Newton Iowa, a midcentury historic downtown

The Newton Downtown Historic District has been entered in to the National Register of Historic Places, effective September 22, 2014.

In 2009, the Newton Historic preservation committee looked within the proposed district of 87 properties. Fred Chabot, chairman of the historic preservation committee, said they began by researching the history of those buildings for the required site inventory forms.

The committee’s research showed the best way to move forward was to pitch downtown’s mid-century architectural aesthetic, which was influenced by the success of the Maytag Company and the city’s preparation for its centennial in 1957.

North side square - ca1910
North side of square – ca. 1910 Source: Newton Daily News

According to Rita Reinheimer, who served as Project Manager for the nomination, the oldest building still standing in the Downtown Historic District was constructed sometime prior to 1867. In the years that followed a number of contiguous, two-story commercial buildings sprang up on the ‘square’ surrounding the County Courthouse. By the late 1800s, the downtown business district was distinctly Commercial Italianate in appearance.

Between 1900-1930 the largest buildings constructed in the core of the downtown district were updated classical designs or interpretations of Chicago commercial architecture.

As the business district expanded outward from the Courthouse Square, much of the new construction reflected the influence of the emerging Modern Movement. “In the mid-20th century, the success and growth of the Maytag Company brought added prosperity to the business district, and many of its buildings were refaced.

North Side Square ca 1961
North Side Square ca 1961

By 1964 all but a handful of the downtown’s ornate Italianate facades had been completely replaced by the clean lines and simple forms of the Modern Movement. That year at least one community leader declared Newton to be ‘a city on the move.’

North side square - 2012
Newton Today: Present business include: The Farmer’s Wife (gift shop) (124), The Scoreboard Bar & Grill (122), RE/MAX Real Estate Concepts (120), Beckman Gallery (picture frames) (118), Diamond Vogel Paint Center (116), and Uncle Nancy’s Coffeehouse & Eatery (114).

Today, Newton’s Downtown Historic District is an eclectic mix of 19th and 20th century designs. The overwhelming majority of buildings retain the same general appearance acquired during their mid-20th century makeovers.

Another consideration of this downtown modernization, was the anticipation of Newton’s centennial in 1957. Even though the town, county seat of Jasper County, was founded in 1846 (as Newton City), it was not incorporated until 1857. (That’s why the centenary dates from the later year.) The “City Dads” were inclined toward the thinking that modernizing the downtown would give the city an “up and coming” look for the celebration, which was hoped to be something of a “homecoming” for former residents.

The National Register is the Federal Government’s official list of historic properties worthy of preservation. Listing in the National Register provides recognition and assists with preserving our Nation’s heritage.

Thanks to Newton Historic Preservation Commission members Rita Reinheimer and Larry Hurto for information and the historic photos on this fabulous preservation effort.

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