Endangered: Exchange Block, Chariton

Preservation Iowa’s 2017 Most Endangered Buildings: Exchange Block, Chariton (Lucas County)

Exchange Block (Chariton) historic postcard

The threatened structure constitutes the south half of the double-front Exchange Block, brick above a stone foundation, that was constructed on the west side of the Chariton town square during 1883 to replace two of five frame buildings destroyed in a December 1882 fire. It was the most elaborately detailed building on the square when complete and the sheets of plate glass used in its storefronts, 8×12 feet, were the largest ever imported into Chariton. It is comparable in scale and significance to the double-front Day & Mooney Block, constructed immediately to the south during 1889, although originally more elaborate.

The builders were Daniel Eikenberry & Co., a legendary Lucas County entrepreneurial firm, and the partnership of Kull & Yengle. The first commercial occupants were a general merchandise store known as “The Boom” in the now-endangered south half and a clothing store that was the first retail operation in Chariton of Simon Oppenheimer, who would go on to become a business legend in the city. Pioneer physicians T.P. and J.E. Stanton were among the first occupants of second-floor professional offices.

Although the building’s elaborate cast iron cornice was removed many years ago, its windows altered and its storefronts “modernized,” the block retains enough of its original detail to remain recognizable. Apartments replaced professional offices on the second floor but, until quite recently, first-floor storefronts have been consistently occupied by retail and service firms for more than 130 years. Extensive restoration work has been completed during the last two years on the facades of both the north half of the Exchange Block and the entire Day & Mooney Block.

Loss of the structure would threaten the architectural, cultural and commercial continuity of the west side of the Chariton Courthouse Square Historic District by leaving a gaping hole in a currently intact block of 19 th and very early 20 th -century commercial buildings, the best from an architectural standpoint in the city and one of the finest “main street” commercial suites in southern Iowa.

The back of the south half of the Exchange Block collapsed on May 6, 2015, after inattention to roof drainage caused water to penetrate and weaken the brick wall. There has been no work done by the owner to reconstruct that portion of the shared back wall and no cleanup has commenced around the outside of the building. Birds enter and roost in the south half; water continues to penetrate it. The current owner seems to have no interest in the building and the longer the building is left in its current state, the less interest adjoining building owners will have in taking ownership of the building.

Preservation Iowa’s Most Endangered Property program was started in 1995 and implemented to educate Iowans about the special buildings and historic sites that are slowly and gradually slipping away from us.  In the past 20 years, Preservation Iowa has designated over 140 archaeological sites, churches, landscapes and a variety of other buildings.

The full list of Preservation Iowa’s 2017 Most Endangered Properties includes: