It takes a lot chutzpah to survive 175+ years – especially if you’re an older building with a sinking foundation, a leaky roof, and/or your walls have plaster cracks running from ceiling to floor. Some buildings, of course, get preferential treatment. Old Capitol, for example, here in Iowa City, has had three major facelifts (1920’s, 1970’s, and the early 2000’s) plus a lot of tender-loving care over its 180+ year watch.
Sadly, many of the buildings of yesteryear are long gone. The SUI Red-Brick Campus of 1895 (above), for example, had sixteen different buildings scattered on and around University Square (today’s Pentacrest). Yet today, only two of those buildings still remain – Old Capitol (1840) and Calvin Hall (1884).
On this post, I’d like to share with you the short stories of fifteen long-time Iowa City survivors – extant buildings – outside of Old Capitol – that have stood the test of time and have just kept on keeping on – leaving us with a set of beautiful reminders that just because one is old, it doesn’t mean that you’re no longer useful! So, here we go…
Soon after Johnson County pioneer – Frederick M. Irish – arrived here in 1838, he put a claim on land just north and east of what would become – in 1839 – Iowa City. Here, Irish built his first log cabin (similar to what’s pictured below), and when Iowa City was named the county seat of Johnson County – October 8, 1839 – the city leaders met in Irish’s cabin from October 9th, 1839 until 1842 when the new Johnson County Court House opened. Read more here.
So, you might be wondering about the pictures below. They sure don’t look like a log cabin built in 1839, do they? But wait! Here’s the full story…
F. M. Irish’s Log Cabin – When Frederick M. Irish moved from his log cabin into a larger home he had built close-by (1849), he maintained ownership of this original property – today’s 1310 Cedar Street – until October of 1860. At that point, William Hamilton purchased the cabin – owning it until 1865. It was during that time that Hamilton built a larger home (see pic above left) around Irish’s original log cabin – a practice that was much more common during this time than one might imagine. By 1870, city tax records indicate that the house you see above had been built – and yes – remains even today (see pic above right) with the dining room area actually being the original log cabin of Frederick M. Irish! This amazing fact means that F.M. Irish’s log cabin of 1839 is still in existence today, making it (with an asterisk) the oldest surviving residential property in Johnson County – older, yes, than even Old Capitol! Read more here.
The Hutchinson-Kuhl House – located at 119 W. Park Road – was built around 1840 by Robert R. Hutchinson – who became Iowa City’s first town marshal. Hutchinson, a carpenter from New Hampshire who specialized in building window sashes and doors, also owned a quarry that was located near, what is today, North Riverside Drive, and it was that quarry that provided foundation and basement wall stone for early local buildings, including the new Territorial capitol building – which began construction in the spring of 1840. As owner of the quarry, Hutchinson took some of the limestone rejects from the capitol building project and built his one-story stone farmhouse on the west side of the Iowa River – today’s Park Road. Read more about the Hutchinsons here. In 1927, Hutchinson’s descendants sold the house to SUI English professor Ernest P. Kuhl, and it underwent extensive renovation, including a second floor with dormers (see pics below). In 1977, the University of Iowa purchased the Kuhl home, finally making it the home of the University of Iowa Press in February 1988.
The Sanxay-Gilmore House – Frederic Sanxay (1791-1875) purchased this piece of property – 109 East Market Street – on June 16, 1842, and it’s believed that a good portion of this two-story Greek Revival house was built around that time by Frederick’s son – Theodore Sanxay, and his wife, Hetty Ann (below). The large blocks of limestone which compose the foundation of the original house are thought to be left over from the construction of the new capitol building just two blocks away.
Theodore Sanxay came to Iowa City with his father Frederic and opened a store in the town’s first two-story brick commercial structure on July 4, 1840 – the same day the cornerstone of Old Capitol was laid. In addition, Sanxay (1819-1892) was a trustee of North Presbyterian Church (Old Brick) and served, over his long career, as a director, vice president, and acting president of the Johnson County Savings Bank. The Sanxay Family owned the property on Market Street until 1920, and in 1946, Eugene and Blanche Gilmore bought the house. Gilmore served as SUI President from 1934 to 1940, and before that, as vice governor-general of the Philippine Islands, and then professor and dean of the SUI law school. In the 1990’s, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church – located directly east of the house – purchased the home and became a good steward for over two decades. In 2018, the University purchased the property and made plans to move this old classic in order to make room for new construction. A public outcry arose, and as of this writing (2023), the University has mothballed the project. Still, as one of the oldest buildings remaining in Iowa City, the Sanxay-Gilmore House remains on the highly-endangered list.
