Howard has reached that part of life preoccupied by yet another syzygetic pair: inheritance and legacy. Psychologists call these “Age and Stage” issues. He wonders what he’s accomplished with the investments made in him by family and friends. And he’s equally curious about life’s detritus, the residual effect of our time here. What will he leave behind? I suspect that this piece concerning Kraus Bridge & Iron may be the first of a series guided by such questions.
“A few figs from thistles…”
by Howard A. Tabor
I had lunch yesterday with Toni Benedetti, president and CEO of KBIndustries, though most of us still know it as Kraus Bridge & Iron. She spoke with me about the old KB&I building at the foot of Louisa Avenue, birthplace of her family’s business one hundred and twenty-five years ago in 2013. She also spoke of a project the company has in mind for its future.
Anton Kraus, Toni Benedetti’s great-grandfather, had come to Agincourt in the mid-1880s with wife Emma and two small children. He wasn’t our first blacksmith, but Anton was surely our most artistic monger of metal. His wrought ironwork can still be seen around town: column capitals and desk lamps at the Farmers Merchants & Mechanics Bank, light fixtures at St. Joseph-the-Carpenter, a pair of entry gates at the college, among many other examples that make the twisting and turning of iron look as easy as tying your shoes but more graceful than the most meticulous spider’s work. By 1900 his smithy had grown; the boys, Klaus and Anton Jr., had learned the trade and joined the family business, now casting metal into utilitarian shapes as well as coercing it into more purely ornamental forms. Their breakthrough project–the one that put them into competition with foundries in Sioux City and Omaha–was the interurban depot project of 1909, still ornamenting the southwest corner of Louisa and Broad. Anton’s great-granddaughter Antonia and I sat in the window of Adams’ Restaurant across the street, admiring the glazed arcade where trollies once received and deposited passengers on the journey between Fort Dodge and Storm Lake until infernal combustion made them dinosaurs in an automotive age.
Antonia shared two ideas, one that I want to pass along to you.
On this spot…
Next year Kraus Foundry will celebrate two anniversaries: the 150th year since Anton Kraus’s birth in the German state of Thuringia and the 125th since the formation of his business here in Agincourt. The company has long since relocated to the Industrial Park west of the river but kept the old foundry out of nostalgia, I suspect. Toni’s board of directors proposes to give it to the Art Center, renovated as studios for artists-in-residence, galleries for their work and classrooms for the Fennimore County schools. Formal announcement will come next week, after details have been worked out with the school board.
Among the artifacts still preserved in the old building are the earliest casting beds for making things from molten metal–both iron and bronze. Toni is working with the folks at the Art Center on a competition to put those antiques to better use. I’ll keep the details of that project for my column next week. In the meantime, recall the palimpsest we inhabit, think about the stories layered in the streets and neighborhoods we walk about each day without thinking how they got to be that way.
These days, I have my doubts that even Agincourt is a place of sense. Antonia Benedetti proposes a way to at least heighten its sense of place.
And, by the way, the rhubarb pie at Adams is still legendary–with or without the vanilla ice cream.