Preservation in Progress: Main Street Revitalizes Conrad, Iowa

Posted on: May 29th, 2014 by Grant Stevens

Credit: Conrad Chamber, MainStreet
The Record building in Conrad, Iowa, seen before its renovation in winter 2013

Though I now live in Washington, D.C., my home will always be Conrad, Iowa -- population 1,108 and Black Dirt Capital of the World. Conrad was actually how I first heard about the National Main Street Center, which is now a subsidiary of the National Trust. My town boasted one of Main Street Iowa’s original Rural Main Streets (populations less than 5,000) and I have fond memories of when my mom had a business in Conrad and was involved with Main Street.

Each time I go home, I notice small differences, but when I was home during Christmas this past year, major changes were underway. As Darla Ubben, the Conrad Chamber-Main Street Program Director, explains in this more in-depth Preservation Leadership Forum blog post, Conrad received a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant to carry out a facade improvement program on 22 storefronts and four rear facades.

I snapped some photos last winter while work was underway, and convinced my younger brother Clark to get some as well in early May when the work was nearly complete. I hope you enjoy seeing some of these great preservation-in-progress photos!

Credit: Grant Stevens/National Trust for Historic Preservation

One of my favorite renovations was The Record building. Work is still in-progress in winter 2013 (see the photo at the top of the story), but the transformation is already impressive (pictured above).

CredIt: Grant Stevens/National Trust for Historic Preservation (left) & Clark Stevens (right)

Another powerful renovation was the work done on Carol's Restaurant, Bakery & Inn. On the left is Carol’s in late winter 2013; on the right is spring 2014.

Credit: Conrad Chamber, Main Street

Credit: Clark Stevens

Though the First National Bank building hasn’t housed a bank for decades, it has remained in use. It's home to a beautiful brick arch and one of Conrad’s newest businesses, Hutch Screen Printing & Embroidery. On the top is a Nov. 2013 photo of work in progress; on the bottom is May 2014.

Credit: Conrad Chamber, Main Street (left) & Clark Stevens (right)

Conrad rarely has storefronts available (a common trait of Main Street communities), but the facade renovation program helped prepare an available storefront for a new business, Shear Bliss, which will open July 1.

Credit: Conrad Chamber, Main Street (top) & Clark Stevens (bottom)

One final facade transformation for you: In the top photo, you can see three storefronts, all with work in progress. The two photos on the bottom show the completed storefronts -- RJ’s Lounge, a future business office, and Ms. Harper’s Cottage Inn.

Several other Main Street Iowa communities have completed facade renovation programs using Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding similar to Conrad's, including the 2014 Great American Main Street Award community of Woodbine. Learn more about Iowa's CDBG program here, and share your community's story in the comments!

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Grant Stevens

Grant Stevens

Grant is the Manager of Community Outreach at the National Trust. He's proud to be from a Main Street Community and the Black Dirt Capitol of the World – Conrad, Iowa! Growing up on a farm, he always loved going to town and looking at the historic buildings. Now a resident of DC, Grant enjoys reading, running, and anything rural.

Restoration, Revitalization, Travel