Monday, February 13, 2017

Architectural eye candy: Oskaloosa's McMullin House

This is neither the grandest nor the most highly polished big old house in Oskaloosa --- a town of many fine vintage homes. But it's one of my favorites and I like to check up on it every time I'm in Mahaska County's seat.

Which I was on Saturday morning, along with Sherry and Fred, for a meeting of the South Central Chapter of the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa at St. James Church. St. James is just across the intersection southwest of the house --- 403 1st Avenue East --- so that makes checking up convenient.

Yes, I know it probably needs a coat of paint. But I kind of like it this way, comparing it to a grand old lady or gentleman, somewhat faded and fraying around the edges, but with hair neatly arranged and neatly dressed. It has escaped most of the indignities subjected to many houses of its age, still has its original siding and fretwork --- and those three massive chimneystacks.

According to its National Register of Historic Places nomination form, the porch once had spindlework and entrance gables, removed in the 1950s, but other than that it's mostly intact.

The interior, according to the nomination, is a thing of wonder --- glorious woodwork, a walnut main staircase, carved chimneypieces and extraordinarily elaborate plaster work, all intact.

The home was built on this corner during 1882 by Maj. James W. McMullin for himself, his wife, Carrie, and their only child. Since this small family did not need a huge house, the McMullins obviously were showing off.

McMullin was a Civil War veteran who had returned to Oskaloosa to open a transport and livery business, which flourished because Oskaloosa did, in part because of coal, during the latter half of the 19th century. The family's previous home had stood on the same location but was demolished to make way for this one.

The original floor plans were discovered in the house during the 1950s, behind a bookcase custom-built for the location it had occupied for 70 years, but they are unsigned. The style is early Queen Anne and the plans indicate that the structure originally was to have been built of brick. 

According to tales told at the time it was nominated for the National Register, brick prices in Oskaloosa were inflated during 1882 because of great demand created by construction of a new Mahaska County Courthouse and other grand public buildings --- and James W. McMullin balked (although it could have afforded to pay a premium price). So he switched to frame construction instead, lavishing an extraordinary amount of money on the interior.

(The Mahaska County Courthouse generally is dated to 1886, but it is a vast brick structure so perhaps building materials were being stockpiled.)

When complete, with all fretwork intact, it must have looked a little like a giant wedding cake.

The home's ownership passed to the David family during 1918 and and Mary David Jones, a widely known dance instructor in Oskaloosa, and her husband, Earl R. Jones, an attorney, owned and occupied it when it was added to the National Register. He died during 1993 and she died during 1998, leaving nieces and nephews as survivors. They were St. James parishioners, so it was a short walk to church.

It appears that the grand old house has sold again, quite recently. Hopefully the new owners will be kind to it. I'll keep checking on its condition.


Walter Wyatt said...

I use to get guitar lessons from Mary back in the late 70's and early 80's. I remember as a child that house was very grand indeed. I wish the new owners luck in restoring that huge home.

Eddie Pierson said...

Thank you for the article. It is quite interesting to hear about houses from centuries past.

I will now notice this house every time I drive by!

Jan Johnson said...

I had dance lessons there 65-70 years ago.

misty said...

I used to drive by when I was young and dream of owning that house one day. I imagined wonderous things inside.