Waterloo set to celebrate city’s 125th anniversary


To honor Waterloo’s history as the city prepares to celebrate the 125th anniversary of receiving its city charter, officials are reviving the past with a series of events, activities and permanent installations.

The celebration will take place this weekend, Aug. 23-24, as part of the Waterloo Homecoming. The theme of Saturday’s parade, which steps off at 5 p.m., is “Celebrating 125 Years of Waterloo.”

The Waterloo of 1888 had a population of about 1,900 souls. The corner of Main and Mill streets was the site of a general store and saloon owned by the Stroh family, in a building that today houses Mon-Clair Title Company and the Adams & Huetsch Law Office.

Commercial Bank was the only financial institution in the county, and Dr. Fike had more patients than he could sometimes accommodate as the city’s only dentist.

In 1888, residents were still three years away from the first appearance of electricity in the city, nine years before running water would arrive via the brand new Waterworks, and seven years from being able to boast of the high school’s first graduate, Aimiee Lulu Moore.

Casting a bit further back in time, Waterloo was the site of Abraham Lincoln’s famous “Unknown Ground” speech at the courthouse on Aug. 25, 1840.

Earlier still, Pierre Laclede, one of the founders of St. Louis, traveled extensively up and down the Mississippi River from New Orleans to St. Louis trading furs, and it is believed he may have hung his hat a time or two in Waterloo.

Skipping ahead to the 1940s, Monroe County and Waterloo were the sites of several camps that housed German prisoners of war from World War II. They were brought to the states and held throughout the Midwest, where they worked helping
farmers who spoke German.

From left, Jane Kolmer from Action Graphics, Waterloo Alderman Russ Thomas and Waterloo Mayor Tom Smith stand under the newly placed historic plaque at the corner of Mill and Main streets in Waterloo. Smith said the plaque is the first of many that will show the history behind some of the city’s oldest buildings. “We have such a historic town, and this is a great way to show it,” he said. (Robyn Dexter photo)

Today, Waterloo has grown to nearly 10,000 residents.

Waterloo’s complete history could fill volumes with details long-forgotten. It is the goal of Mayor Tom Smith and other organizers of the 125th anniversary celebration that no more are lost.

One way they are working to keep the city’s history alive is through two quilts made by the Friends in Stitches Quilt Guild from historic quilt blocks that would have been used in this area during the late 1880s.

“They have just done a fantastic job — just gorgeous,” Smith said.

One quilt will be raffled off at the Aug. 26 meeting of the Waterloo City Council and one will remain on permanent display at the History Museum of Monroe County.

Waterloo is also embarking on an ambitious project to identify the historic buildings in town. Organizers are collecting images, paperwork and stories tracing the histories of these buildings and putting the information on plaques that are posted on them.

The old Stroh building was the first to receive a plaque on Friday.

In addition, a book is being compiled documenting the history of the city. But this is proving to be a daunting task.

“We’re just finding more and more to include, and we don’t want to leave anything out,” Smith said.

There will be commemorative Christmas ornaments later this year, debuting at the Christmas Walk, and Bountiful Blossoms will be selling a selection of Waterloo merchandise to anyone who wants to take a piece of the city with them wherever they go.

And downtown businesses can purchase approved traditional flower baskets to liven up their outsides in a distinctively old world style.

But the plaques, baskets and lamppost banners that recognize local businesses are not just about beautifying an already beautiful town. They are there to preserve its history.

“So many things will be lost to time if we don’t record them for our future generations,” Smith said.

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