Monday, February 10, 2014

Houses of an Old River Town

I live in an old river town, one of the oldest river towns in Iowa not on the Mississippi River. The reason it got started early was that there was an Indian agency nearby that this place was a good place to trade animal pelts with the natives in the area. I recently attended a lecture at our local library that talked about the history behind some of the old houses in town and that sparked my interest to turn my camera towards the bluff while we were walking along the river on cold overcast afternoon.

Previously, I have shown photographs from our walks downstream from the dam which is pictured above. On this particular walk, we decided to walk upstream of the dam to see what there was to see. Unfortunately there was a very cold wind that day and our nearly 15 month old daughter insisted on walking most of the way so we didn't get real far. Never the less, I did take a few photographs.

This photo doesn't really pertain to the topic but I am captivated by the river flora and the icy backdrop.

Our town if full of historic churches that were built back in the late 1800's and are very grand in nature. The one above is one of the Catholic church and the one in which I am a member.  But surrounding it as you head up the bluff are lots of grand three and four story houses built back in the day by the wealthy. Now a days a lot of these houses are multi-tenet dwellings are in general disrepair. However, the fad of buying these grand old homes and fixing them up is just starting to catch in this area and several are being or are already fixed up. I expect in the coming decade there will be a big revival similar to what has hit other towns and this area will once again be the 'hot' place to live in town.

Several of these houses I have never seen before because they are up streets I don't frequent. When the weather is warmer, I would like to walk along the bluff and take closeup pictures of some of these old homes. I especially like the large one mostly obscured by trees with the large tower to the right of the yellow house. Now that I squint at it, the tower may be part of a larger house behind it.

I like the house with the columns on the ridge top. Not pictured but near hear there are two houses that were built on narrow lots, one in the center and one at the back of the lot. After awhile, the owner of the house at the back of the lot wanted to move his house forward for reasons unknown but perhaps spite might have been part of it. He moved his house right even with the house next door (the one in the middle of its narrow lot) and had to modify parts of his overhang to wrap around his neighbors house. Not only are the houses within inches of each other but their windows on those sides are within feet of each other. The fellow I knew who rented that house was kicked out after the owner of the neighboring house bought it last year. I'm not sure what is going to happen to it but I want to get a picture of it just in case she decides to have it moved or perhaps even razed.

To the right you can see the tower and part of another old church. In the left center is a four story house, something you don't see in rural Iowa. In the center behind the trees is a 3 story Bavarian looking house that was part of the lecture I went too. The original house that was built looked pretty boring and not very impressive but several relatives of the original owner built houses on the same street in the Bavarian style and this person wanted to adopt it too and modified the house. The modifications were very simple ones but the results were amazing. I will have to get a close up shot of the house when it is warmer.

The building in the foreground at the bottom right side of the picture is in Italianate style which is a common style among all the old houses around town. It was popular during the 1860's through 1880's when a lot of these houses and buildings were built. You can tell them by the quoins and corbels throughout. Now those are two words I don't use everyday!


Anonymous said...

Just a couple of observations. You'd really want you wits about you of a Sunday. What with all the churches all sitting under the ridge. And how did the Catholics get the hot spot by the park.
Just looking at your town on the street map. There really is a other side of the track and then other side of the river with the old and truly pretty houses under the ridge near the churches. And there does seem to have been profound and prolonged burst of economic activity followed by relative stagnation if the patterns are to be believed. Lots of recent building seems subsidised by State or Federal; bridges schools and the like, but once off. While there seems to have been vast wealth when the churches and those town houses were constructed. Is there no base or other federal man heavy federal facility nearby to give ongoing cash infusion.
That light industrial area seems incongruous. Is there a reason it's not out on the edge of town. And is there much recreational focus on the river.
Overall, there's an air of comfortable wealth coupled with a feel that there's very little to keep kids in the town or even the region.

Ed said...

The Catholic church had a cabin across the street going back to I think the 1850's and when that burned they built in their current location. That building was rebuilt to the present building I think in the 1880's. All these dates predate the park which was a street heading toward the river back then.

This part of Iowa, like most of rural Iowa, is slowly dying, this town included. Everything and everybody seems to be gravitating towards the larger urban areas which are the only areas of growth currently in Iowa. On one hand I love it because that leaves me more space but it is kind of sad to see all these towns slowly die and wilt away.

Back in the day, the industrial area needed to be by the river for water and power and the houses up on the bluff. These days the houses go beyond the bluff and also beyond the factories on the other side of the river. The current hot industrial area is now out by the airport where a new four lane road provides easy access and land if fairly cheap.

There isn't much recreational focus on the river besides the walking trails. The river is much too shallow for modern boats and with the dam there and no way to portage them, our town is essentially a dead end street. If you go further up the river, there are several large man made lakes in it where recreational boating is very big and also downstream closer to the Mississippi you can see some more pleasure boating going on. I have done some canoeing here and there along the river over the years but that certainly is extremely rare to see happen.

edifice rex said...

Those photos are so interesting; I am shocked out how much that area reminds me of the southside of Birmingham. Lot of ornate churches, same architecture on the houses. We even have the Cahaba River flowing through part of Birmingham but it is use for quite a lot of recreational things. I would not have thought of any place in Iowa having such hills. Very cool!

Ron said...

I enjoy hiking around older towns. There are so many layers of development over the decades. It is kinda sad to see them decay, but the peace and quiet is nice too.

I always thought your city was interesting when we've driven through, and that I'd like to hike around it. Especially down by the river.

ErinFromIowa said...

This was so interesting! Great photos and well written.

Leigh said...

I love towns like this. It reminds me of Galena, IL, where my mom and stepdad once owned a home.