The Mississippi River will always have its own way; no engineering skill can persuade it to do otherwise... - Mark Twain in Eruption...
The BNSF Railway and their predecessor companies, Burlington Route and Santa Fe Railway, both have had to deal with re-occurring flooding of the Mississippi River ever since a hydro electric dam with a lock system for the river boats was built in 1913 just below the rapids at Keokuk, Iowa, 20 miles downriver from our location here in Fort Madison, Iowa.
Our museum, located in the Historic Santa Fe Railway Depot complex, was built in 1910 between downtown Fort Madison, Iowa and the Mississippi River on the Santa Fe Railway mainline from Chicago to Texas, Colorado and California. This was the same year that plans were announced that a hydro electric lock & dam was going to be constructed on the river at Keokuk. After the dam was finished in 1913 the river levels increased, up to 10 feet, within a few years allowing the river boats to pass over rapids year round located near Keokuk. Plus the hydro electric generators gave this area a steady reliable supply of electricity in early days of electric power. They even named the lake formed behind the dam after the man who was the moving force in the construction of the dam, Lake Cooper.
Over the last century the river slowly started filling in behind the dam with silt, run off from erosion. This in turn became a contributing cause to excessive high water over and above the higher level created by the dam. The flood plains and wet lands were walled off with levees to allow expensive development with homes and rich farm land as another contributing cause to flooding. Then in our modern times large areas were developed with huge paved parking lots with no holding basins or wet lands to absorb the normal heavy rain as another contributing cause to flooding.
Then in our own local situation the Santa Fe Depot complex is at the base of several aged and worn out storm sewers that run from the bluff south into holding tanks the city was required to build to catch the run off. So when the river level is high it floods the holding tanks. Then in turn all it takes is a good spring rain storm and the sewers back up from behind the Depot complex flooding into the museum.
Some people suggest moving the museum. We have thought seriously about that. Does anyone have a building that can hold all of our large displays, including the 1870 era Silsby steam powered fire engine that would be suitable to secure and be accessible to the public? Then what do we do with the 3 buildings in the Santa Fe Depot complex? They are on the National Register of Historic Places.
Five years ago the BNSF Railway, Fort Madison, and Amtrak started planning to move the Amtrak station stop from the location in the freight yard complex near 20th Street known as Shopton into the waiting room portion of the Santa Fe Depot at the foot of 9th Street. It should be noted that the depot built in 1968 at 20th Street is now subjected to flooding. The plan is to elevate the entire Santa Fe Depot complex so that it will be at the same level as the platform for loading passengers and will be above the flood level.
The benefit will be double:
1. We will have a beautiful 1910 historic railway passenger station located in downtown Fort Madison connecting our town with the rest of the nation. 2. A museum operated by volunteers with a vested interest in maintaining the city owned historic structures at the same time we will show off our history to the traveling public as well as our own local citizens.