Meskwaki Anthology

HISTORICAL PRESERVATION OFFICE NOTES

From the desk of Johnathan L. Buffalo

The Stone House

The Stone House was built with government funds by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC’s) Indian Labor Division in 1941.  The intended use was to be perhaps a gas station, souvenir stand, food sales or some combination in order to utilize the traffic of (old) Highway 30 … the Lincoln Highway.  However, no permanent organization was made for its economic use.  Only sporadic sales of Indian goods were accomplished at or near the Stone House until 1955 when Highway 30 was relocated by the state of Iowa to north of the Settlement.  The first Settlement village had been located west of the Iowa River near this location, which was inside the first 80 acres purchased.  But the area was prone to flooding and many families moved across the river to higher ground as more land was acquired by the Tribe.

Even in the beginning, after a grand opening affair and dedication ceremonies which were performed by a Presbyterian minister, the Stone House functioned primarily as a community center for a few years where games, parties and holiday celebrations took place.  But the area near the “Cave” site (at the intersection of Meskwaki Road and Battleground Road) rapidly developed into more of a social hub almost immediately after the Stone House was completed.  The Cave site offered a more central location for activities plus had the following establishments:  Leaf’s store “The Chieftain”, the Legion Hall, the Council house, an early school, and the Cannery.  The Stone House became less frequently used.

Interest in the Stone House was somewhat revived when the Cave site lost the store and the cannery fell into non-use and the Legion Hall activity subsided.  The old Sac & Fox Day School located mid-way on Meskwaki Road (now retired, having been replaced by today’s new Settlement School on 305th St.) was built in the late 1940’s.

In 1955, Highway 30 was relocated to north of the Settlement, effectively rendering the Stone House useless as a roadside point of sale for Indian goods.  The souvenir trade moved to the north part of the Settlement as well and numerous family stands sprung up along the new roadside.  Also during the 1950’s the Settlement Day School continued to gain prominence as the community center of choice due to having a gymnasium that was more suitable for large gatherings.  At this time the Stone House was used as an occasional community building for family games, parties, and smaller scale events and continued in this capacity up until the late 1960’s when it again fell into non-use and began to deteriorate from lack of attention.

Then in the early 1970’s a VISTA group (Volunteers In Service To America) worked to repair the building.  Another repair took place in the late 1970’s when a CETA group took the Stone House up as a project. The present-day Tribal Center with a gymnasium was built in 1979.  Most governmental and many large-scale social events quickly moved to this new facility.

The Stone House was conceived as an economic venture but never realized that potential.  When initially envisioned, the population center of the Settlement was at the old village site nearby.  However, the population center has steadily shifted north to its present day hub of activity.  The Stone House’s economic failure boiled down to simple bad timing.

While the Stone House might be a unique structure on the Settlement, it is one of many such buildings made by CCC workers across the country.  It has a standard design and is identical even in material to some here in Iowa.  A handful of these CCC stone buildings have survived in city parks, state parks and as private residences.  The quality that distinguishes the Stone House as a truly unique building in the U.S. is that it was the only one made by the hands of this Tribe on our own land. 

Today the skeleton of the old Stone House is about the only reminder there is of the Tribe’s persistence in trying to make a living without having to move away from the Meskwaki Indian Settlement.  While this venture didn’t pan out as expected, many economic ventures continued to be pursued over the following years with the same hope of providing good jobs to the community so that tribal members could continue to maintain a truly tribal society and keep customs alive.