OTTUMWA — The Des Moines River has been the defining feature of Ottumwa since its early days, and the crowd who attended Tuesday's Reminisce Society presentation proves it's still an immensely popular topic.
The Ottumwa Public Library's meeting room was filled to overflowing as Leigh Michaels and Michael Lemberger shared photos and stories from their newest book, "On the Riverfront: Ottumwa, Iowa from Turkey Island to the Mixmaster." The book was the companion piece to a 10-minute slide show of historic images of Ottumwa's riverfront development made at the request of Bridge View Center and the 2014 Home and Garden Show.
Inviting the crowd to come stroll along the banks of the river, the slides chronicled the earliest days of Ottumwa's history, beginning with the 1844 map of Louis Ville.
"The land was chosen because of the bend in the river," Michaels explained. "It always has been and always will be the heart of the community."
Attendees were fascinated by the photos from the late 1800s that showed the first bridges and what the terrain looked like before the river was straightened. While questions were held until the end of the presentation, no one could contain their oohs, aahs and uh-huhs as many of the locations were familiar, but the pictures were not.
Some of the most interesting photos, and the ones that received the most exclamations of "oh, my" were of the floods. The Des Moines River has left its banks numerous times throughout the years, and they have been extensively chronicled in photographs. These images and floodwater maps dramatically showed how much we are still at the mercy of the river.
The story ended, if only temporarily, with the demolition of the Coliseum and the building of the Bridge View Center.
All of the photographs in the presentation can be found in the book as well as history and explanations of each one. They are all part of Lemberger's archived photo collection.