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Preston Overlook good for another 75 years

Fri, Nov 2nd, 2012
Posted in Preston Features

The historic Preston Overlook has undergone a thorough makeover. Over the last three months, 75 years of time and weather has been erased. The Preston Overlook was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. It is a 1.8 acre property and serves as a wayside rest and a scenic overlook.

If you look carefully at a picture that was taken shortly after it was originally constructed in 1937-1938 and compare it with a picture after reconstruction, you will see the most obvious difference. The young Oak tree centrally located on the flagstone walk was there when it was first constructed and stands tall, strong, 75 years older and much more majestic today.

The beginnings of the restoration of the overlook began several years ago with the effort to raise the funds to do the restoration. Kathryn McFadden is a licensed landscape architect and the Historic Properties Program manager with MnDot. Her office, with the help of the historic scenic highway group, successfully applied for a federal Scenic Byways grant. The Preston project was one of five projects that benefited when the Minnesota Scenic Byways Program received more than $2.3 million through the Federal Highway Administration. The amount awarded for the Preston project was $787,516. MnDot’s District 6 is to provide 20 percent matching funds. The final number as to the actual cost has not been tallied at this point.

McFadden was quoted in MnDot Newsline after the Scenic Byways grant was awarded saying, “Historic properties can easily be lost if not properly restored. We could never build this site again. Now it’s going to be saved.” She was referring to the Preston Overlook restoration.

The restoration began in early July and took about three months to complete. The original building of the overlook took about four and one-half months during the country’s Great Depression. It was built through a work-for-relief program, the federal National Reemployment Service, part of the New Deal. The efforts of the Women’s Civic Improvement Club in Preston back in the early 1930s for highway beautification paved the way for the original project.

The limestone walls and flagstone walk were originally constructed from limestone taken from a quarry located below the overlook. With the restoration, some of that original limestone was reused. The Root River flows about 90 feet below, and with the leaves off the trees the river is clearly visible.

Arthur Nichols, a recognized and respected Minnesota landscape architect, did the original design of the overlook. He consulted with MnDot from 1930-1940. Kathryn McFadden has been the design manager for the restoration project. Because it is on the National Register of Historic Places, it is mandated to reconstruct it exactly as it was first constructed in the 1930s.

Environmental Associates are historic preservation masons and served as the main contractor on the project. The project included not only the restoration of the limestone walls and flagstone walk or plaza, but also the circular drive, new shrubs, trees and sod.

There are a number of historic roadside development structures along Minnesota’s trunk highways. Many were built during the Great Depression through federal programs. McFadden sees these structures as irreplaceable historical resources which serve as a link between the work of one generation and future generations.

McFadden believes rest stops are part of a safe road system. Travelers use the overlook as a place to rest, stretch, or enjoy a picnic lunch along with the scenery. The Historic Elevator in Preston, distant farmland, the city of Preston nestled in the valley below, the Fillmore County Fairgrounds, and wooded hills and ravines can be taken in from this site, one of the highest points near Preston.

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