OTTUMWA — The Wapello County Historical Museum is moving.
Dr. Rick Woten, museum director, said a new location has been found for the many artifacts held within the museum. “We’re in the process of finishing a purchase of securing a new property for the museum,” he said. “We’ll make an announcement on the location when it’s finalized. We are getting ready to take final possession of it. We should have that by the end of the week.
The decision to move came after months of discussion between the museum board and other entities in the community. “The board just made the decision to sell those a few weeks ago,” he said of both the museum building, the adjacent Railroad Clubhouse and the parking lot. “It was the last choice of this board to want to vacate the building.”
However, long-term plans for the depot are conflicted with the the museum’s mission for the community.
“It doesn’t fit our mission to be a public transit hub,” Woten said, referencing a subcomponent to the riverfront plan. He said that part of the project includes plans to bring a transit hub back to the depot property.
“We think it’s a great asset of the community to have a transit hub, but we’re not the right partners for that,” he said. “My job is a museum director. I’m not in public transportation. We want to be supportive of that, but our board decided that’s something we needed to move on from.
“That doesn’t put us in the position of being a historical society; that puts us in the business of public transportation. We were caught between what is economic progress and doing what we need to make sure the artifacts our community trusts us with are preserved as far into the future as possible,” Woten said, adding that the financial burden would be too much on the organization, which draws all its funds from donations, fundraising, admissions and programming.
Woten said a tentative timeline envisions a closure for the move in late fall and opening at the new location in the first quarter of 2021, saying they aim to minimize the downtime between the availability of the exhibits. “By no means is [the timeline] hard and fast. It’s just more of a general ballpark idea.”
He does have a vision for what they’re looking for with a potential buyer. He hopes the new owner will maintain a good relationship with the Amtrak services that still reside in the building. “We have a great relationship with them, and I think they want to see that continue, too.”
He also hopes any potential buyer values and maintains the historical integrity of the building and its place on the National Register of Historic Places.
“We hope interested parties know how much the depot property means to many generations of Ottumwans,” Woten said.