Keokuk Union Depot Undergoes Interior Waiting Room Restoration | Daily Gate City – Keokuk, Iowa

Jan. 2 jump-started this year’s restoration activity at the Keokuk Union Depot as workers from Keokuk’s Hickey Contracting Company began demolishing the waiting room floor to remove the terrazzo layer that had covered the original marble and tile floor since 1949. Terrazzo is a durable composite material consisting of chips of various stones, such as marble and granite. Except for a few pieces saved to be displayed as evidence of the original, the original floor could not be salvaged. Keokuk-native Neal Vogel, principal of Restoric Enterprises, LLC, the Depot’s historic preservation consultant, has successfully sourced marble and tile components that match the original floor very closely.

According to Vogel, when the Depot was built there were approximately 150 operators along the Tennessee pink marble formation near Knoxville, Tennessee. Fortunately, one survives to this day — the Tennessee Marble Company, which has been in business for several generations. They were able to match the original marble used in the Depot and are cutting octagonal and rectangular tiles for the floor and baseboard to be delivered this Spring. Tennessee pink marble is found in significant historic buildings throughout America, including the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials, and the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

Removing the terrazzo revealed that the original floor had been accented with red quarry tile diamonds and borders. This detail will be restored, adding more character to the floor. Matching the unique size and darker red color of these accent tiles proved more difficult to find. Restoric reached out to the Tile Heritage Foundation, which provided leads on sources in California and Mexico; ultimately, Tile Pro, Inc., of Quincy, Illinois, found a supplier in England that was the closest match for less cost.

After removing the terrazzo, the old marble and tile floor, and the old floor slab underneath it, the subfloor was graded to the level at which Keokuk’s Enderle Heating & Air Conditioning will soon install new radiant heat piping. Enderle workers will also provide upgrades to the existing heating and air conditioning system. Users of the Depot for future events will enjoy a much more comfortable, and quiet, experience. Musicians and speakers will have much less HVAC noise to contend with…but will still need to compete with trains.

After the radiant heat piping is set in place, Hickey Contracting will pour a new concrete base for the reproduction marble and tile floor that Tile Pro will install.

The restored waiting room will finally be graced with new restrooms. After removing the current fixtures, partitions, and marble paneling, the restrooms will have all new bathroom fixtures that resemble 1891 period decor. The Plumbing Company of Keokuk will perform the bathroom plumbing work. Mark Stanley’s River City Anvil company will fabricate the iron bathroom partition frames.

Vogel reports that the floor demo uncovered a number of plumbing surprises around both bathrooms, including severely corroded vent stacks, clogged drains, and inadequate waste lines. David Dye of The Plumbing Company has solved these issues as they were uncovered. Bottom line, the Depot should smell cleaner and fresher than ever before.

Pipe stubs found below the floor revealed that most of the original radiators were found where expected, with the exception of a stub next to the ticket window where a typical radiator would have been in the way. One speculation is that an ornamental round radiator was once there for passengers who rushed in from the cold (and possibly for the ticket agent as well) to stay warm with the doors constantly opened and closed during arrivals and departures. While this radiator has not been found, several ornamental radiators are still among the collection of artifacts at the Depot. A conscious decision not to reintroduce steam radiators was made in order to keep the floor area of the waiting room as open and accessible as possible for events.

The Depot is fortunate to have original hobo graffiti scratched into marble from some famous hobos, namely Tex KT (“King of Tramps”) and C&A Slim. The marble panel with the historic graffiti was carefully removed from the men’s room and will be cleaned, preserved, and reinstalled.

In order to access the subfloor, some of the lower wall paneling was removed, revealing some rotted wall partitions. Walker’s Construction Services, Inc., of Basco, Illinois will perform the restoration carpentry work. They also determined a creative and clever way to temporarily shore the interior walls with stand-offs that won’t interfere with pouring the new concrete subfloor. Masonry repairs behind the paneling and beneath the floor slab have been contracted locally to Custom Brick & Stone Co., Inc. Bessine Electric of Burlington, Iowa will perform needed electrical repairs discovered during the floor demolition.

Deterioration of the brick buttresses that support the cathedral ceiling trusses was also uncovered when wall paneling was removed during this phase. The buttress repairs will be covered by new paneling and the trusses are being evaluated by a structural engineer.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation provided a grant for research and design of historic chandeliers for the waiting room. This grant qualified for The Jeffris Family Foundation match for the successful capital campaign that began in 2020 and ended in June 2023. The reproduction chandeliers are now being fabricated in Chicago by Archistoric Products, to be installed as the final stage of the waiting room’s restoration.

The waiting room interior restoration is on track to be completed by June. At that time, the weather should have warmed up enough so that the minor remaining exterior masonry restoration can be finished this summer.

Many people helped prepare the interior waiting room for restoration by removing and storing furniture and artifacts from the waiting room until the work is done. The following volunteers and Keokuk firemen have helped tremendously: Mike Bliven, Damon Cackley, Chance Nye, Caleb Atterberg, and Eli Riddle. In addition, the Depot couldn’t handle all this work without the services of Ray Bradley’s dumpsters!

Thanks to all the people and organizations devoted to its restoration and preservation, the Depot will soon have a new interior and exterior sparkle. It has truly been a community effort.

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