A new nonprofit group hopes to establish a historic hatchery as a shiny new attraction for students, historians and teachers.
The Friends of the Fairport Hatchery received a $ 47,368 grant from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources for educational signage to preserve and interpret the hatchery.
The group wants the signage to be part of a project to teach visitors about the connection between the hatchery, Mississippi River mussels, and the mother-of-pearl button industry that dominated Muscatine from the 1890s to the early 1930s.
Congress established the hatchery in 1908 as a site to study the spread of mussels in the Mississippi River to support the pearl button industry.
“We thought there was too much history about the fish hatchery, about the mussels that were raised here, about the mother of pearl button story that it is associated with, and we wanted people to know what is that story and bring it back to life. “
Sandy Stevens, president of the Friends group, wants to make sure that future generations can learn about the history of the industry, the river and the hatchery.
“We will build a pavilion… inside we will have 14 educational panels, a timeline, exhibits and artifact displays, and we will also have interpretive trails. On the north side of Highway 22 … there were cabins for the staff who worked here in the 20e century.”
Trails will lead visitors through the ruins and through the hatchery.
Stevens, born and raised in Muscatine, lives in Louisville, Kentucky, but owns a farm in Louisa County. His grandfather and great-grandfather were involved in the Muscatine pearl button industry.
“It is in a way helping the legacy to live on. as a lifelong archaeologist, it gives me something to do in retirement that is important to me, ”he said.
Like Stevens, Andy Fowler, a fisheries biologist and hatchery manager, hopes to raise awareness of an important part of the region’s history. He drew Stevens’ attention to the grant.
“A number of times I hear people, even in the Muscatine area, say they didn’t know we had a hatchery here,” Fowler said.
Fowler operates the hatchery where he moves fish in and out of ponds, stores and harvests ponds where fish like bluegill and bass are raised.
“Before 2016, we could sell to individuals,” he said. “Now we only store public water outside the station. “
“I’ve been here since 2016,” Fowler said. “After a few months, maybe a year or two, I quickly realized that I needed the help of the local community to support this hatchery and make it the success that I think I can be, to show in some way so this crown jewel that I think it was and can still be.
“Organizations like the Friends group are really fundamental to making this goal a reality,” said Fowler. “We desperately need this help. “
it will take around $ 100,000 for the lodge project, where supporters of the hatchery are hoping buses full of students will travel. the signage will have QR codes to allow visitors to access even more information online.
Stevens hopes the entire project will be completed by December 2022 – a shining tribute to the history of the river.