Sources of Financial Assistance for Preserving Historical Buildings

Sources of Financial Assistance for Preserving Historical Buildings

Preston's Station Historic District along the Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway in Belle Plaine, Iowa.

Many property owners are eager to find financial assistance for rehabilitating, preserving, or maintaining their structures, whether it is for a modest private residence or a large commercial building. Tax incentives may be available at the federal, state, or local level to support historically sensitive work on recognized historic properties. Finding the right opportunity for your project can be complicated, but your local city government or historic preservation commission may help advise you. Because tax codes change frequently, consultation with a qualified tax attorney, accountant, or the Internal Revenue Service is recommended.

Here are some sources of financial assistance to consider :


Historical Resource Development Program (HRDP): This competitive grant program can be used to fund the rehabilitation of buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). Grants are made annually for up to $50,000. Details can be found at Historical Resource Development Program | IDCA (


State Historic Tax Credit:  Property owners can get credit for up to 25% of their qualified rehabilitation costs (basically anything attached to the building; however, site work does not qualify). The building must be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places but does not actually have to be listed. Qualifying properties include private residences, barns, commercial properties, and properties owned by nonprofits, including houses of worship. The project must be a substantial rehabilitation, which is defined based on a formula that involves comparing the adjusted basis of the property to the cost of the qualified rehabilitation expenditures.

Maple Grove Schoolhouse along the Iowa Valley Scenic Byway in Marengo, Iowa.
The Lincoln Hotel in Lowden, Iowa as it stands today.

The formula is different depending on whether the building is commercial or noncommercial. The rehabilitation work must be done according to guidelines that are used in historic preservation work across the country and are the reference point for tax credit and grant programs in addition to being best practices. These are called the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. Credits may be fully refundable and are transferable if sold to a new owner. You can find more information about the state tax credit at Historic Preservation Tax Credit | Iowa Economic Development Authority (

Federal Historic Tax Credit: Property owners can get credit for up to 20% of qualified rehabilitation costs. This credit is intended for depreciable, income-producing properties. Many of the same requirements for the state tax credit program apply to the federal credit, thus the groundwork laid for one can be reused for the other. The building must be listed on the National Register of Historic Places or be eligible for listing (the property must be listed within 30 months after taking the credit). Credit is not refundable, but it can be carried forward and used for over 20 years. The rehabilitation work must follow the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation.

When used together with the state credit, the federal historic tax credit can equal a total credit of 45% of the rehabilitation costs. Public Law No: 115-97 made a change stating that the 20 percent credit can be claimed so that those who qualify for the tax credit would receive 4 percent per year for five years rather than 20 percent for one year. For more information, visit National Park Service Historic Property Tax Incentives.

Historic building along the Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway in Jefferson, Iowa.


If you would like to know more about the guidelines for the treatment of historic buildings, please see the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards on the Treatment of Historic Properties of the National Park Service.


A source of practical information is the National Park Service’s technical preservation services publications Technical Preservation Services Publications – Technical Preservation Services (U.S. National Park Service) (

Preservation Briefs can be a helpful starting place for specific building issues: Preservation Briefs – Technical Preservation Services (U.S. National Park Service) (


Appreciation for this information goes to Allison Archambo, Certified Local Government Coordinator, State Historic Preservation Office of Iowa, and Michael M. Belding, State Historic Preservation Office of Nebraska.

Here Stands the Ruth Anne Dodge Memorial Known as the Black Angel

Here Stands the Ruth Anne Dodge Memorial Known as the Black Angel

High atop a ridge overlooking the Missouri Valley is Council Bluffs’ Fairview Cemetery, where stands the Ruth Anne Dodge Memorial, also known as the Black Angel. Legend has it the spot is haunted and visitors sometimes report unusual occurrences. Nevertheless, the site is worth a visit as the beautiful bronze sculpture, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is the work of Daniel Chester French, who created Washington D.C.’s Lincoln Memorial and the minuteman in Concord, Massachusetts.

Ruth Anne Dodge was the wife of railroad baron General Grenville Dodge, an honored figure in the history of Council Bluffs and the westward expansion of the railroad. 

The Ruth Anne Dodge Memorial Known as the Black Angel

Born in 1833 in Peru, Illinois, into a family that could provide a ladies’ education, she was a multi-talented woman. Ruth Anne could not only play piano and write poetry, she could ride a horse and shoot a gun with the best of them, a talent that held her in good stead during the years she joined her husband on the prairies of Nebraska.

Ruth Anne and General Greenville Dodge House in Council Bluffs, Iowa

The Dodges built a grand residence in Council Bluffs, where General Dodge influenced the development of the Union Pacific Railroad. He died in January 1916, and September of that year found Ruth Anne also on her deathbed.

After her death, Ruth Anne’s daughters, Anne Dodge and Eleanor Dodge Pusey, had the sculpture made to depict the series of three nighttime visions experienced by their mother before she died. Ruth Anne had told them of the recurrent visions where she found herself on a rocky shore when through the mist she saw a small boat approach, carrying a beautiful angel holding a small bowl with water flowing forth. 

Each night the angel encouraged Ruth Anne to drink the water. “Drink, I bring you both a promise and a blessing,” the angel said. Twice Ruth Anne refused to drink, but the third night she did drink the water, and after partaking she said she felt “transformed into a new and glorious being,” telling her daughters she had drunk the “water of life” and now had immortality. She died a short time later.

Who haunts the site today is unclear. Is it Ruth Anne Dodge? Or perhaps it is the beautiful but tormented young woman who served as the model for the sculptor. According to Tom Emmett, executive director of the Historic General Dodge House in Council Bluffs, Audrey Munson was the most oft-sculpted woman of her time.

Ruth Anne Dodge Memorial

But apparently, fame did not bring her happiness, for a decade after modeling for the artist she tried to commit suicide and was subsequently committed to an insane asylum, where she lived another 65 years without visitors, dying at the age of 104.

Emmett says some people believe that those who touch the sculpture may be cursed. Others say the angel flies off her pedestal at night, and still others say the angel’s eyes follow a person as they walk past. One way to find out is to go and visit. The sculpture is considered likely the most valuable artwork in Council Bluffs, and it is just steps from a spectacular view of the Missouri River Valley and the expanse of Nebraska beyond.

“The Black Angel of Council Bluffs: The Ruth Anne Dodge Memorial.” Spiritual Travels: Practical Advice for Soulful Journeys. Accessed Oct. 15, 2023.

“Ruth Anne Dodge Memorial – The Black Angel.” History Online, The Historical Society of Pottawattamie County. Accessed Oct. 5, 2023.

Williamson, Zach. “The History, and Haunting, of Council Bluffs’ Black Angel.” KMTV 3 News Now, Local News, Oct. 15, 2022.

The Historic Lincoln Highway Bridge Is In Danger!

The Historic Lincoln Highway Bridge Is In Danger!

The Lincoln Highway Bridge in Tama, IA, once again needs your help to survive. Due to severe deterioration, engineers say it should be replaced if it’s going to continue serving as a truck route. The Tama City Council is holding a public hearing Monday, August 21, at 5:30 pm, at the Tama City Auditorium to hear comments on whether to repair or replace the bridge.

If you can attend the meeting and speak, please do so. If you can’t attend, you can send comments to , and / or make a comment below and we’ll pass it along to make sure you are heard.

Lincoln Highway Bridge in Tama, IA needs your help!

If you commented before, feel free to recycle your earlier comments. Possible topics include but are not limited to: What does the Tama Bridge mean to you? What special memories of the bridge, do you have? What would be lost if the bridge were replaced? 

Two ways to save the bridge the Council might consider are 1) Make the LH Bridge a pedestrian-only bridge and create a new truck route, and 2) Redesign the replacement bridge with modern safety railings and include the historic railings and lamp posts as design elements. Option 1 is the most likely to keep the bridge on the National Register of Historic Places and maintain its historicity.

Prairie Rivers of Iowa would like to collect as many comments as possible to make sure the messages are delivered. 

Step Into the Sankot Garage for Treasured Bits of Lincoln Highway History

Step Into the Sankot Garage for Treasured Bits of Lincoln Highway History

To get to Sankot Motor Company, or Sankot Garage as it’s known in Belle Plaine, find the Lincoln Café where the Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway crosses 8th Avenue in the middle of town. Treat yourself to the lunch special – it was fried fish the Friday when I was there – then walk east on the Byway barely half a block. The big red Case sign, the neon long gone, reaches out from the old red brick building to show you where you’re going. As you get closer, you’ll notice the large plate glass windows and the plaque that reads Sankot Motor Company has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the United States Department of the Interior. Registered 1995.

