With only about 30 residents, the small Village of Iatan faces the threat of fading away into history, but two members of the village board of trustees are working to find a way for the village to not only survive, but again thrive.
Crystal Weaver and Daniel Schultz joined the four-member board of trustees last spring, with Schultz elected as board chair. Located off Highway 45 north of Weston, the name Iatan is more closely associated with Kansas City Power and Light’s Iatan Generating Station than the original village.
Iatan was founded in 1842 as one of many river towns dotting the shores of the Missouri River. The village began to dwindle after the river shifted its course about a century ago.
Schultz said the last businesses in town closed in the 1980s and the population has steadily fallen ever since.
“It would be awesome to see the town live again,” Weaver said. “We’re trying hard to make it a community again, but to do that we have to have basic services available again.”
While last year the board was able to host a community dinner, and has made baby steps to repairing roads, the town has financial difficulties and a large list of needs.
Primary amongst these needs is the extensive repair or complete replacement of a bridge that’s been closed since the Midwest Flood of 1993. The bridge over Mission Creek was originally built in 1885 and served as the primary connector between the two sections of town. Since it was damaged and closed in 1993 there has been no direct vehicle access across the creek without using Highway 45.
Schultz lives just south of the defunct bridge, and said his children – and other kids who live on the other side of the bridge – are forced to either walk along the BNSF Railroad tracks, alongside the highway or brave crossing the old wooden bridge to ride the school bus.
As the bridge has deteriorated, residents have performed some patchwork repairs, shoring up rotting wood with pallets and plywood.
Not only is this a perilous trip for school kids, but the closure also creates potential access problems for emergency vehicles. The roadway that was adapted for general use after the bridge closure contains a tight turn that large vehicles cannot negotiate.
“Now you probably only need an ambulance up in there once every 10 years, but when you need one you need it,” Schultz said.
Restoration or replacement of the old bridge are pricey prospects, and without help are out of reach for a town with less than $2,000 in its general fund.
The village almost went into bankruptcy last year, Weaver said, and she and others on the current board are still working to sort out the financial records.
“We have the knowledge and labor and equipment in town to do something here, we just need money,” Schultz said.
According to Platte County director of public works Bob Heim, the bridge has been out of service for too long to qualify for state grant funding. Over the years, the county has tried to help village leaders raise funds to work on the bridge, but the partnerships have always fallen through.
Money raised during the last attempt, almost 10 years ago, appears to be missing from the city accounts, Weaver said. Records have been damaged or lost, and the state of the village’s only municipal building doesn’t help.
City hall is located in an old mobile home without running water or heat. The roof leaks due to damage from a falling tree and the drop ceiling is collapsing. Schultz and Weaver use their own computers for city business, as the city has no computer equipment, and paper records are incomplete.
Financial and municipal records aren’t the only thing difficult to track. Weaver said the town has lost much of its long history as well. Weaver has visited local historical societies and the morgues of local newspapers for photographs and historical accounts of old Iatan.
Records for the old Iatan Cemetery, located on a hill high above the village and with graves dating from the 1830s, are also missing. While volunteers have cleared brush from the cemetery and keep it mowed, many gravestones are damaged or missing. No burial map can be found, so while the city has a list of names, the locations of most of the 100-plus graves are unknown.
Weaver is seeking any and all information locals may have about the village and its history. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.