Penny Postcards – The Center Of Iowa City.

Here’s a map of the Central Business District of Iowa City – 1900.

Earlier, we showed you some postcards from the turn-of-the-century that featured Old Capitol and Iowa Avenue, so now let’s look at a few other spots around downtown Iowa City as viewed through penny postcards from 1900-1920. We’ll start here…

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City Hall – In 1881, Iowa City built a new City Hall Building at the corner of Washington & Linn streets. The Fire Department headquarters was moved to this building. Ironically, the building nearly burned to the ground that year when a gas hose dryer was left on in the fire department, starting a fire that caused about $17,000 in damage. The cost of rebuilding the hall was $9,925. The fire department managed to prevent any more fires in their new quarters and remained in that building until 1962, when the building was demolished. Click here to read more about City Hall and its place in Iowa City “skyscraper” history.

Iowa City’s Promotional Push – It’s believed that the first letters of the slogan “See Us Increase” are a play on the State University of Iowa – SUI – which is how the University was referenced until the early 1960’s. Read more here.

(P-0039) Iowa City Promotional Post Card Featuring City Hallcirca 1910. Click here to read more about Herb Gartzke – historical keeper of the City Hall bell and clock.
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(P-0036) The Iowa City Fire Department was housed in City Hall – Here’s one of the fire wagons shown in 1908 with the Iowa City Post Office in background.
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The original U.S. Post Office in Iowa City is a Beaux Arts-style building, built of Indiana Limestone in 1904. This post card from 1906 shows the original building before expansion in 1931. It remained the city’s central post office until 1975. On April 17, 1979, the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today the old building houses the Iowa City Senior Center.
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Let’s continue our Iowa City tour on the busy Washington Street…

(P-0276) City Hall looking west on Washington Street.
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(P-0037) A view of downtown Iowa City near the corner of Washington & Dubuque Streets – looking west – circa 1914. On the left is the Jefferson Hotel.
Washington & Clinton Streets – looking east.
(P-0038) A View of downtown Iowa City – the corner of Washington & Clinton Streets – looking east toward City Hall – 1910
Circa 1910 – Washington Street Celebration – note the Englert Theatre on the left.
(C-0211) The Burkley-Imperial European Hotel at 9 West Washington Street – across from Schaeffer Hall – where Old Capitol Mall is now located.

Below – the Washington Street business district continues one block further west of the Burkley Hotel (on left).

Above (P-0292) The new Iowa City “Carnegie” Public Librarylocated right off College Street at 212 South Linn Streetopened its doors on Thursday, October 27, 1904. Below (P-0354)
(P-0353) View of College Street – looking east from the corner of College & Clinton Streets – circa 1912.
Below (P-0324) College Street looking east toward College Square Park.

In the original layout (see above) of Iowa City (1839), City Park was set aside – two blocks east of Capitol Square. Surrounding the park – to the north and south – was ‘church row’ – with an area for schools on the east – where Mechanics Academy was built.

(P-0044) St. Mary’s Church – The first Mass in Iowa City was celebrated by a frontier missionary on Dec. 20, 1840 by Father Samuel Charles Mazzuchelli. The cornerstone for St. Mary’s was laid on October 27, 1867. Click here to read about the many bells of Iowa City – one of which was the bell of St. Mary’s!

(P-0290) In January 1910, Grace is “having a dandy time in Iowa City” despite the fact that “it’s awful cold and lots of snow here.”

Above (P-0294) First United Methodist Church – Aunt Etta says…”You see our new church which we hope to dedicate January 26 (1908).” Below (P-0298)

Click here to read more about St. Mary’s & First Methodist and their place in Iowa City “skyscraper” history.

Just across from First Methodist, the good folks of St. Mary’s opened St. Agatha’s Women’s Seminary in 1862 – remodeling the Park House – one of Iowa City’s oldest hotels built in 1852.

(P-0275) SUI’s Svendi Hall located on the NW corner of Jefferson & Dubuque Streets has a long history of serving women in Iowa City. In 1918, Albert Burkley bought this building as well, calling it Burkley Place. Read more here for the history of this intriguing building…
In the original 1839 city design (see above) – Centre Market was designated as a shopping area for Iowa City residents – thus the name Market Street. By 1900, that city block was used to develop Iowa City’s “second” high school building. Read more details here.
Circa 1915 – Here’s a view looking east on Market Street picturing the original Mercy Hospital on the far left, and Iowa City High School #2 in the middle (1903-1939), which in my day, became Central Jr. High School. On the far right is Iowa City High School #1, built in 1893.
(P-0291) Circa 1910 – Iowa City High School #2 – The “new” Iowa City High School opened on Market Street near Mercy Hospital in 1903, with its first graduating class of 53 students (1904). With three stories, a pool, and separate science labs it was a state-of-the-art building at the time. Its last graduating class was in 1939 when the building became Central Jr. High, being razed in 1983.
Above (P-0303) Iowa City High School.

Of course, no trip to Market Street in Iowa City would be complete without a visit to John’s Corner Grocery Store – located at 401 E. Market (see map below). J.W. Lee started John’s in 1848, and when I went to school in the 1970’s – John’s was a bit run down so it was called Dirty John’s – the source for best buys on bottled beer!

(P-0219) In heaven, there is no beer… this little postcard – postmarked July 4, 1906 – depicts one of the favorite pastimes for SUI students whether it be 1906, 1976, or today!

