About Old Man River Restaurant & Brewery

Two articles from the North Iowa Times May 26, 1982

A first for McGregor

Being the first isn't easy.

That's what the owners of the historic Diamond Jo office and building in McGregor discovered when they, about three years ago, nominated the building as a National Register of Historic places.

The owners, Doug Dawson, William Conkling and Patrick Tranmer, were notified recently that the building had, indeed, been accepted as the first building in McGregor to be officially listed with the national register.

Dawson, owner of Casa Del Rio and Smoky Hollow Pottery, said last week that there were numerous reasons for seeking the national status for the building that was built in the 1880s. He pointed out that it is an "extraordinary building" for a small town like McGregor, adding that, when they filed, "there were federal funds available for historic preservation."

"And" he said, "we wanted to raise the consciousness about the architecture of buildings in the area."

He explained that the building features "very unusual architecture for a small town," that it had "economic value" in the area. "In fact, that is why it was accepted by the national register."

He says the brick used in the building is unusual because it was imported to the area, probably from St. Louis, Mo., or Chicago, I11., he guesses.

Another feature is the decorative brick work ("the quality is what is really unusual"), the Romanesque and Queen Anne Styles, and the large windows on each floor that have command views of the business district.

Dawson says he's been told that the foundation for the building is "one of the best in town," but admits it is difficult to maintain the building. "Things can never be the way you want them to be. It is almost constant maintenance around here," he remarked.

Used for shops and apartments, Dawson says he and his co-owners are the ' 'latest of many stewards of this building. and we probably won't be the last."

He says the building will always be special to him. "There is a lot of economic potential in old buildings. The best advertising for my store is the fact that it's in this building. This building is what brought me to McGregor," he stated.

In the future he thinks the building will be used for shops and apartments, adding that a few plans are being discussed. "For now we will leave it just like it is and, hopefully, we will upgrade it."

If there is a bottom fine benefit for having the building picked by the national register, he says it is this: "Maybe this will help stop people from tearing down old buildings."

National Historic Site

The Diamond Jo office building and residence, located at A Street and Main Street in McGregor, has been entered in the National Register of Historic Places, the Iowa State Historical Department, Division of Historic Preservation, has announced.

The building was entered into the national register on Feb. 19, 1982.

The national register is a federal program that identifies, and brings to public attention, those structures and sites which have, been recognized as significant in history, architecture and archaeology, noted Adrian Anderson, director and State Historic Preservation Officer.

The national register also functions as a planning tool, to guide federal agencies in planning projects which might have adverse effects upon the nation's cultural resources, he added.

The significance of the building is explained as follows:

"The two_story, red brick, Romanesque style. Joseph (Diamond Jo) Reynolds office building and residence is the only known extant edifice in McGregor closely associated with Reynolds' career as owner of the famous "Diamond Jo" steamboat line and as one of Iowa's most outstanding 19th century entrepreneurs."

"Reynolds first came to McGregor around 1860, when the town was the largest primary grain market west of Chicago. Soon he became McGregor's, and one of the northwest's, largest grain buyers."

"He expanded his activities into steamboating in the mid_1860s when efforts to deny him access to river transportation failed. By the early 1870s his "Diamond Jo" line had become a major factor in river traffic.

"After railroads displaced steamboats in the shipping of grain, Reynolds, in the late 1870s, turned his attention to the passenger trade. He built some of the most ornate and luxurious steamboats on the Mississippi and, until the line was sold in 1911, "Diamond Jo" boats were considered the ultimate in luxury travel.

"In fact, W.C. Handy mentioned the line in a verse of his famous 'St. Louis Blues.' "

Owners of the building are J. Douglas Dawson, William Conkling and Patrick Tranmer. The building is currently the home of Old Man River Restaurant & Brewery