Iowa City – Coast to Coast.

In the spring of 1854, Craft Coast (1816-1864), his wife Nancy Ragan (1816-1866), and their three children – William Philip, Oscar Ragan, and Mary Elizabeth – moved to Iowa City from Youngstown, Ohio.

Iowa City in 1854

According to Iowa City historian, Clarence Ray Aurner…

The elder Coast, upon arrival at Iowa City, entered the real estate and brokerage business. He bought and sold land and loaned money. He took a great interest in the improvement of all conditions in Johnson County, and the effect of his vigorous personality and his timely activities is manifest to the present time. He was a man greatly beloved by a large circle of personal friends, who expressed their sorrow on the occasion of his death at Iowa City, in January, 1864.

William Philip – the oldest child – was born on May 5, 1841 in Ohio and was thirteen years old when the Coast family arrived in Iowa City (1854). William attended the public schools here and was one of the first students who entered the State University of Iowa (SUI). Read more about the early years of SUI here. After graduating from SUI’s Normal School, William attended college at Oberlin in Ohio, after which, at age twenty-one, he returned to Iowa City to begin his career in business. According to records, William engaged in a variety of different work until the death of his father (1864), at which time he took full charge of the Coast estate. It was in October 1864, that William also married Mary Ellen Bradshaw, who was born in Indiana in May 1842, and came to Johnson County with her parents when she was only three months old. Her father, James P. Bradshaw was among the earliest pioneers of Iowa City, being one of the first merchants in the county. At the time of his death, in 1851, he was postmaster of Iowa City.

Sadly, we know very little about the early years of the Coast’s two younger children – Oscar Ragan and Mary Elizabeth, who also went by the name Mollie. Both were born in Ohio and after the family moved here in 1854, we know that it wasn’t too long before George H. Yewell, Iowa City’s young budding artist, came courting for Mollie’s hand in marriage. Once George & Mollie – who were married in 1863 – headed for New York City and Europe (1870’s), we know that Oscar – a budding artist as well – traveled with them. Read more here.

Which now brings us back to William P. and his wife Mary Ellen…

One of the three Coast homes – this one located on North Clinton Street near the new SUI President’s Home.

Without a doubt, William P. inherited a good deal of money from his father, and it seems that he added to that fortune during the latter part of the 19th century. Iowa City was growing rapidly during this time and it’s apparent that the Coast family was growing right along with it. The Coasts settled into a beautiful home on North Clinton Street and two sons were born – Preston Craft April 11, 1870 – and ten years later – William OscarSeptember 5, 1880.

Iowa City historian, Irving Weber, wrote about the multiple Coast homes in Iowa City.

Advertised as “the most beautiful small store in America.”

In 1890, William P. Coast bought out an existing furnishing goods house – Cushman & Talbott – and in 1891, partnered with James H. Easley to establish Coast & Easley Clothiers of Iowa City. A well-to-do man – with the Coast family being long-involved in real estate – W.P. built a new state-of-the-art building for his new business – moving in around the fall of 1892 – right in the middle of town on South Clinton Street.

Coast & Easley Clothiers was located just south of The St. James Hotel on South Clinton Street – occupying the north and middle bays (10-12) of their new building that opened in 1892. Below is a front-page add for Coast & Easley in The Iowa Citizen from 1891.

In 1899, Coast bought out a retiring Easley, added a men’s furnishings department and a tailoring service, and brought in his oldest son, Preston C. to make it all happen. Eight years later, in 1906, as the business continued to prosper and expand, younger son, William O. joined the team – which, of course, changed the business name to…

This article came from the February 9, 1906 edition of The Iowa City Daily Press.

Preston C. and Grace M. McGee married in 1894, having two daughters, Marjory and Alice. William O. and Maud C. Kingsbury married ten years later (1904), having two daughters, Louise and Mary Ellen. All the while, the Coast family pulled together – making Coast & Sons into the “most beautiful small store in the United States” (see postcard below).

Ads from The Iowa City Daily Press – March 1912 and March 1913…

(C-0288) Here’s a postal cover from 1912 featuring the Coast & Sons logo.

