FORT MADISON - Once it was hit by the near-record 2001 flood, a museum devoted to the 1993 flood was history.
When the Mississippi River receded after what experts say was a 500-to-1 combination of melting snow and rain, artifacts and reminders were collected from the Quad Cities to St. Louis.
Adjacent to the Santa Fe Depot Museum in Riverview Park, the old Santa Fe freight house had sat unused.
Volunteers prepared exhibits depicting the flood and its aftermath and the museum opened its doors for the first time in 1994.
The depot itself first became a museum in 1973, five years after the Santa Fe Railroad moved its passenger terminal to its present location off 20th Street.
Director Sheila Sallen wasn't yet working for the museum in 1993, but remembers the work that a group of hard-working volunteers did to keep the old depot from being ruined.
Some people worked to raise exhibits and artifacts above the expected flood level, while others built sandbag walls in an effort to prevent a deluge in the museum. Pumps were operated 24 hours a day.
Not everything could be protected, however, and some things were just left to chance.
"We had things like the caboose," she said. "I mean, how are you going to pick that up?"
There had been other floods, but none affected the depot museum like the one in 1993.
Countless others had the same experience. Water reached places in 1993 that had never before been affected by flooding.
Some $600,000 was put into rebuilding the museum and exhibits.
Mike Pratt, who lost a business in the 1993 flood, began preparing the flood museum while the main museum next door was being put back together. Eventually, both came under the auspices of Sallen and the North Lee County Historical Society.
About 7,000 people saw the flood museum the first year it opened.
Pictures and powerful stories adorned the walls, as well as framed newspaper front pages from cities all along the river.
But the 2001 flood overwhelmed an 18-inch wall of sandbags built by volunteers and Iowa State Penitentiary inmates.
Sallen said it was a combined sewage and sanitation system that did in the museum, letting river water rise up and inundate the museum from the inside.
The flood of 2001, with a crest measured at 21.9 feet at Fort Madison wasn't as bad as the one eight years earlier. The water reached 25.1 feet in 1993.
But it was enough to force both museums to close.
Sallen said it took all the money her organization had to reopen the depot museum, since the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other benefactors weren't as generous the second time around, she said.
"It's one thing at a time, and it's staffing, too," she said.
Once it is rebuilt, Sallen said it will concentrate more on the river's general history and less on the 1993 flood.
"Museums expand over time," she said.