Digging up lost, but not forgotten, history

CHARLES CITY, Iowa – It wasn’t quite the gold mine they thought it could be, but one Charles City business owner is still excited to dig up a piece of history.

An archaeological survey of McQuillen’s Place in Charles City was able to dig up the remains of the historic Gilbert Hotel and Union House which has been buried since being burned down back in 1987.

Charles City native, Charley Thomson and his brother are developing the area they’ve grown up knowing and say they were excited to see remnants of their past.

“My father owned the Ben Franklin that was at the corner of the Gilbert Hotel and when I was born he was the owner there. My first job was in the basement of that building. So we’re digging up where my first job was,” said Thomson.

Working for his father he made $0.50 an hour tagging candy and today, Charley is on his way to building McQuillen Place as a retail and residential property, but first they’re digging up the property to see what they can find.

“It was interesting to see all of that coming out of the ground. We wish there were more historical artifacts but it was mostly just rubble from the Gilbert Hotel and the un-excavated portions,” said Thomson.

Veronica Litterer has been working with Charley on bringing his vision to reality as and says the town couldn’t be more excited to have someone help rebuild main street.

“There were a lot of questions as to what might possibly be down there. So it was fun and interesting to see some of the old limestone being brought back to the surface,” said Litterer.

Making the investment is something Charley says he was more than ready to tackle, and it’s something Veronica says can only come from someone passionate enough to take on the project.

“That local passion for the community and love for the project is really important component in supporting the project and the downtown overall,” said Litterer.

While the results of the dig have not been made public quite yet, Charley says just the experience of knowing he could imagine the property as it once was, is enough reward for him.

The McQuillen place is expected to be completed by spring of 2015. The development will be the largest main street structure built in more than 100 years.

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