CHELSEA, Iowa — The Tama County community of Chelsea turns 150 years old next month. And in a community so often hit with flooding woes over the years, participants may see something new in the downtown area for the first time in years.
Water swamped nearly every building in the small community in 1993, 2008 and again last year. And those were just the recent years with major flooding along the Iowa River. But one woman started buying up and fixing up some of the historic buildings in the middle of the community this year.
Jodi Philipp said she wants to get everything she’s planning open in time for the town’s sesquicentennial that starts July 25th. But that’s a tall order considering she’s working on four buildings in Chelsea and even thinking about a fifth to refurbish.
“Plain and simple, I love these old buildings and what they represent,” Philipp said adding “when they’re gone, they’ll be gone forever. I just feel compelled to save what few of them I can.”
Philipp said she didn’t start her building projects in Chelsea unaware of the flood history. Plenty of residents told her she might be crazy to do a lot of work in a part of the community that is vulnerable to high water.
But Philipp said she has faith she can handle any future problems and feels the opportunity is worth the risk.
Philipp, who lives on a farm in Benton County, opened the Periwinkle Place Manor B & B on the edge of Chelsea last winter. She said weekends fill up with good demand for “murder mystery” events. She believes people passing through would stop for other businesses if they existed.
So she began work on what will be a coffee shop and bakery, a gift shop, seasonal Christmas shop and an art studio. One business, “Artique Boutique,” opened Memorial Day weekend. One friend says some in Chelsea are catching the excitement about seeing something new take shape.
“A lot of people are waiting for the coffee shop to open and everybody’s excited,” Janet Orr said.
Philipp said she can’t raise the historic buildings above the water level of major floods. But she can move furnishings if the water comes too close and designed things to be moved quickly.
Gary Fattig, a member of the Chelsea Sesquicentennial Committee, said some in the community weren’t too sure about what Philipp had in mind. But they do give her credit for trying.
“She’s helping the town, rehabbing the buildings and putting them back together. That’s always a good thing,” he said.
Philipp said the population of Chelsea, now listed at 267 people, could swell to two thousand or more during the birthday events in late July. She’d like to show them something they haven’t seen since the real flooding problems began — new growth in the heart of the community.
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