CEDAR RAPIDS — Nearly 120 years after it was built, the stately red granite mausoleum railroad magnate Charles John “C.J,” Ives had constructed for his late wife, Helen Dale, looks brand new.
The restoration process at Oak Hill Cemetery, which began in 2008 but accelerated last year after a wall nearly collapsed, culminated in an emotional dedication ceremony for more than a dozen family members earlier this month.
“So many places and so many buildings are demolished,” says Windy Buhler who coordinated restoration. “Not only was it important to us to restore our family grave, but it was important to preserve the history.”
The mausoleum, which resembles a small house at 12 feet wide and 18 feet deep, is made out of 500-pound blocks of granite. As the final resting place for 15 people, it has always looked solid and immovable. But it was last repaired in 1939 and Iowa’s radically changing weather took its toll. The foundation had shifted, then the wall gave way.
That’s when Windy, a writer and producer who lives in Venice Beach, Calif., went to work for the family. Even though she hadn’t been in Iowa until this month’s dedication, she contacted engineers, masonry companies, reconstruction firms. With a family history that preceeds a Revolutionary War hero, living family members felt restoration was imperative.
Suffice to say that C.J. Ives was an early mover and shaker in Eastern Iowa. From humble beginnings in Vermont which his family left in 1847 to buy and work a farm in Lee County, he rose to prominence with the arrival of the railroad. He started as a Mount Pleasant clerk in 1862, became an acting superintendent in 1875, then president of the Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Northern Railroad in 1884. He had that position until 1902 when it was absorbed by the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad.
Ellen Dale died in 1895. She had helped poor, sick, depressed and lonely people in Cedar Rapids.
C.J., who died in 1906 and had become friends with many prominent Cedar Rapids men, was president of the city’s first electric company and served on the St. Luke’s Hospital board.
As Windy followed the family’s wishes, she was overjoyed to make contact with Dennis A. Hill in Cedar Rapids, who offered to help. He located Janssen Waterproofing of Van Horne which passed all of Windy’s tests with flying colors. While one company proposed using heavy machinery, which could have damaged the mausoleum, Janssen Waterproofing, which includes several family members, methodically removed each piece of granite with a crane, restored it and replaced it.
“The Janssens and Dennis did painstaking work on the building and the results show,” says Windy, who would not disclose the cost. “Our family grave is beautifully restored and we feel it is an important architectural save for the history and community of Cedar Rapids.”
In a fitting tribute at the dedication — it referenced William Ives who arrived at the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1635 — a bugler played “Taps.” As the haunting notes filtered through the cemetery, Ives descendants knew this mausoleum could stand forever.
“The work they’ve done,” Windy says, “that building isn’t going anywhere. We’re making plans to keep it up.”
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