serve as a country school in the area. Today, the building has been moved and sits on the grounds of Wilson Brewer Park.