Independence preserving underground city during sidewalk project - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Independence preserving underground city during sidewalk project

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INDEPENDENCE (KWWL) -

The city of Independence is replacing many of its downtown sidewalks.  And in the process, the city's uncovering and preserving a piece of history.

Downtown Independence has looked much the same way for nearly the past 200 years.  But before it became what it is now -- the city storefronts were actually much lower, underneath what's now sidewalks.

In the 1860s, the city's founding fathers thought since the river always flooded downtown, it made sense to raise all the business buildings up.

"They moved six foot of dirt from up the hill and raised the bridge at that time also.  So they came around and said that your main floor was now going to be your basement," said Leanne Harrison with the Buchanan County Historical Society.

Over time, during previous projects, some downtown businesses have opted to fill in the old basement storefronts with sand.  But a handful remain.  So as crews reconstruct city sidewalks, the old storefronts still in tact are being preserved.

"Small communities do have a lot of history, and it's something that should be kept alive for the next generation," Harrison said.

As the old cement is lifted up, people pour outside to get a glimpse into the past of how downtown Independence once looked.  Until now, only the back side of the old facades have been visible, during a few special underground city tours.  Those tours are why many business and building owners downtown gladly agreed not to fill in their basements during the sidewalk project.

"A lot of them said because of the downtown tours that their business had picked up on those Saturdays," said Harrison.

So far, three former storefronts have been uncovered and more will likely be found as construction continues.

The sidewalk project downtown is expected to wrap up this summer.

You can get a glimpse of the hidden underground city during two special tours this summer.  The tours will be offered the third Saturdays in July and August.  Tickets will only be available on those days.  Proceeds benefit the Wapsipinicon Mill's roof restoration project.  You can learn more about those tours by calling the Buchanan County Historical Society at (319) 334-4616.

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