Plum Grove – After leaving the governor’s office in 1841, Robert Lucas returned briefly to Ohio (1843), so he might run for the U.S. Congress. Defeated in that election, the Lucas’ sold all their land in Ohio, and moved to Iowa City, settling here with his wife, Friendly, and several of his children and grandchildren. In 1844, he built this beautiful home for his family on a plot of land (461 acres) south and east of the city that he had acquired in 1839. That homestead would later come to be known as Plum Grove – located at 1030 Carroll Street. The property was bought by the State of Iowa in 1943, refurbished as a monument to Governor Lucas and his family, and opened to the public during Iowa’s Centennial celebration (1946). Plum Grove was included on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, and today, the property is maintained by the Johnson County Historical Society and is a popular tourist site. Read more here.
The Windrem House – located on Iowa Avenue – six blocks east of Old Capitol, this two-story limestone and brick home was built around 1845 by William Windrem. Windrem was an Irish immigrant who learned the carpenter’s trade in Ogdensburg, New York, and came to Iowa City in 1842 to use his skills in finishing up the construction of Old Capitol. Iowa City historian, Margaret N. Keyes, tells us more…
The Barnes-Crowley House – This simple one-story home is constructed of native yellow-brown sandstone and was built by Almon Barnes, who purchased the property from the Territory of Iowa on May 29, 1846. This means this modest house was being built here on North Johnson Street at the same time Iowa was in the midst of becoming the 29th State in the Union. Records indicate that a Mr. Crowley purchased the home from the Barnes, and then, Roger Anderson (1980’s) and George A. Jansen (2000’s) owned the home and won many awards for their work of restoration on this beloved Colonial-style classic. Below, are pictures of how the home appears today.
The Jacob Wentz House – Jacob Wentz (1816-1883) – a shoemaker – was a native of Germany and arrived here in Iowa City in the early 1840’s. Records indicate that Jacob bought another property on Market Street (409 E. Market) on June 28, 1847 and began construction on a home there immediately. On that same date in 1847, Caroline Wentz – possibly Jacob’s daughter – is listed on a deed for a property located at 219 N. Gilbert. It’s believed that Jacob and his wife Christina immediately began to build two fairly similar houses on the properties. The Wentz home on Market – which was, sadly, torn down in 1966 – was a plainer version of the two-story, yellow-brown sandstone house they built on Gilbert Street. The ten-room Wentz House was included on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, and in 1978, became the perfect host to the popular bookstore – The Haunted Bookshop.
The Sylvanus Johnson House – Sylvanus Johnson – one of Iowa City’s earliest settlers, arriving here in 1839 – was a Connecticut native who worked in his father’s brickyard before moving to Iowa. I like to call him Mr. Red Brick since it was his brickyard (1840) in Outlot 24 – at the corner of Burlington and Gilbert Streets (see map below) – that made much of the building material used in the earliest days of The Red Brick Campus. Click here to read all about The Red Brick Campus.
When Sylvanus married his Connecticut sweetheart, Emily Bradley, in 1845, he had already been purchasing large pieces of land north of Iowa City in order to supply adequate firewood for his brick-making furnaces. By 1847, he owned 600 acres, and in 1857 built a beautiful home there which still stands today (see pics here). But in the meantime, the Johnson’s built a small brick home located at 412 N. Dubuque. Sylvanus took possession of this property (see map above) on March 16, 1847 and it’s our guess he put this home together pretty quickly using bricks from his own brickyard. Below – this is how the property looks today.
Rose Hill – As we mentioned earlier, Frederick M. Irish arrived in Johnson County in 1838, built a log cabin on timbered land located just north and east of Iowa City in 1839. That first log cabin became the host for Johnson County business meetings until 1842. In the meantime, Irish purchased an additional thirty acres of land adjacent to his cabin and began calling his, now, slightly-enlarged log cabin and the surrounding grounds – Rose Hill.
In 1849, Irish decided to build a much larger red-brick home just south and east of his log cabin, calling it the new Rose Hill once the Irish family moved in around 1850. Many historians believe Rose Hill – located at today’s 1415 E. Davenport – was part of the Underground Railroad during the Civil War era, since the Irish family sided with the many anti-slavery abolitionists living in Iowa City at the time. Rose Hill was included on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992, and today sits adjacent to the beautiful Hickory Hill Park. Read more here.
