THE WINDING STAIRS
On the outskirts of Traer, you're greeted with a sign saying "Welcome, Wind Up in Traer" with an image of a spiral staircase. This historic Winding Stairs landmark can be found in downtown Traer twisting up as high as the street lights to a second story building which once housed the Traer Star-Clipper Newspaper office.
A HISTORY OF TRAER'S FAMOUS
E.E. Taylor and the Winding Staircase
In 1894, when E.E. Taylor, publisher of a weekly newspaper, had to rebuild his newspaper office after a destructive fire in the spring of that year, he decided to rebuild a two-story structure and situate the newspaper on the second floor. The first floor was rented out for extra income. Rumor has it that the reason for locating the newspaper office on the second floor was to discourage passers-by from wandering in so often to visit and interrupting his work.
Most of the brick buildings constructed at that time were 20 feet wide but the lot for the Star-Clipper building was only 18 feet wide. Because of the space needed for the printing machines, Mr. Taylor could not build an inside stairway to his business. The problem was solved when he decided on an outside stairway. Burlington Iron Works of Burlington, Iowa was employed to build an iron stairway to the public newspaper entrance on the second floor.
The stairway makes 1 1/2 revolutions, consists of 23 steps and weighs 2,000 pounds. Originally the stairway stood close to the building and ran to a small landing outside the office entrance. In 1916, Traer voted to widen the existing sidewalks. Some members of the town council wanted Mr. Taylor to remove his stairway. Taylor would agree to this if the council could figure out another public entrance to his newspaper office. Since no solution could be found, it was decided to move the stairway to the curb and employ Burlington Iron Works again to construct a catwalk to run above the sidewalk from the stairs to the entrance. This is how the present structure stands.
The Traer Winding Staircase is believed to be the only one of its kind extending over a public sidewalk. In 1903, Colonel Lafayette Young, Sr. publisher of the Des Moines Daily Capital, who served a term in the U.S. Senate, said he had traveled all over the world and had never seen anything like the Star-Clipper spiral stairway.
Winding Stairway Repaired
In January 1975, an end loader struck the Winding Staircase while removing snow and snapped off the five lower steps. For the two years previous to this incident the Traer Chamber of Commerce had been trying to find someone who would repair the staircase as it was rusting and deteriorating. The Burlington Iron Works was not interested in the repair project and to make matters worse, the molds for the staircase had been destroyed. Other foundries were contacted but they too declined to help.
After reading about the Traer Winding Staircase problem in the paper, a welder from Voorhies, a town ten miles north of Traer, came to take a look to see if he could help. After finding out the iron was wearable, Gary Frahm and his father/partner, Bob, agreed to tackle the job. A crane from a local implement dealer hoisted the staircase onto a flatbed 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 that were cast by the Warren Corporation at Manchester, Iowa. They were to match the old rails in every detail. Several weeks later the project was completed and re-erected for a total cost of $4,000.
Fame of Staircase Grows
Many prominent and famous men and women climbed the staircase in the sixty years that the Star-Clipper was located at their top. Iowa governors, senators, and congressmen made the climb to talk to E.E. Taylor. Even after retirement as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, having served as a cabinet member longer than any other American, "Tama Jim" Wilson visited the Star-Clipper office by way of the winding stairs to discuss political matters with Mr. Taylor. According to Ethel Taylor, daughter-in-law of E.E. Taylor, the Williams Brothers, 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 Staircase as their grand entrance.
In 1966, an article and picture of the Winding Staircase appeared in the Pacific edition of the "Stars and Stripes" carrying the story to the U.S. servicemen throughout the world. The same story appeared on the front page of the Chicago Tribune and was copied by the Associated Press for members of that organization around the nation.
Over the years hundreds of tourists have stopped in Traer to take pictures of the Winding Staircase. Many of those photos have won prizes in "unusual photo contests" in Iowa and other states.
Ethel Taylor also told of the salesmen who were staying in Traer coming to town on Thursday just to watch the line of people standing on the stairs and down onto the street waiting to pick up their copy of the Star-Clipper newspaper. these salesmen then carried this tale to other towns on their stops.
Preservation of Staircase and Star-Clipper Building
in 1953, the Star-Clipper moved a block east into a ground floor establishment and sold the building to Gordon Smith, the druggist in the lower level. From this time until 1973, the Traer Chamber of Commerce continued to keep the staircase in repair as a community asset. Also during this time many offers to buy the staircase came from other towns and individuals that wanted to own the structure. Because of the fear that the staircase could possibly be sold and moved, in 1973 twenty-two local citizens formed the Traer Winding Stairs Association, Inc. and bought the staircase and the attached Star-Clipper building. In 1975, after the staircase was restored, the association leased it back to the Traer Chamber of Commerce to ensure its future upkeep. Later still, the staircase and building were resold to a ground floor tenant, Dr. Robert Ketter, a veterinarian, with a promise that the staircase and catwalk could not be sold without first letting the town purchase them.
Since 1978, the Winding Stairs and the attached building have been listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Currently, the Traer Museum owns the staircase and the building and the lower level is rented. Through its efforts in the last several years, Traer has ensured that the Star-Clipper building and the Winding Stairs will be preserved forever.