This photo of the Stearns mansion in Garden Grove was taken some years ago, when it had hit a rough spot and was endangered.
There's news out there about two of southern Iowa's finest National Register of Historic Places-listed homes, the Stearns mansion and the J.J. McClung house, both located in tiny Garden Grove. One has been beautifully restored and the other is for sale. For $92,500 the McClung house (below) can be yours.
This is a Realtor's photo of the McClung house, also located in Garden Grove and now on the market.
I surely do wish you could have seen Garden Grove the way it used to be, before economic decline grabbed one of southern Iowa's most house-proud little towns and slapped it around good and proper. It was quite a sight.
Brigham Young and that first party of Saints fleeing Nauvoo arrived here --- just across the Wayne County line into Decatur southwest of Humeston --- this time of year in 1846, on April 24. The Mormons named the place Garden Grove, built up a way station and before moving on to found Mount Pisgah, broke the prairie and planted hundreds of acres to feed those who came later.
Between 1846 and 1852, thousands of Mormon pioneers passed through and Garden Grove became a place of refuge for poor Saints, who could afford to go no farther without assistance. The old Mormon cemetery, where an unknown number are buried, is just west of town. You can read more about Mormon sites at Garden Grove by following this link to an earlier post, "A May evening at Garden Grove."
Permanent settlers began arriving in 1848, purchased the pre-emption claims of the Mormons and built the little town that survives in somewhat diminished form today with perhaps 200 residents. It is the home of Mormon Trail junior and senior high schools, but doesn't have a church --- or a store.
I don't know why Garden Grove's residents demonstrated such an interest in architecture --- too bad someone didn't try to figure that out about 50 years ago. But when I was a kid, driving down its long main street was a little like touring an illustrated architectureal guidebook --- Queen Anne and Romanesque, Second Empire and Colonial Revival, Prairie plain and Gothic Revival. Everything was there in one form or another from onion domes to two-story white pillars.
Much of that's gone now, but the Stearns and McClung houses, the grandest, remain --- Stearns just east of the school and McClung, at the east edge of the business block.
This was the Stearns house from the northwest during its endangered phase. It was built about 1895 by C.S. Stearns, Garden Grove banker, and his wife, Kate.
Restoration of the Stearns house, purchased during 2003 by a Florida couple, Jennifer and Richard Vecchio, has been a long and I would guess astonishingly expensive project. I do not have current photos, always thinking I would wait until the project was done, so the old ones will have to do for now. I"ll do better the next time I drive through.
The house was featured recently in a Corydon Times-Republican article, so that is the source of some of the information here.
Plain old observation, however, makes some of the work obvious. Because the kitchen was very small, a sympathetically designed addition to the south that mirrors the roof lines of the original house extended it and added a sun room. In addition, the porte cochere attached to the main entrance on the east but removed at some point has been restored. You can see its truncated version in the photo at the top.
The original slate roof was badly damaged and leaking seriously, so it was replaced --- but not with slate, now prohibitively expensive. Decorative ironwork that once crowned the house still is in the restoration process.
Here is the Stearns house from the southwest some years ago. As was the case in many old houses, the kitchen was among the smallest rooms and has been supplemented by an addition.
The only loss during restoration was the large carriage house to the south, which was barely standing by the time the Vecchios came along. It was taken down and replaced by a contemporary, but sympathetically designed, garage that does not block views from the new sun room, as the old carriage house would have done.
The Stearns carriage house, now demolished, was larger than many houses in Garden Grove when it was built.
The McClung house, built in 1908 by the James J. McClung family, remained in that family until it was purchased by what sales advertising describes as a group of "history buffs" who operated it as a sort of community center, hosting meetings, special gatherings and meals, even providing overnight accommodations. Garden Grove is just a little outside my territory, so I don't know who was involved or exactly how it worked, but now the building is for sale.
Included in the purchase price is the vintage service station next door, used most recently as a gift shop.and one-vehicle garage.
Here's a Realtor's description of the property: "If you want a unique home, this is for you! Home has a large open front porch with pillars to the second story. Very large 6 bedroom, 1 1/2 bath home with history and charm in every room. Many rooms have stenciling detail on wall and ceilings with several inoperable original gas lights that have electric light kits. The main front parlor has original grand mantel on its fireplace. Magnificent original woodwork and hardwood floors are throughout the home including a wide oak stairway that leads from the main floor reception area to the second floor large central hall. There is a stairway to the floored attic if you need more room. Next door is the Green Gables filling station, built in 1918 as cars were becoming part of our lives. This filling station has served as a gift shop and has garage space for 1 vehicle. Currently owned by a group of history buffs, the home provides the community with a place for meetings, special occasions, parties, meals and overnight accommodations."
The following series of Realtor photos gives some idea of the state of the interior, which appears to differ little from the way it would have looked when built.
Just in case you're interested, here's a link to the Prudential First Realty listing for the house. The slide show there includes several other photographs of it.