“Buildings tell tales. From castles to cathedrals, modern skyscrapers to modest bungalows, structures are a ubiquitous physical manifestation of social relationships, community values, and power dynamics. This is equally true of government buildings, where architecture embodies the intention of those who design and inhabit the spaces.” Matt Golosinski, Northwestern University
America the melting pot, drew immigrants from abroad. Once here, the button industry was accessible employment for all. This booming industry, made possible by the plethora of mussel shell in the Mississippi and 19 other connective rivers, is a foundational stone of America’s growth story. Muscatine doubled in size due to the labor force which made it standout as a draw for businessmen and entrepreneurs forever impacting the city’s future.
The global demand for freshwater pearl buttons led to the decline of mussel shell as a natural resource. As available mussel diminished, industry leaders appealed to The US Federal Fish and Wildlife Service for help. Recognizing the industry was in jeopardy, the federal government (alongside the pearl button industry) responded by building the biological station; an investment of $2 million in the facility in 1908. In 1912 the pearl button industry was valued at $6.2 million which translates approximately to $163 million today. The remarkable pump house at the Fairport Fish Hatchery was designed to reflect the magnitude and the importance of the industry it was to serve.
Today, the pump house stands as one of only two remaining original federal biological stations. When the announcement was made that the pump house would be demolished last fall, we knew our story, the button history story was in jeopardy and we set to work and continue to do so. We’ve rallied friends, lobbied those in influence and diligently study the impact of this history that continues to unfold.
History is often revealed in fragments; like individual pearls. Those fragments create an elongated view when rightly strung together. It is our responsibility and privilege to uncover, reveal and learn from the great history of Muscatine! Nothing is permanent, if you ignore things that are important, they become less important and eventually slip away as if never there.