(P-0344) North Presbyterian Church was built on Market Street in 1856 and today known as Old Brick (above) – one of the few surviving pre-Civil War structures in Iowa City. Last used as a church in 1975, Old Brick was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 as North Presbyterian Church – the infamous sight of one of Iowa City’s most entertaining belfry stories – Hummer’s Bell – Click here for the full bell-ringing story.

(P-0191) Here’s a rare colorized Iowa City Business Section Birds Eye View postcard which features both the Hall of Pharmacy & Chemistry (left), and Close Hall (center) – both located on the corner of Dubuque Street and Iowa Avenue.
This Dubuque Street map indicates (above) site of bird’s eye view of downtown Iowa City, and (below) the corner of Dubuque & College Streets looking north toward Close Hall.
Circa 1910 – Dubuque Street looking further south from the corner of Dubuque & College Streets.
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Circa 1907 – Clinton Street looking north. Click here to read more about the history of Clinton Street.

St. James Hotel. Unity Hall – the Unitarian Church (on far left above) was purchased in 1906, becoming a short-term meeting place for SUI students. After a short stop above the Brunswick Bowling Alley on Iowa Avenue, the St. James Hotel became the new home for the SUI Student Union from 1914 to 1916. Click here to read more.

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(P-0040) St. James Hotel – Iowa City’s finest. (1872-1916) Located on the corner of Iowa Avenue and Clinton Street (Iowa Book & Supply), it became the Student Union in 1914, replacing Unity Hall across the street, but burned to the ground on Good Friday 1916.

Read more about the origins of the penny postcard and the Wieneke family of Iowa City who became ‘Iowa City’s Penny Postcard Family – working out of the St. James Hotel.

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(C-0065) St. James Hotel Postal Cover postmarked Sept. 12, 1910. This cover was sent from Rev. Homer Levi (H.L.) Dodge (pic below) – a research professor in the Physics Department at SUI (1915-1919). The letter, written while a first year graduate student at Iowa (1910-1914) was to his father, O. W. Dodge, back home in New York. The St. James Hotel served as a dorm for Iowa students during this time.
(C-0066) St. James Hotel Promotional Postcard This postcard was the contents of Mr. Dodge’s letter, obviously showing the family back home in New York where he was staying.

Homer Levi Dodge was born on October 21, 1887, in Ogdensburg, New York. His father, Orange Wood Dodge, taught at the Ogdensburg Free Academy, which Homer attended. His mother, Isabella Donaghue Dodge, was an active participant in the intellectual life of the community; after her death, the children’s room of the public library was dedicated to her. From them their son acquired a deep appreciation of the natural world and was encouraged to challenge it both intellectually and physically. Homer Dodge graduated from Colgate University in 1910, and went on to obtain an M.S. in 1912 and Ph.D in physics in 1914 from the University of Iowa. From 1906 to 1915 he spent his summers as a surveyor for the United States Geological Survey. At Iowa he taught physics first as a graduate assistant, then as an instructor, and finally in 1915 as an assistant professor. He was especially interested in applied physics, and concentrated on laboratory experiments and equipment and the investigation of materials. During World War I he was a member of the National Research Council Sub-committee on Detection of Invisible Aircraft; in 1919 the War Department published the results of his investigations. While at Iowa, he applied for and was eventually granted two patents, one for an improved rheostat and the other for a porous damper for acoustical instruments. In 1917 he married Margaret Wing, with whom he had two children, Alice Isabella in 1920 and Norton Townshend in 1927. In 1919, Dodge became chairman of the physics department at the University of Oklahoma, and in 1926 dean of the graduate school. He also developed and directed a program in applied physics for engineers and geologists. He was president of the Board of Trustees for the School of Religion from 1927 to 1944.

Just down the street from the St. James Hotel was Ries Book Store – located at 26 Clinton Street. Below right is an ad for Reis appearing in the 1907 Zion Lutheran Church Year Book.

Interestingly, the 100 block of Clinton Street contained two major bookstores – University Book & Supply – still on the corner today – and Ries – about 1/2 block south – with Carrie Wieneke’s Arcade Book & Stationery Store (see below) in between them!

(C-0134) Ries Bookstore – John Theodore Ries (1857-1933) and Mary W. (Baker) Ries (1858-1930) moved to Iowa City in 1879 to start the Ries Book Store across from University Square. Their sons, Joseph Elzear Ries (1889-1969) and Clarus C. Ries (1883-1969) moved the store further south to 30 Clinton Street – running the store there until the 1940-50’s.

Moving on down the block was Keith & McChesney’s Silversmith Shop…

Keith & McChesney Silversmiths at 104 South Clinton certainly had decorative stationary. This 1909 postal cover is like an Iowa City billboard – front and back! Click here to read more about the history of Clinton Street.
Circa 1912 – From the steps of Old Capitol – looking at the corner of Clinton & Washington Streets.Click here to read more about the history of Clinton Street.

Now – it’s time to move upward to the North Section of Iowa City – from the SUI President’s Home to the new City Park.


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

Iowa City 1900 Map 2, Atlas of Johnson County, Huebinger Survey and Map Publishing Co., 1900, historicmapworks.com

Iowa City 1900 Map 3, Atlas of Johnson County, Huebinger Survey and Map Publishing Co., 1900, historicmapworks.com

Snow Ball and High BallFire House Horses, Iowa City Press Citizen, Iowa City Chronology, February 17, 1987, p 31

School History – Iowa City High School, Showcaseschools.org

John T. Ries, Find-A-Grave


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