Troy Mills, Iowa is a small town. Actually, it’s not technically a town—it’s a village, an unincorporated community in northern Linn County. Originally laid out in 1853, Troy Mills is home to some 300 people, many of whom come from families that have been there for a hundred years or more.
While Troy Mills hasn’t grown much, it is not without a story. Generations of residents have gone off to war or college and returned home to farm the land, each one adding a chapter to the community’s history. But as that history grows, so does the task of preserving it.
Like many communities in Iowa and throughout the U.S., Troy Mills’ history includes a tie to the International Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF). The fraternity promoted philanthropy and friendship, and each chapter had a meeting hall—if you pay attention when driving through small Iowa towns, you’ll notice that many have a building inconspicuously inscribed with “IOOF,” though it’s probably been repurposed into shops or restaurants.
When the Troy Mills chapter of the IOOF disbanded in 1988, their hall—which was a valuable meeting space for the community—was saved by the formation of the Troy Mills Historical Society. The organization, which is to this day entirely volunteer-run, has kept the space available for public use, but it still lacks basic amenities, like running water.
“It’s always a work in progress,” said Vice President Deborah Sands. “The goal is to get that building to pay for itself, but it needs a lot of work.” Deborah and seven other volunteers perform much of the Historical Society’s day-to-day work. They dream of updating the IOOF hall to make it suitable for weddings and community events.
Eventually, the organization began taking on the task of preserving all of Troy Mills’ history. They took ownership of the Holman schoolhouse, which originally served Newton Township. Built in 1883, the schoolhouse was moved into Troy Mills in the 1930’s and served as a dance studio, carpentry shop, and even a private home before being sold to the Historical Society.
Today, the schoolhouse is home to the organization’s collection of artifacts. There, one can find vintage military uniforms, antique farming equipment, a wide range of photographs, and even a restored map of Linn County from 1869.
“We get a lot of donations from people whose families have lived here for generations,” Deborah said. “But we also find that when we share things online, people who have moved all the way across the country are excited to keep up with Troy Mills history.”
Of course, even with residents willing to donate their time and artifacts, financial support for the work is not always easy to come by. The organization recently determined that the 139-year-old schoolhouse desperately needed repairs in order to safely house the collection.
With help from a $4,940 grant from the Community Foundation’s Linn County Fund, the Troy Mills Historical Society has started to make those repairs, and work will be completed this summer.
“We do what we can to raise money, but we rely on grants for most of our funding,” Deborah said. “We wouldn’t exist without support from the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation.”
To see a list of recent grants made by the Community Foundation, click here.