Monday, December 01, 2014

Good news for an historic Iowa house

Here's how the Lambrite-Iles-Petersen house (above) looked during the 1980s, with later porches. The partial view at left shows the house before the original front porch was enclosed and enlarged upward and the craftsman-inspired additions made.

There's been good news this fall for a very old and architecturally significant Davenport House that nearly was lost. Although it's not out of the woods yet, a joint effort by the city and the not-for-profit Gateway Redevelopment Group has given the Lambrite-Iles-Petersen House a fighting chance.

I've been following the story of the 1856 house at 510 West 6th Street for several years.

It interests me for several reasons --- the Italianate Villa style is my favorite of the Victorian era; although 20 years older and considerably smaller, it is similar in several ways to Chariton's long-lost Ilion house, also known as Mallory's Castle; the interiors are remarkable; and it is linked to a facinating Civil War-era character.

This Gateway Redevelopment photo shows the state of the house this fall after the city of Davenport had removed overgrown vegetation.

All images here are taken from the Gateway Redevlopment Group Web site, which may be found here. The Gateway group was organized to advocate for and save endangered structures in Davenport's Hamburg Historic District. There's a wealth of additional detail at the site for those interested in reading more. The interior shots unless indicated otherwise were taken during the 1980s and are attributed to Dean Christiansen.


The house, high on bluffs overlooking the Mississippi, was built during 1856 for Joseph Lambrite, a major player in Davenport's early lumber milling industry.

His architect was John C. Cochrane (left), then 22, who had just opened his practice in Daveport. Cochrane designed several significant Davenport structures, then moved to St. Louis before the Civil War began, returned home to his native New Hampshire when war commenced and finally located in Chicago in 1864, where he became one of the Midwest's most prominent architects. He designed both the Iowa and Illinois capitol buildings prior to his death in 1887 at age 54.

Lambrite did not enjoy his new home for long, however. Wiped out in the financial panic of 1857-58, he was forced to sell.

The next owner of note was Dr. Thomas Jefferson Iles, a physician, who purchased the property upon arrival in Davenport during 1863. 

Iles was a native Kentuckyan who graduated from Transylvania Medical College in Lexington and launched a successful practice in Midway, Kentucky, during 1834. He married Maria Louisa Nuckols during 1841 and they became the parents of eight children, seven sons (one of whom died young) and a daughter. Isles built this grand federal house, recently restored, in Midway ca. 1840.

Iles, a slave-owner but not a secessionist, became discouraged by the divided loyalties at play in Kentucky and in 1863, left his practice, sold his property, freed his slaves and relocated his family first to Illinois, then to Davenport.

Iles found work as a physician at the Rock Island Arsenal, then after arrival of 5,000 Confederate prisoners of War during December of 1863 became chief surgeon of the Confederate Prison Camp located on the island.

Many of the prisoners arrived infected with smallpox, but there was no hospital and both medical supplies and staff were insufficient, a combination that proved fatal to nearly 950 prisoners during the next four months.

Nearly 2,000 Confederate prisoners in all died on Rock Island during the course of the war and are buried in the Confederate Cemetery on the island. Because of deplorable conditions in the camp, Rock Island sometimes is referred to as the "Andersonville of the North."

Widowed in 1865, Iles continued to practice medicine and live in his Davenport home until 1885, when it was sold. He died during 1889, age 78.

The next notable occupant of the old house on the hill was John H.C. Petersen, owner of Davenport's largest department store. Following his tenure, it was acquired by the Schick family, who added craftsman-style porches to the old house and built a new craftsman-inspired cottage during the first quarter of the 20th century on its west lawn.

Then the neighborhood began to decline.Gordon L. Muller was considered an urban pioneer when he acquired the house and began to conserve it during the 1970s.

Here's how the front hall and stairway of the old house looked during the 1980s. Note the painted and stenciled wall surfaces.

As the years passed, however, and despite the best of intentions, Muller lost control of the house and eventually walked away from it leaving most of its contents in place, still partially decorated for Christmas. He declined offers of assistance and offers to purchase the building. It was engulfed in vegetation and began to to deteriorate dramatically.

A circular staircase leads up from the second-floor hallway to a small observation room at the top of the tower. a railed circular opening allows a visitor to look from just inside the home's front door up to the top of the tower. This Gateway Redevelopment photo was taken this fall.

During 2010, the city of Davenport declared the house unfit for occupancy and, recognizing both its historical significance and potential as a hazard, sealed it and installed a temporary rolled roof during 2012.

During May of 2014, the city moved to condemn the property, citing both its historic potential and its hazardous condition. Condemnation was approved by the courts during June and the city paid Muller $34,000 for the property and all its contents.

In the meantime, Friends of 510, an organization devoted to salvaging the property, had been formed by Gateway Redevelopment. 

The city began to clear the property of overgrown vegetation during October of this year. In early November, 17 Friends of 510 entered the house and began to clean it --- salvaging everything worth salvaging; disposing of the rest. Utilities were restored.

The city of Davenport has been working during late November to market the property and its contents. The city hopes to sell it to an individual or entity who will conserve and restore it. Deadline for receipt of proposals is Dec. 5. So stay tuned.

Here's the way the Lambrite-Iles-Petersen House parlor looked from the dining room during the 1980s. Many other photos may be found at the Gateway Redevelopment Web site.

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