When John Bryan traveled by covered wagon to Iowa and founded the town of Oxford Junction, he constructed a two-story, red-brick building with limestone accents in what became the downtown on Broadway.
Bryan operated the Exchange Bank in that building until 1916. It exchanged hands, housing a barber shop, hair salon, even the OJ Post Office for a time.
Eventually, however, the empty building stayed fallow, empty save for some boxes, dirt, and leftover junk and furnishings.
That 130-year-old building may soon assume a new role in the community thanks to a $100,000 Community Catalyst Grant from the Iowa Department of Economic Authority and perhaps a new owner, according to OJ Mayor Merle Tank.
The state’s Community Catalyst Building Remediation Program helps communities with redevelopment, rehabilitation or deconstruction of buildings to stimulate economic growth or reinvestment in the community. Some 40 percent of the available grant funds were given to cities with populations under 1,500.
OJ received the maximum $100,000 grant.
“This is the first grant Jones County has gotten in a long time that’s paid any attention to Oxford Junction,” Tank said. “This is the starting point for us.”
The city bought the property, which may soon have a new owner. The OJ City Council hasn’t approved the sale of the building and there are “a few other things” to be “figured out, but the bid is substantial,” the mayor said. He said he could not name the potential buyer.
Tank brought the idea to the city council hoping the city could buy the building, apply for the catalyst grant, and turn it around — one step toward revitalizing the downtown and thereby rejuvenating the city.
Because the building has been empty for about 15 years, the council decided to take a chance and completed the state grant application.
The council enlisted the help of Jones County Economic Development and was awarded a $100,000 grant on the second try.
The exterior needs some pointing work done to the bricks, and a new window facing Broadway will make it better resemble the original 1889 building, Tank said. It also requires handicap accessibility.
Interior modifications will depend on the buyer, but the building needs new plaster and paint on the walls, new flooring, etc. The building still boasts what Tank believes is the original tin ceiling
Under the grant rules, Oxford Junction must adhere to Iowa Greet Streets protocols. That means the building must undergo some changes to enhance its efficiency, such as insulated windows, building insulation, LED lighting, efficient heating and cooling, etc.
The building will cost more than the $100,000 grant to rehabilitate and make functional, Tank said. That’s why the city seeks donations, other grants, and a buyer to infuse cash into the project, giving the city back the $9,500 it paid to buy the old building.
“It’d be real advantageous for an entrepreneur or investor. They can redo the inside to suit their own needs,” the mayor said. “We hope to eventually get it on the tax rolls.”
In addition, the 800-square-foot second story was used as an apartment and could be again with some refurbishing. The upper level has beautiful woodwork, the mayor said.
The building also has a full basement.
“I’d like to see it occupied both upstairs and down with a viable business that’s going to be around for a long time and an apartment in use.”
“We’re going to try to keep the money and work local,” Tank explained.
Oxford Junction has two years to complete the building rehabilitation project.
“I think this will be a good addition to the town,” Tank said. “The trick is to get this occupied.”
For more information about the building, call Tank at 563-826-2068 or OJ City Hall at 563-826-2400.