Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The builders (J. A. Penick): Where are they now?

In life, James A. (left) and Ida Penick built their substantial home during 1903 in what then was the finest new neighborhood in Chariton, at the intersection of Penick Avenue and South Eight Street in the family's Spring Lake Addition. Unlike Chariton in general, the new addition had its own collective water supply (first a well, then a water tower filled from Spring Lake), a sewer system (actually just a mile-long drain into a nearby creek) --- and sidewalks.

In death, Ida, James, their sons, Lloyd and Raymond, and Lloyd's wife, Berthenia, were buried in what was at the time of Ida's passing in 1915 the Chariton Cemetery's finest new neighborhood, just back of the Copeland mausoleum with near neighbors that included the George W. Larimers, the Theodore P. Stantons and other distinguished old families. 

I would call the house the Penicks built American Foursquare on steroids with a big bow window thrown in four good measure. James's brother, William B. --- the Spring Lake developer --- built a home nearby that was purely Queen Anne but now has been shorn of its detail inside and out. William's daughter, Grace, built one of Chariton's finest Colonial Revival homes across the intersection. The James Penick house is kind of a transition between the two --- neither frilly nor classically inspired --- but with great presence.

And how about that stonework? Huge stone pillars supporting a broad porch that wraps around the structure and a soaring chimney of the same material.

Now an apartment house --- and difficult to photograph because of an aggressive maple tree --- the old building has suffered a few indignities over the years, most notably the decision by a previous owner to enclose the porches, but appears to be in excellent repair otherwise now after several years of decline.

It was dark red when I was a kid and that even may have been the original color --- based on the photo  taken not long after it had been completed. Today, it's a sandy color. This was a very progressive house for its time --- a garage was tucked into the basement.


James A. Penick was a lawyer, widely admired and much in demand both for his legal skills and silver-tongued oratory (his was the principal address when the new Lucas County Courthouse was dedicated during May of 1894). His parents, William C. and Martha Penick, were among Chariton's early power couples.

Until 1903, James and Ida had occupied the old homestead of his parents, a substantial but quite old house on the hilltop now occupied by a newer cottage that is embraced by the Southgate Apartments parking lot. They sold that property during 1902 for $3,500, promising to give possession to the new owner the following spring.

Their new home took longer to build than anticipated, however. It was not until Dec. 10, 1903, that The Chariton Democrat was able to report that, "Two of Chariton's handsomest residences are now nearing completion in Spring Lake addition. They are the homes of H.O. and J.A. Penick. Each property cost several thousand dollars, and both are a credit to our city, as well as to that suburb of beautiful homes, Spring Lake, which we think deserves special mention."

The Penicks moved in a few weeks later and shared the home until Ida's death on July 16, 1915, "after an illness of several months with a goiter and "a complication of troubles."

James still was living in his home, by that time shared with his son and daughter-in-law, Lloyd and Berthenia Penick, when he died of a stomach ailment on March 29, 1934, two months after undergoing surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. The front page of The Herald-Patriot of that date gives some idea of his prominence in the community --- a banner headline, a two-column photograph and three separate stories.

Here's the text of his obituary, which gives some idea of why he was so admired.

James Alan Penick, dean of the Chariton bar, died at 4:30 a.m. Thursday at his home, 639 South Eighth Street.

Mr. Penick was 80 years old. He practiced law in Chariton for 57 years and was prominent in his profession over the entire state.

The death of the veteran attorney was caused by a stomach ailment. Since returning to Chariton following a serious operation at Rochester, Minn., in January Mr. Penick had steadily lost strength.

Funeral services will be held Sunday at 2 p.m. at Beardsley Funeral Home. Burial will be in the Chariton cemetery.

He is survived by two sons, Lloyd, with whom he made his home, and Raymond of Newton. A sister, Mrs. Ida Stuart of Chicago, Ill., and two brothers, W.B. Penick of Omaha, Neb., and H.O. Penick of Long Beach, Cal., also survive him. There are also two grandchildren, James and Edith Penick, of Newton.

Classed as one of the most brilliant and colorful men in Lucas county's history, Mr. Penick lived in Chariton for three-quarters of a century. He was born Feb. 9, 1854, at Eddyville, in Wapello county, and came with his parents to Chariton four years later.

One of the early graduates of Chariton high school, he continued his education at Simpson college, Indianola, and later at Iowa Wesleyan university where he was graduated in 1874 with a B.S. degree. After leaving the university Mr. Penick was for a year associated with his father in a store here before entering the law office of Stuart and Bartholomew. He was admitted to the bar in 1877.

With Judge J.C. Mitchell, Mr. Penick formed a law partnership which existed until 1891, when the judge moved to Ottumwa. Later he was for 15 years associated with E.A. Anderson of Chariton, but from 1911 until he became ill early this year he practiced alone. During his career in Iowa courts he established a reputation for wit, oratory, fair dealing and legal knowledge that has formed the basis for interesting anecdotes which will be heard for many years wherever lawyers gather.

A democrat and leader in his party, Mr. Penick in 1898 was elected Lucas county's representative to the state legislature. He was a delegate to the democratic national convention at Cincinnati in 1880 and assisted in obtaining for Gen. W.S. Hancock the nomination for president.

In 1892 (actually 1894), upon completion of the Lucas County courthouse, Mr. Penick delivered the dedication address and the oration gave him further claim to the title, "silver-tongued orator," which had been given him due to his unusual power of speech.

Mr. Penick was married here in 1878 (to Ida Ware). His wife, who also was prominent in local activities, died about 18 years ago. Lloyd and Raymond are their only children.

Honors have been paid Mr. Penick on several occasions by fellow lawyers of the district. Two years ago, on his birthday, they staged a party for him at Hotel Charitone at which he was paid tribute by many prominent men of the profession and this year, while ill, he received visits and messages of contratulation from many of them on his eightieth birthday.

His picture hangs on the wall in the district court room here.

In addition to membership in bar organizations Mr. Penick also had been prominent for many years in the Masonic order.

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