William Philip Coast suffered a severe stroke in 1906, but with his sons’ help, Coast & Sons kept on growing right up until the time of his death (near age 74) in 1915. Sadly, Mary Ellen (Bradshaw) Coast died the year before (1914) at the age of 72. Both are buried in Oakland Cemetery in Iowa City, as are both sets of their parents.

FYI- the obit (above) states that Mary Ellen had three sons. In fact, there were only twoPreston C. & William O.

Historian Clarence Ray Aurner wrote these kind words about the Coasts less than one year before Mary Ellen’s death in 1914…

William Philip Coast and family are attendants and members of the First Presbyterian Church. Practically all their lives have been lived in Johnson County, and the record of their activities is an open book, without blot or erasement. Lives like these are an honor to any community, and furnish conspicuous examples for emulation. It is a sufficient encomium for any couple to write of them: “Sixty years residents of Iowa City, and beloved by all who know them.” That is particularly true of William Philip and Mary Ellen Bradshaw Coast.

After their father’s death in 1915, the two Coast brothers continued on with the business, keeping it prosperous for at least another twenty years. Yet, that success didn’t occur without some serious hiccups…

Circa 1915 – The St. James Hotel – on the corner of Clinton St. & Iowa Avenue – with the Coast Building directly to the south.

On Good Friday, April 21, 1916 – disaster struck. An early morning fire broke out in the St. James Hotel – located adjacent to the Coast Building. Before it was all over, the St. James was lost and the Coast family suffered severe losses (see pic below).

The Coast Building had heavy fire damage – particularly at the rear portion of the facility.

Fortunately, while the fire losses were huge, insurance covered most of the damage – and after a few weeks of cleanup, Coast & Sons re-opened for business.

Even during the worst of the depression, Coasts was able to survive.

Records indicate, however, that brothers William O. and Preston C. finally sold out the business to Towners Clothing around 1935 – concluding a successful 45 year-run in Iowa City. Sadly, neither brother lived much longer beyond this anniversary point.

Preston Craft Coast (age 67) died on January 12th, 1937, and William Oscar Coast followed in death (age 57) the next month – on February 28th. Both men and their spouses are buried with their parents and grandparents in Oakland Cemetery in Iowa City.

Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.

Coast & Sons, Iowa City, Iowa, between 1915 and 1920, UI Digital Library

Image 06. Historic Image – View of S. Clinton buildings at storefronts 10 – 22 – ca.1890, Survey and Evaluation Update, Iowa City Central Business District, City of Iowa City, Iowa City Historic Preservation Commission, October 2018, Section E p. 14

Image 08. Coast & Sons – 10-14 S. Clinton Street, Survey and Evaluation Update, Iowa City Central Business District, City of Iowa City, Iowa City Historic Preservation Commission, October 2018, Section E p. 16

Coast & Easley advertisement, The Iowa Citizen, May 22, 1891, p 1

Coast & Sons, Clothiers, Furnishers, Tailors, Iowa City, Iowa, Iowa City Library

Historic Downtown Buildings Map, Iowa City, Iowa,

Sire And Sons Join Hands Now, The Iowa City Daily Press, February 9, 1906, p 21

William Philip Coast, Leading Events in Johnson County, Iowa – Volume 2 – Clarence Ray (C.R.) Aurner, 1913, p 39-40

Houses Went From Coast to Coast, Irving Weber, The Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 19, 1987, p1B,3B

40 Nearly Trapped In Fire, The Iowa City Citizen, April 21, 1916, p 1

Craft Coast, Find-A-Grave

Nancy Ragan Coast, Find-A-Grave

Oscar Ragan Coast, Find-A-Grave

William Phillip Coast, Find-A-Grave

Twenty Years ago Today In Iowa City, The Iowa City Press-Citizen, March 22, 1935, p 6

Mary Ellen Bradshaw Coast, Find-A-Grave

Preston C. Coast, Prominent Business Man, Succumbs This Morning, Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 12, 1937, p 2

Preston Craft Coast, Find-A-Grave

William O. Coast Dies Suddenly of Heart Attack in Home Sunday, Iowa City Press-Citizen, March 1, 1937, p 2

William Oscar Coast, Find-A-Grave

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