Endangered: Preston’s Station Historic District, Belle Plaine

Preservation Iowa’s 2019 Most Endangered List: Preston’s Station Historic District, Belle Plaine (Benton County)

Preston Station Historic District current condition, winter (Preservation Iowa 2019 Most Endangered List)

Preston’s Station Historic District is comprised of a gas station, garage, and motel which sit along the old Lincoln Highway, the nation’s first transcontinental highway.

The filling station built in 1912 was purchased by G. W. Preston in 1923 and moved to its present location on 13th Street between 1928 and 1930. Originally constructed as a house-with-canopy gas station, the post canopy was removed sometime before 1965. The exterior walls are wood siding and covered with antique advertising signs on all four sides. Historic and family memorabilia is displayed inside the station. The adjacent concrete-block garage was constructed in 1943 and features a sliding barn door on which more antique signs are displayed. The building served as a repair garage and then George H. Preston’s personal roadside museum and continues to house many items from Preston’s collection. A single story, three-unit motel on the property was built sometime after 1949. In its heyday, this business was a mainstay along the popular route and at present there is no other known location like this left on the Lincoln Highway in Iowa.

Today, the property is still owned and maintained by the Preston family and continues to be a popular tourist attraction for enthusiasts looking for history and nostalgia along the historic route.

Preston Station Historic District historic photo (Preservation Iowa 2019 Most Endangered List)

Overall, the District, however, is showing a lack of maintenance and deterioration. The advertising signs throughout the District demonstrate evidence of long exposure to the elements and need to be preserved. The Station’s interior and collection of historic and family memorabilia also show signs of deterioration due to exposure to sun and moisture. The screws used to fasten the tin roof of the garage/museum are deteriorating, pulling away, allowing exposure to the elements and causing the ceiling to fall on the collection of historic and family memorabilia in the building. The windows of the building are boarded up and need to be replaced. There are also signs of wood rot and possible termite damage on the buildings which need to be addressed.

A not-for-profit has been formed to direct the preservation of the buildings. Initial plans call for completion of a structure review and the development of a Historic Structure Report to direct preservation planning efforts for the site.

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 2019 Most Endangered Properties includes: