Iowa City’s Rose Hill – Irish’s Woods.

Did You Know? the audio version.

In an earlier post, we introduced you to Frederick Macy (F. M.) Irish and his wife, Elizabeth. The Irish’s were one of Iowa City’s earliest, and certainly one of the most influential families in our city’s history. Click here to read their story.

Soon after 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 (see map above), 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.

Around 1840, Irish enlarged the log cabin – reuniting with his family by moving them here from New York. In 1841, he purchased an additional 30 acres of land adjacent to his home (yellow on map above left) and purchased four lots within the city as well. It was during this time when the Irish family began calling this slightly-enlarged log cabin and the surrounding grounds – Rose Hill.

So – here’s an interesting tidbit about Rose Hill #1. When F.M. Irish moved from his log cabin that he had built in 1839 and enlarged in 1840, he maintained ownership of the property – today’s 1310 Cedar Street – until October of 1860. At that point, William Hamilton purchased the home – owning it until 1865. It was during that time that Hamilton proposed building a larger home around the existing 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 below) with the dining room area actually being the original Rose Hill #1 log cabin! This amazing fact means that F.M. Irish’s cabin of 1840 is still in existence today and is (with an asterisk) the oldest remaining residential property in Iowa City! Read more here.
Rose Hill #1 began as a simple log cabin in 1839 with F.M. Irish enlarging it in 1840. As the family grew, F.M. built a larger red-brick home (1849) – moving the family in around 1850. This new home – located on Davenport Street – has became known today as Rose Hill – so for clarity purposes – we’re calling it Rose Hill #2.

In 1849, F.M. decided to build a much larger red-brick home (pictured below) just south and east of his present home, calling it Rose Hill after the Irish family moved in around 1850. Many historians believe this new Rose Hill – located on today’s Davenport Street – 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.

J. H. Millar’s 1854 map of Iowa City (below) shows Captain F.M. Irish’s Rose Hill, named for all the wild roses on the original 30 acres.

When Irish built Rose Hill #2, he chose the Greek Revival style – which might reflect his relationship with John F. Rague, who designed Old Capitol. It also reflects the housing styles of his native New York, and is very similar to the “farmhouse elevation” found in Minard Lafever’s work, Young Builder’s General Instructor.

Back in the day, the forested prairie surrounding Rose Hill was simply called Irish’s Woods.

Irish’s descendants – F.M’s second son- Gilbert R. – followed by F.M.’s granddaughter – Jane – owned Rose Hill #2 until 1964, when the city bought 17.5 acres, making it into a section of today’s Hickory Hill Park.

On a beautiful August day in 2021, Sandy & I took a nice long walk in Irish’s Woods – now called Hickory Hill Park – located less than three miles from our home in southeast Iowa City. I took a bunch of photos along the way so that you can journey along with us…

This is how Rose Hill, located at 1415 Davenport Street, just outside Hickory Hill Park, appears today.

F.M. Irish’s descendants owned Rose Hill and much of the surrounding property until 1964, when the city bought 17.5 acres, making it into the first section of today’s Hickory Hill Park.

The remainder of the Irish property was developed into new housing, but fortunately the original Rose Hill #2 home (see above) on Davenport Street was saved from the wrecking ball, being listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992.

In today’s southern-most section of Hickory Hill, there are several markers pointing out some of the rich history of this part of the city.

The city has done a great job in taking this historical site and turning it into a beautiful green space where today’s Iowa Citians can enjoy its natural beauty.

This historical marker helps us remember the significance of this land in Iowa City history.

Thanks to The City of Iowa City website – take this short virtual tour of Hickory Hill Park.

Hickory Hill Park – or shall I say, Irish’s Woods? What a beautiful park – year round. Come to Iowa City and we’ll tour it with you!

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

The Irish-Hamilton-Turner House – (Rose Hill #1) – Margaret N. Keyes, Nineteenth Century Home Architecture Of Iowa City, pp 26-28

The F.M. Irish House – (Rose Hill #2) – Margaret N. Keyes, Nineteenth Century Home Architecture Of Iowa City, pp 38-39

The Oldest Residential Building in Iowa City, Zachery Oren Smith, Twitter Thread, June 1, 2020

Gilbert Robinson Irish, Find-A-Grave

Jane Terrill Irish, Find-A-Grave

Rose Hill, Iowa City, Iowa, Wikipedia

Hickory Hill Park, City of Iowa City

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