Preserving Coggon’s History

Published: March 26, 2019 | By: Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation | Category:

Like all of us, nonprofits exist in an unpredictable world. It’s easy to recognize their funding needs as they try to provide services, but what happens when that process is interrupted? How do nonprofits address the unpredictable?

For the Coggon Community Historical Society (CCHS), that unpredictability came in the form of a leaky roof, and it threatened the very existence of the organization. “We don’t have a huge amount of income,” explains Marilyn Millard, CCHS Secretary. “Fundraising is not always an easy thing to do for continued upkeep.”

The leak was in the Clemons House—the first house built on Main Street in Coggon. The Clemons family built it as a hotel in 1887, and after being a nursing home for some time, the house fell into disrepair in the 1970’s. In 1981, with the house just weeks from being torn down, the CCHS formed in an effort to preserve the building and its history.

The people of Coggon have a passion for preserving their history, and local donors helped the group purchase and restore the house. It began to function as a museum, as well as a meeting place for the CCHS. For the last 38 years, donations of artifacts, documents and memorabilia have slowly filled the space.

But in 2017 heavy rains threatened that collection. A wet summer turned into a wet fall, and water was getting into the Clemons House. “We had puddles on the floor,” Marilyn explains. “Water was dripping from the ceiling. We were desperately concerned by October.”

Without funds to repair the roof, the CCHS faced the risk of losing not only their collection, but also their ability to continue the work of preserving local history. The roof wouldn’t make it through the winter, and neither would the Historical Society.

Fortunately, the group was able to turn to the Community Foundation. “We applied for an emergency grant from the President’s Fund,” Marilyn says. “That $2,500 was a godsend. Within two weeks we had the work done and were set—no more leaks!”

With the roof repaired, the CCHS was able to maintain its role in the community. The people in and around Coggon continue to look to the Historical Society for the preservation of the town’s 160-year history.

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