The Charles Berryhill House – Charles H. Berryhill was a Pennsylvania native who moved to Iowa City in 1839. Described as a “merchant, farmer, and speculator,” he was a charter member of the local Old Settlers’ Association. His house was built – at 414 Brown Street – over a period of about 15 years, with the original two-story brick main block built in 1850. The oldest section of the home features a bracketed cornice, decorative window hoods, and columned porches, with various brick and frame additions that were built onto the back of the house in the succeeding years.
It’s believed that Charles Berryhill was the owner of The Athenaeum – one of Iowa City’s earliest performance halls. Opening in the 1850’s, Berryhill’s first building was on Market Street near Clinton – adjacent to North Presbyterian Church, and it hosted a variety of entertainment-oriented events. From noted speakers to elegant concerts, Iowa Citians were treated to the finer things in life and it could very well be that the tag line “Iowa City – The Athens of Iowa” originated from this first Athenaeum location. More details here.
The Reno-Sales House – In February 1839 – three months before Chauncey Swan and Robert Ronalds would hand-pick the location for Iowa’s new capitol building – pioneers Asaph Allen and George T. Andrews built a claim cabin on Johnson County land near, what is today, the Iowa City intersection of Brown Street and Gilbert Street (see map below). By June 1839, they had built a second cabin about 20 feet away from the original one, placed a roof over the space in-between, and before long, they had opened up a tavern.
Over the next few years, this double log-cabin – located on The National Road as it came into the north end of town – became Iowa City’s first “hotel/tavern” – where visitors to our fair community could have a roof over their head, a hot meal, a few drinks, and a place to lay their head. You can read more here. In 1851, all that changed when Louis T. Reno purchased the property on Brown Street, tore down most of the double-wide log cabin, and hastily built the building you see see pictured above. Author Margaret N. Keyes tells us more…
In 1971, the Sales Brothers – John & Fred purchased the home – remodeling and rehabilitating it into the home – 2 units – 327 & 329 Brown Street – we see (below) today.
The William Bostick House – An Iowa City business man named William H. Bostick built this two-story Greek Revival home (below) at 115 North Gilbert Street in 1851, and in July 1855, sold it to Alexander Rider and Dr. Henry Murray who wanted it used for civic purposes. Rider was an early settler in Johnson County who owned the livery stable, and records indicate that Murray and Rider wanted the Bostick House for the purpose of having it serve as Iowa City’s first City Hall before the city was incorporated in 1853.
When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Dr. Murray (above left) played a key role in helping Johnson County form regiments and gather supplies for the Union Army. It’s believed that the Bostick House was used as a recruitment center for the war, and amazingly, Dr. Murray personally offered eighty acres of land to any Johnson County soldier who returned home from the war with an honorable discharge! Read more here.
The Bostick House was individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996, and in 2004 it was included as a contributing property in the Jefferson Street Historic District.
The Branch-Linder House – Built in 1852, this Greek Revival style home is very similar in design to Robert Lucas’ Plum Grove and Iowa City lawyer – Gilman Folsom’s two-story home (see details here) located on the west side of the Iowa River – opposite the Iowa Avenue Bridge. The original owner of this home – built at 120 North Dodge – is listed as S. F. W. Branch, but sadly, we know nothing more about this early Iowa City pioneer. It’s believed that the large wing to the left was added around 1875 when the home belonged to its second owner – Henry Linder.
The Henry C. Nicking House – Henry C. Nicking (1799-1878) arrived in Iowa City in July 1854, bought land and began building this New England Colonial home at 410 East Market. Born in Hanover, Germany, Nicking brought his wife, Louise, and his family, and by 1856 had opened Nicking Barber Shop which remained in business for 50 years – passing into the hands of Henry C. Nicking, Jr. (1838-1906) before being sold in 1905.
The Henry C. Nicking House was included on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975,
The Downey-Pickering House – Located high on a hill at the northern edge of the Iowa City city limits (1838), Hugh D. Downey – city banker, attorney and real estate dealer – built Prospect Hill in the early 1850’s – circa 1854. Located at today’s 834 North Johnson, this luxurious one-story home was a prime example of the Greek Revival style with a pedimented portico and carries the unsubstantiated claim of being designed by architect John Rague, who designed Old Capitol.
As you can see from the map (above) Prospect Hill appeared on the 1854 Iowa City promotional map produced by the local banking service – Cook, Sargent & Downey. Read more here. Other owners over the years include John A.A. Pickering, who operated a china, glass & gift store in Iowa City, and Bruce R. Glasgow, added on to the house – as you can see from the pics below.
