This story could easily begin two ways.
1. At one of Belle Plaine’s busiest intersections sits a historic building where many famous Americans, even Mark Twain and Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan have slept in or visited; a building that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and contains a variety of beautiful, early 20th century architectural features.
2. At one of Belle Plaine’s busiest intersections sits a building with significant structural issues, a building that has damaged nearby property with falling debris; a building that has compelled city leaders to block of parts of nearby parking lots to prevent people from walking or parking near potentially falling bricks or debris.
Both of those statements are true; the people who first see the Herring Hotel as a potential historical site and community asset acknowledge that it needs work, immediately. And those concerned about its appearance and potential risks to its downtown Belle Plaine neighbors are well aware of its history.
Tonight, both of those groups will gather at Belle Plaine City Hall to discuss what is being done, or can be done in the near future to both save this historic landmark and repair this nuisance.
“The best I can say regarding the city’s view of the hotel building is that it is an eye sore,” says Kristine Pope, the Herring Hotel Project Director, and one of the leaders of the Heritage Hotel Building Alliance.
“We have been sitting in the current condition since 2012,” Pope says. “Our neighbor to the west is now complaining; we are on one of the busiest street corners in town, and they want us to fix it now.”
The problem is money.
“Funding takes time for a non-profit organization,” says Pope. “Also, finding contractors has been a struggle. Even though we have a plan drawn up to secure the property physically, we are still left without a hired company committed to do the work.”
That, she says, is partially because of funding, and partly because of what she sees as a “lack of interest, mostly due to poor support by our civil government.”
Pope said that city leaders have asked the group to bring a signed contract for repairs to tonight’s Belle Plaine City Council meeting, but she says, “We do not have one.”
However, she adds: “Our foundation is now in place and our application is almost complete for our 501c3 status. We are working on the HRDP
grant application now. However, we plan to fund the stabilization and treatment plan with cash. We are wanting this to take place as soon as possible.”
Preservation Iowa, an organization dedicated to preserving Iowa’s history, lists the Herring as one of Iowa’s “Most Endangered” properties. See that story HERE
. According to that web site, this property is in immediate danger of possible complete demolition.
The dream of William Palmer Herring was to accommodate travelers on the Lincoln Highway, offering them comfortable lodging and above average service. It has been said that Will Herring remembered the name of each guest that made a return visit. Those traveling the Lincoln Highway throughout the Midwest would opt to drive a little farther to Belle Plaine because of that service, as well as an indoor garage in which they could pull in, park, and stay the night without worry. For train travelers the hotel was only two blocks from the depot. Herring would pick up guests and transport them to the hotel in his custom “bus”.
The Herring Hotel was opened April 12, 1900 as a two story cottage, designed by Cedar Rapids architect, Charles A. Dieman. After a fire destroyed the attic and roof February 11, 1914, a full third story was then added to the property. Rooms were added to accommodate the growing business, and rooms were rearranged in order to host private baths. In 1919 Herring added a service station to further accommodate travelers. Later on the service station was revamped and additions were added to hold Herring’s son Edward’s car dealership. By 1927 the indoor garage could house up to thirty autos. In the mid twentieth century the hotel was home to a Greyhound bus line station. The Herring was an official Hotel of The American Motor League, and home to the Lincoln Highway Glad Hand Club.
After the passing of Will Herring in 1937, the hotel remained in the Herring family through 1953.