Sometimes things in life just seem to strangely intersect. Earlier this summer, the chair of the Library Advisory Committee, Heidi Hohmann, asked me about treating large landscape architecture plans and happened to mention the fact that Iowa State University was starting the first historic preservation program in the state. This set off some bells in my head since someone else had just mentioned looking for opportunities in historic preservation in the state. Although it’s not my area of expertise, even though many confuse historic preservation with library and archives preservation, it is an exciting opportunity to have like-minded folks on campus; others who will not ask why we shouldn’t just make or build a new one and who understand that there is information and history in the object itself.
This new program may be coming to campus at just the right time since the university has a wonderful example of its own that showcases why historic preservation is so important. With some intervention by a not-for-profit organization, ISU is saving a historical structure that was once used as a geology field studies station by ISU students and researchers outside of Shell, WY. The building was slated for destruction when the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation found out about the plans. The historical structure is an original barrack used at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center during World War II, located between the towns of Cody and Powell, WY. ISU acquired it in the late 1940s after the town of Gryebull no longer needed it.
Many of these barracks were sold off by the federal government after the war for $1 each to homesteaders. Because of this, some of the 450 barracks that were built at Heart Mountain continue to exist today as outbuildings, stores, and houses. ISU is donating the structure so that it can be returned to the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center and used as part of the permanent exhibit. The Foundation will be responsible for moving the 20 feet wide by 120 feet long barrack the 81 miles back to Heart Mountain. In addition to being complete, the barrack is a good is candidate for historic preservation since it has had few modifications made to it over the past 70 years. Another barrack from Heart Mountain was reassembled in Los Angeles next to the Japanese American National Museum in 1994.
For me, this effort is most significant because Heart Mountain is where my family (my grandparents, parents, aunt, and uncles) was incarcerated during the war. The irony of the photograph above with my grandparents and my father is that my father, an American citizen along with my grandmother, is wearing a Superman sweatshirt.
My family discovered a photograph of my maternal grandfather working in the fields at Heart Mountain. The photo had been made available online without identifying the man, and my family member provided the name. A good example of how invaluable it can be to have users identify events, places, and people in photographs. The photograph is part of the Ethel Ryan Collection which has been made available through their Heart Mountain Digital Preservation Project, which happens to powered by CONTENTdm like ISU Library’s digital collections. This collection includes documents and photographs focusing on Heart Mountain Relocation Center.