Well, we hope you’ve enjoyed this journey – from 1839 to 1854. 15 years – 15 survivors. Here’s a big salute to these Iowa City classics. May you live on forever!
Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.
Kudos to Margaret N. Keyes and her 1993 classic – Nineteenth Century Home Architecture of Iowa City. This book served as the key reference for this page.
List of the oldest buildings in Iowa, Wikipedia
Early Iowa City Log Cabin – Illustration 2, Fred W. Kent, August 18, 1926, Margaret N. Keyes, Nineteenth Century Home Architecture Of Iowa City, p 11
The Irish-Hamilton-Turner House – (Rose Hill #1) – Margaret N. Keyes, Nineteenth Century Home Architecture Of Iowa City, pp 26-28
The Oldest Residential Building in Iowa City, Zachery Oren Smith, Twitter Thread, June 1, 2020
The Hutchinson-Kuhl House – Illustration 3, Fred W. Kent, May, 1927, Margaret N. Keyes, Nineteenth Century Home Architecture Of Iowa City, p 14
Saturday Postcard 230: Iowa City’s Hutchinson Quarry, Bob Hibbs, February 7, 2004
Kuhl House: A Publishing World Behind Old Bricks, Elisabeth Oster, November 18, 2019
The Sanxay-Gilmore House – Illustration 29, Margaret N. Keyes, Nineteenth Century Home Architecture Of Iowa City, pp 45-47
Hetty Ann Perry Sanxay, Find-A-Grave
Endangered: Sanxay-Gilmore House, Iowa City, Preservation Iowa, February 3, 2018
University of Iowa will no longer be relocating the Sanxay-Gilmore House, leaving the historic home’s future uncertain, Izabela Zaluska, Little Village Magazine, May 5, 2021
Plum Grove – Illustration 17, Margaret N. Keyes, Nineteenth Century Home Architecture Of Iowa City, pp 31-32
Plum Grove Historic House, Wikipedia
Windrem-Green House – Illustration 9, Margaret N. Keyes, Nineteenth Century Home Architecture Of Iowa City, pp 20-21
Barnes-Crowley House – Illustration 5, Margaret N. Keyes, Nineteenth Century Home Architecture Of Iowa City, pp 16-18
Barnes-Crowley House, Iowa City Historic Preservation Plan – 2008 – Appendices, February 2008, pp 19, I-2
Appendix B: National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) Iowa City Listings, Iowa City Historic Preservation Plan – 2008 – Appendices, February 2008, pp B-1-B-2
Jacob Wentz House – Illustration 22, Margaret N. Keyes, Nineteenth Century Home Architecture Of Iowa City, pp 36-37
The Haunted Bookshop, 219 N. Gilbert St, Iowa City
Sylvanus Johnson House – Illustration 11, Margaret N. Keyes, Nineteenth Century Home Architecture Of Iowa City, pp 23-24
412 N. Dubuque Street, Iowa City, Google Maps
The F.M. Irish House – (Rose Hill #2) – Margaret N. Keyes, Nineteenth Century Home Architecture Of Iowa City, pp 38-39
Rose Hill, Iowa City, Iowa, Wikipedia
Hickory Hill Park, City of Iowa City
Charles Berryhill House, Wikipedia
Charles H. Berryhill, Find-A-Grave
The Reno-Sales House, Margaret N. Keyes, Nineteenth Century Home Architecture Of Iowa City, pp 125-126
Bostick House, Architectural and Historical Resources of Original Town Plat Neighborhood (Phase II), 1845 -1945, National Register of Historic Places, March 28, 2000, p 12
William Bostick House, Wikipedia
Bostick House, A guide to the recently-saved pieces of Iowa City history, Marlin Ingalls, Little Village Magazine, February 14, 2013
The Branch-Linder House, Margaret N. Keyes, Nineteenth Century Home Architecture Of Iowa City, pp 34-35
Nicking’s Barber Shop, The Iowa Citizen, June 3, 1892, p 6
Henry C Nicking, Sr., Find-A-Grave
Henry C. Nicking, Jr., Find-A-Grave
The Nicking House, Margaret N. Keyes, Nineteenth Century Home Architecture Of Iowa City, p 18
The Downey-Pickering-Glasgow House, Margaret N. Keyes, Nineteenth Century Home Architecture Of Iowa City, pp 28-30
Hugh D. Downey, Oakland Cemetery- Find-A-Grave
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