Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Red Oak's grand parade

Red Oak's George Marshall house.

Still stuck (figuratively, not literally) in Red Oak this morning --- but that's a good place to be. Anyone who loves old buildings could spend a day or so here just looking, then come back to look some more.

Downtown Red Oak, in part because of the way it is designed and in part because most of its buildings look as if they're cared about, has great presence. The city itself is larger in population than Chariton by about 1,000 and it gives the impression of having been, and continuing to be, substantially more affluent. The city certainly is better groomed.

Turning east off Broadway, the major north-south route through town, the courthouse square is first, surrounded by several public buildings; then a business block, then the town square proper around a well-groomed park centered on a fountain (below), then another business block and finally the rise to a spectacular residential neighborhood known as Heritage Hill.

As in other Iowa county seat towns, there are many vacant downtown storefronts. But a majority of the buildings have had their facades attended to. It looks like a place someone hoping to open a retail business would think seriously about.

I got a kick out of this building (below) for two reasons. First, gothic revival is relatively rare in Iowa. Secondly, because it illustrates what happens sometimes on town squares. This has been a double-front facade with another bay window at some point but a newer facade has been imposed over its western half to create a uniform front for a business occupying part of another building. The result is a quirky half-facade.

The stars of Red Oak's show are on Heritage Hill, which rises to the east of downtown, a dozen or so grand dames, most in a high state of preservation, dating from Red Oak's earlier glory days. I wish I'd had more time to photograph more of them, but we were on a tight schedule Friday. Broad (and well-maintained) streets and sidewalks plus an abundance of mature trees help to make make this sizable neighborhood very special.

This brick Italianate with later classical revival porches was built during 1881 by Smith McPherson and his wife, Frances, the first of two in the Heritage Hill district attributed to them. McPherson served, among other capacities, as Iowa attorney general and federal court judge in the Southern District of Iowa. The architect was George West.

During 1896, the McPhersons built this larger Richardson Romanesque-inspired home a couple of blocks northeast, also in the Heritage Hill district. It was designed for entertaining on a grand scale and reportedly had only one bedroom originally with "his" and "hers" sitting rooms adjoining it. The architect was George W. Maher.

This gorgeous Queen Anne next door to the first McPherson house was built during 1894 for George Marshall. Roberta was impressed here by the soaring chimneys. Nothing of this sort has survived in California, she said, because of frequent earthquakes.

This is the A.C. Hinchman home, another dramatic Queen Anne also dating from 1894 and built for Mary and Amos C. Hinchman. He was a banker and owner of Hinchman Drugs downtown. It's unique because it has a square tower at its northwest corner and a round tower, to the southwest. Surrounded by trees, it is challenging to photograph, however.

This 1874 brick Italianate was designed by George West for Col. Alfred and Anna (Huntington) Hebard. He was a pioneer lawmaker and surveyor wise enough to invest in the substantial tract of land where Red Oak now stands.

This Queen Anne, also built during 1894 --- obviously a good year for power houses in Red Oak --- belonged to William and Mary Malony. He was a dentist and hardware merchant, an unusual but apparently profitable combination.

This Queen Anne does not appear to be on the official Heritage Tour trail, but I liked it anyway. Especially because a large plastic Santa Claus lives just behind the tower window.

For inexplicable reasons, this was my favorite of the Heritage Hill houses --- now having its porches restored. The Heritage Hill guide book I've been using as a resource here identifies it as the home of a Red Oak mayor, Thomas Griffith, and his wife, Mary, with unknown origins. Obviously, it's an 1880s frame Italianate with later classical revival porches. I wanted to bring it home, but there wasn't room.

This is only a sample of what there is to see on Heritage Hill and in Red Oak in general. This is all only two hours due west of here and more than worth the drive.


Daric said...

First of all, great blog. As far as this post goes...your favorite house is also my favorite house. I bought it last year and we just started going on a full restoration this fall. Hopefully you can make it down again to see it when it is finished.

Frank D. Myers said...

Great to hear from you. Thank YOU for taking on a project like this involving not only Red Oak's, but Iowa's, architectural heritage. We've just been through a scare involving the two-story pillars on our museum house (after replacing at considerable expense all the deteriorated pillars several years ago). You're a brave soul to take on a project involving that many upright supports!