Done deals.

Wilson Brewer Historic Park will go forward with both city and county support

Gary Groves explains details of the Wilson Brewer Park agreement presented at Monday night's City Council of Webster City meeting.

Dean Bowden and Gary Groves obviously believe in the old adage “good things come to those who wait.”

But far from waiting, the two have been actively working for the last two years to secure a new future for Wilson Brewer Historic Park. Now, with the City Council of Webster City’s approval of an agreement between the city and Hamilton County, the matter moves to the Hamilton County Supervisors for their consideration, and it is expected, approval.

Up to now, restoration of the six historic buildings on the park’s campus has been funded exclusively with donations and grants, on a “pay-as-you-go” basis. A concerted effort in the last few years has seen the historic pioneer cabins set on new concrete foundations and professionally restored. Further work on the historic country school and Mulberry Center church have put these buildings in top condition. Work is set to resume this spring on restoration of the first Hamilton County Courthouse, thanks to a generous grant from the Hamilton County supervisors. It should be completed sometime in July.

When work on the courthouse is finished, the last, unrestored structure in the park will be the Illinois Central Railroad depot, which is in need of extensive exterior restoration, including the wood frame doors, windows, and complex hipped and gabled roof. A platform running around the entire depot would re-establish the historic elevation of the depot, which was lost when it was moved from its original location on North Des Moines Street and set on a concrete block foundation at the park. A platform would also create the much-needed synergy between the depot and adjacent Illinois Central caboose, as well as provide access for visitors.

A $1 million gift from the Dean Bowden family will establish an endowment for the park, while five years of contributions of $50,000 each from Hamilton County and Webster City will address deferred maintenance and make improvements that could previously only be dreamed of.

The first payments from the city and county are due in July.

Since February, a working group of Councilman Matt McKinney, Mayor John Hawkins, County Supervisor Jerry Kloberdanz, and Chairman of the Wilson Brewer Park Commission Gary Groves have been hammering out details of the agreement to suit the requirements of both governments and Bowden.

The agreement extends to the park itself, which includes nine acres of the original Brewer family homestead deeded to the city in perpetuity in 1931, adjacent county-owned land, and a building at 1900 Superior Street. The city retains ownership of the park, and will continue to be responsible for basic maintenance.

Approval of the agreement by Hamilton County will set up the release of the gift of $1 million by the Bowden family. First announced in July 2022, Dean Bowden made his gift subject to fundamental changes in how the park is managed and operated. On October 14, 2023, in a letter to the City Council of Webster City, and Hamilton County Board of Supervisors, Bowden proposed terms and conditions that would have to be met before the funds would be forthcoming.

These included the city and county assuming joint responsibility for operation of the park; creation of a tax-exempt organization to oversee park management; creation of a board of five representatives, with no more than three from either the city or county; appointment of a curator to oversee museum operations; inclusion in the agreement of county-owned land adjacent to the park; public access to the park from Superior Street, crossing county land in the process; and use of existing parking between the park and 1900 Superior Street; first right to buy the county land and building should they ever be put up for sale; and city-county agreement on utilities, insurance, mowing and snow removal.

All of Bowden’s demands have been met in the final agreement.

Bowden, clearly pleased that his long-held dreams for the park are closer than ever to coming true, told The Daily Freeman Journal: “We have assets at the park other cities would love to have. They need to be cared for with a long-range plan in place.” Citing the park as a contributor to qualify of life in Hamilton County, he said, “We need to give people more reasons to come here to live and work.”

Groves, who was at the meeting Monday when the agreement passed, thanked all in attendance for their patience and continued belief in the idea of a historic park in Webster City. He said he was humbled by the cooperation between the city and county that made the landmark agreement possible, saying, simply, “Sustainability of Wilson Brewer Park has always been our objective.”


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $3.46/week.

Subscribe Today