Gibault students uncover history of old buildings
Next week, Gibault Catholic High School students will present a semester’s worth of research on historic downtown Waterloo buildings to anyone interested in learning more about the city’s history.
Gibault history teacher Matt Schweizer worked with Waterloo Mayor Tom Smith and city employees to create a project that took his students on a journey back in time through historic downtown Waterloo via its buildings.
Last semester marked the first “round” of the projects, with more in the works this semester.
“It was very successful,” Schweizer said of the trial semester.
The idea came from Smith, who has been on a mission to make downtown Waterloo more “walkable.”
After visiting St. Charles, Mo., Smith realized that Waterloo could do something similar, placing plaques on historic buildings that explain their history.
Smith, along with the city budget officer Shawn Kennedy and community relations coordinator Sarah Deutch, began doing the work themselves. “It was overwhelming,” Deutch said.
Smith said they found out Schweizer was a history buff, and after talking it over, decided it would make a great project for his students.
“My classes always have a research-based component,” Schweizer said. “This is a once-in-a-decade kind of opportunity, so I spent the summer thinking of ways to structure it for the students.”
Schweizer broke the research down into a few different elements for the students, isolating where they needed to go to get their information on the history of the buildings.
“The kids had to go to the courthouse and look up deed records, property transfers, etc.,” Schweizer said. “Once they had a basic outline of who owned the building and the terms of that transfer, they could go to the librarians, genealogists and the historical society.”
The students were then able to do mini-biographies on the individuals who owned these downtown buildings.
“You could pretty much figure out when the buildings were built,” he said.
The first semester was a group project, but this semester, the students are working in pairs to tackle around 20 buildings.
“The goal is to really knock a bunch of these buildings out this year,” Schweizer said.
Students were able to pick a few buildings they were interested in, and, based on if they had personal ties to the buildings or their owners, were able to do their projects on that building.
“Some of the kids had either family or personal connections to their buildings,” Schweizer said.
The criteria of the assignment were to do a write-up of what could become text for a historic marker plaque in the future, a five-page write-up with footnotes, scanned copies of all the papers and sources they used.
“They learned how to use microfilm, too,” Schweizer said. “They traced everything back as far as they could go, even back to the written stuff.”
The first semester students will present their findings at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 18 at Waterloo City Hall. Anyone interested in learning more about historic downtown Waterloo and its buildings is welcome to attend.
The buildings that will be presented are the Bean Tree Café (221 S. Main Street), Subliminal (141 S. Main Street), Bountiful Blossoms (121 S. Main Street), Thouvenot, Wade & Moerchen (113 S. Main Street), Capitol Theatre (202 S. Main Street), two-story house at 112 N. Main Street, the first public school in Waterloo (218 N. Main Street), JV’s Downtown Bar & Grill (117 N. Main Street) and Gallagher’s (114 W. Mill Street).