Old Fort closes after failing inspection, council to decide its future

Published: Jan. 19, 2023 at 5:24 PM CST
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FORT MADISON (WGEM) - Lee County officials have decided to close the Old Fort, in Fort Madison, due to structural issues.

The Old Fort has been at Riverview Park for more than 35 years, but inspectors said it’s now structurally unsafe.

Until further notice, it’s closed to the public.

Half of the Old Fort’s buildings are plagued with crumbling foundations, leaky roofs and bowing walls, officials said.

A decision has not been made on what to do with the Old Fort, but the Lee County Historical Society’s vice president Andy Andrews said it should stay because of it’s historical value.

“We have that fort, replica fort, to tell the story of Fort Madison and how we became a city in 1832, after the fort had long been gone,” Andrews said.

The original fort was burnt down by soldiers fighting in the War of 1812 after they finished their battle in Fort Madison.

Andrews thinks it should be repaired as American Cruise Lines brings tourists right to the battle site.

“Tourism’s our future, but without the fort, the cruise boats probably will no longer stop here since they stop here to let the cruise passengers go through the fort,” Andrews said.

Andrews said it was only a matter of time before the buildings became unsafe as they haven’t had proper upkeep.

Mayor Matt Mohrfeld said the extensive damage is caused from years of not having enough maintenance and years of not having enough funding.

“We have been remiss having a good long term maintenance plan, I think that it’s been undermanaged and so those have got us to the point we are now,” Mohrfeld said. “And so how did it get that way? It quietly snuck away from the past 20 years and so it just has not been maintained at the level it should have been.”

Mohrfeld said the location of the old fort makes it difficult to reconstruct, as it sits on a flood plane that has flooded at least eight times since the building was put in place.

City officials will bring the findings of their inspection to city council on Jan. 31 to determine what will happen with the structure in the future.

The Old Fort is a replica model that became open to the public in 1985.

It was built after a $10,000 Iowa Cultural grant was received by Fort Madison and was partially constructed by Iowa prison inmates.

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