Famous Winding Stairs

The reason we say, "Wind up in Traer"

Visitors can't help but notice our Famous Winding Stairs on Second Street in historic downtown Traer. The iron staircase, it's catwalk and the attached building are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

E.E. Taylor and the Winding Stairs
E.E. Taylor (who started the present town newspaper at the ripe old age of 16) was faced with replacing his newspaper office in 1894, after fire destroyed his office in the spring of that year. Taylor decided to rebuild a two-story structure, and to situate the newspaper office on the second floor. He would then rent out the first floor to other businesses for extra income. Most of the business buildings at that time were made of brick and were 20 feet wide. The lots where the Star-Clipper sat were only 18 feet wide. Because of the narrow space, Taylor decided to build an outside stairway to his business on the second floor, leaving the two rented business spaces on the sidewalk level with more floor room

Burlington Iron Works of Burlington, Iowa was employed to build an iron stairway to the public entrance at the front of the building. The stairway makes 1 1/2 revolutions and weighs 2,000 pounds. It consists of 23 steps.

Originally, the stairs stood closer to the building, and there was a smaller landing outside the entrance on the second floor. In 1916, Traer voted to widen the sidewalks. Some members of the town council of the time wanted Taylor to remove his stairway from the sidewalk. He agreed, if the council could figure out another public entrance to his upstairs. Since no solution was found, it was decided to move the stairway to the curb, and employ the Burlington Iron Works again, this time to construct a catwalk to run above the sidewalk from the stairs to the entrance of the building.

In January of 1975, an end loader struck the Stairs while snow was being removed. It snapped off the lower five steps. The Traer Chamber of Commerce had already been trying to find someone to make repairs to the Stairs, as it was rusting and deteriorating. Burlington Iron Works said they would not be interested in the project, and to make matters worse, the molds for the staircase had been destroyed. Other foundries were contacted, but all declined to help. After reading about Traer's problem in the newspaper, a welder from Voorhies, a town 10 miles north of Traer, came to look at the Stairs, and see if he could help. After finding out the iron was wearable, Gary Frahm and his father, Bob, agreed to tackle the job. A crane from a local implement dealer hoisted the staircase onto a flat bed truck while a steel support tripod held up the catwalk that would be repaired at a later date. Frahm contracted out for the missing handrails, which were cast by the Warren Corporation of Manchester, Iowa. They were to match the old rails in every detail. Several weeks later the project was completed and the Stairs re-erected, for a total cost of $4,000.

Many prominent and famous men and women climbed the Stairs in the 60 years that the Star-Clipper was located at their top. Iowa governors, senators and congressmen made the climb to talk to E. E. Taylor, who was well respected as a journalist. And even after retirement as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, "Tama Jim" Wilson visited the Star-Clipper office by way of the stairs to discuss political matters with Taylor. (Wilson served as a cabinet member longer than any other American.) The Williams Brothers (the youngest being Andy), came to town to give a concert and insisted on dressing in the Star-Clipper building so they could use the Winding Stairs as their grand entrance. Salesmen enjoyed coming to Traer on Thursday so they could watch the people lined up on the Stairs, waiting to pick up the newspaper.

Fame of Stairs Grows
In 1966 an article and photo of the stairs appeared in the Pacific edition of Stars and Stripes carrying the story to U.S. service men throughout the world. The same story appeared on the front page of the Chicago Tribune and was copied and sent out by the Associated Press. Hundreds of tourists have stopped in Traer to take pictures of the Winding Stairs -- many have won prizes in "unusual photo" contests in Iowa and other states.

In 1953, The Traer Star-Clipper newspaper moved its operations a block east into a ground floor site. The building with the Stairs attached was sold to Gordon Smith, one of the tenants in the lower level. From 1953 to 1973 the Chamber of Commerce continued to keep the Stairs in good repair as a community asset. Many offers came to purchase the Stairs. In 1973, 22 local citizens formed the Traer Winding Stairs Association, Inc., and bought the Stairs and the Star-Clipper building. In 1975, after the Stairs were restored, the association leased it back to the Traer Chamber of Commerce to ensure its future upkeep. Later still, the Stairs and building were sold to Dr. Robert Ketter, DVM, another ground floor tenant, with the promise that the Stairs could not be sold without first letting the town buy them. The Traer Historical Museum now owns the building and Stairs. The two lower level business spaces are rented out; the upstairs space is empty at the present.