To step into Sankot Garage in Belle Plaine today is to step into the bits and fragments of small-town Lincoln Highway history. A massive safe rests alongside a beaten-up wooden table with worn, ornate hardware; racks of aging car parts line the walls up two stories. On one side of the building, a skylight allows the sun’s rays to illuminate bins of car parts, hoists hanging from beams, and a partial tractor body waiting for repair.

Bill Sankot Outside of His Historic Garage
Parts Bin at Sankot Garage

Dust and the faint scent of oil hang in the air. Over a century old, Sankot Garage is a place where the parts and pieces of the decades intermingle.

Owner Bill Sankot greets me. Dressed from neck to ankles in overalls, he’s taking a break from his current Case tractor restoration project. Bill is great-nephew of O.B., Charles, and Sid, the brothers who owned the company back in the 1920s, those heady years when the country’s major coast-to-coast highway ran through Belle Plaine.  This was the era before interstates facilitated travel bypassing towns and their amenities. Before the interstate rest stop, roads were designed to angle through towns, where travelers could stop for gas or get a bite to eat at a local café.

If it was late in the day, they might decide to stay the night at a local campground, spend a dollar for a motel room, or splurge for a room at the Herring Hotel. The Lincoln Highway eventually brought enough travelers to keep 19 gas stations in business, according to Mitch Malcolm from the Belle Plaine Area Museum, “and they all were a going concern.”

Sankot sold Chrysler cars and auto parts and did repairs in the 1920s and 30s. In those days before paved roads, Iowa had the dubious distinction of having both dirt roads that turned into “gumbo,” sucking in automobiles in inclement weather, and the resistance to modern paving methods.

Every town needed a good towing service.  Sankot Garage was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and offered all-night towing and wrecker service. A poster on the wall displays photos from Sankot history. It shows a tow truck hauling a Model T Ford and some of the famous people who stopped by on their travels west from Chicago, including heavyweight boxer Kingfish Levinsky, crouching in a boxing stance for the camera.

Sankot Garage self-made wrecker made from a 1929 Cadillac chassis.

Over the decades, while so many other family-owned businesses disappeared, Sankot Garage continued to reinvent itself to serve the changing needs of its customers. Back in the day before rural electrification, Sankot rebuilt and recharged batteries needed for autos, lights, and radios. People usually brought batteries in for recharging on Saturday, the day they went to buy groceries. Bill shows me one of the claim checks customers were given.

Bill’s dad, F.L. Sankot, purchased the business in 1937, and it switched from selling and fixing automobiles to Case and Oliver tractors and implements. Bill and his brother Jerry bought the garage in 1985, and they continued to repair a variety of autos, trucks, tractors, and farm implements. Once Interstate 80 sapped clientele, things got quieter, but there is still enough business to keep Bill busy.

 What’s next for Sankot Garage? None of Bill’s children are inclined to take over the business, but as long as Bill’s there, he’s minding the store … and the history.   

Sankot Garage Vintage Battery Repair Ticket
Sankot Garage Vintage Decal
Sankot Garage National Register of Historic Places Plaque
Bill Sankot in his garage with a Case tractor restoration project.

Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs Awards Prairie Rivers of Iowa a Historic Resources Development Project (HRDP) Grant

Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs Awards Prairie Rivers of Iowa a Historic Resources Development Project (HRDP) Grant

The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs has awarded Prairie Rivers of Iowa a Historic Resources Development Project (HRDP) grant to assess the condition of the approximately 319 properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places along the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway (LHHB) in Iowa.

Many historic properties have been lost over the years, and this survey is a critical first step in preserving them. Historic properties can be especially at risk because awareness of their value and knowledge of appropriate upkeep methods is often lost over time.

Established in 1913, the LHHB was the country’s first improved coast-to-coast highway. In 2021, it was nationally recognized by the National Scenic Byway Foundation as a National Heritage Byway for its contribution to transportation history. 

Lincoln Hotel Lowden Iowa
Lincoln Highway Bridge Tama Iowa

Like the wagon train trails and railways before it, the Lincoln Highway opened cities and rural communities alike to vital population and commercial growth more than 100 years ago and brings heritage tourism and pride of place today. One-third of Iowans still live along the Lincoln Highway corridor and recognition of the Lincoln Highway connection is evident in festivals such as Nevada’s Lincoln Highway Days celebrated every August, and parks, like the Lincoln Highway Lion’s Club Tree Park in Grand Junction.

If you own or have knowledge of a property on the Lincoln Highway that is on the National Register of Historic Places, we would like to hear about it. Please contact Shellie Orngard, Project Manager,