The year was 1863 the year of Vicksburg, Gettysburg, and the Emancipation Proclamation. Thousands of young men from Iowa were fighting to preserve the Union. In Tama County, communities were springing up and growing as groups of settlers moved into the new state. That summer, two gentlemen, C.S. Breese and J. Hunter, laid out the streets and boundaries of a new village, about 10 miles east of Toledo, on the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad line and about a mile from the Iowa River. The little community was given the name Chelsea.
The town wasn't officially incorporated until 1878, and in the next decades large waves of Bohemian (Czech) immigrants moved to the area. Sometime around the turn of the 20th century, members of this new group formed a chapter of the "Zapadni Cestro-Bratrske Jednoty (ZCBJ) fraternal society, now known as the Western Fraternal Life Association. With fraternal pride, the ZCBJ members built a large meeting hall, just off Station Street in Chelsea, and, over the next decades, the ZCBJ Hall served as a center of community life in Chelsea. It was a place where wedding dances, holiday parties, family reunions, school graduations, patriotic events and community meetings were held.
Today, after more than a century's use, the historic ZCBJ Hall is known simply as the Chelsea Community Center. Its function, however, remains much the same. It continues to be a center of community life in the village of Chelsea. It is maintained by the Chelsea Community Club, a group of approximately two dozen individuals who meet regularly to plan activities and events of interest for the people of the community.
Windows in the Chelsea Community Center were replaced with energy efficient windows recently with funding provided by a Tama County Community Foundation grant.
A recent grant from the Tama County Community Foundation (TCCF), an affiliate of the Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa, is helping with two significant building preservation projects at the historic ZCBJ Hall. In the fall of 2012, the old, drafty windows were all replaced by energy efficient fiberglass windows. The new windows were selected to maintain the historic appearance, while greatly improving the energy efficiency and functionality of the structure. They were installed by volunteers from the community, led by members of the Chelsea Community Club.
The second phase of the grant-supported project will be pouring a concrete parking slab and rebuilding an entrance ramp to meet access standards. This part of the project will take place in the spring, again using volunteers to leverage the grant dollars received from the TCCF. Future needs include addressing an aging heating system for the building.
A recent visitor to Chelsea enjoyed meeting with Tom Dvorak, a member of the Community Club, who explained the preservation project and talked enthusiastically about the sense of friendship and camaraderie that has grown among the club members around this project. It is obvious that the sense of community pride will carry on to the next generation, too, as Tom's young daughter, even at age 3, enjoys going to the dances and parties at the Community Center.
TCCF serves throughout the county as a catalyst for community development. As in Chelsea, grants from the TCCF often can provide the seed money or the materials cost for community improvement projects. TCCF is able to assist 501(c)(3) charitable organizations, schools, and governmental entities with grant funding to support important projects and needed programs in Tama County. The Foundation's primary goals are to support charitable projects and programs, to attract additional funds, and to assist donors in creating lasting legacies through a variety of giving options within Tama County. For information about the TCCF, contact the Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa at (319) 287-9106 or Rick Krug, Chair of the Tama County Community Foundation at (319) 478-2148.