A History Worth Preserving

July 5, 2020

Every year, approximately 60,000 people from the Cedar Valley and beyond explore the Grout Museum District. The District consists of five buildings on the south end of downtown Waterloo, including the Grout Museum, the Rensselaer Russell House Museum, the Snowden House, the Bluedorn Science Imaginarium, and the Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum. As Billie Bailey, Grout Museum District executive director, describes the District, “It is the caretaker and steward of the community’s history and its memory. It has been doing that for 64 years and will continue. It is a place where anybody can exercise or discover their interest in science and research. It’s a place to gather with people and reminisce or tell family stories. It is a place to celebrate the life of the community.”

The Grout Museum District is a place created, sustained, and growing because of generosity, much of which Billie has witnessed firsthand since starting her career here as an intern in 1979. 

“I have been very fortunate to know some incredible people,” said Billie. “They were inspirational and have done so much good for this community and left a lasting legacy. You’ll find their names on our buildings and all over town.”

Many Cedar Valley residents have loved the Museum District, and have left a legacy for the place they loved through the Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa. Since 2005, the Grout Museum District has received over $1 million in CFNEIA grants. In addition to discretionary grants from CFNEIA and donor advised funds, the Grout receives grants from seven funds established by families or individuals in their will designated to support the District forever.

“There’s a sense of gratitude on the part of our board and staff because these funds illustrate people have a trust and a belief that what the Museum is doing is worthwhile and worth preserving,” said Billie of those who have been so generous to the Grout Museum District. “It’s our history, and they feel like it will enrich the community as a whole to preserve it.”

And, as Billie says, our history is worth preserving for future generations. “I think Waterloo is uniquely positioned because it is more like the rest of the world than anywhere in Iowa. It has a very diverse population and industry. The District helps people learn about and recognize the value and importance of the history of their community and makes them feel proud to be from Waterloo, Iowa, and the Cedar Valley.”