In the old residential neighborhood located along the 300 block of East Jefferson Street and the 200 block of North Gilbert Street is a concentration of some of the city’s most notable historic homes.
This winter, in the face of potential redevelopment, the City Council voted unanimously in favor of designating the neighborhood a local landmark district. Within this two block frontage are the homes of Iowa City’s earliest settlers and most influential citizens: the Bosticks, Rohrets, Englerts and Hutchisons.
The 1851 home of William Bostick (115 N. Gilbert Street) has so much to tell us about the history of Iowa City. Built in the Greek Revival style, it embodies the classical spirit and temper of the times, the post-Jacksonian era of the 1830s to the 1850s. The adjectives straight, strong, sturdy and symmetrical suit it well; it is simple, refined and dignified. Purchased in 1840, the Bostick lot is only three blocks from the Old Capitol. In 1850, Church Park lay between the Bostic House and the Capitol with what must have been an amazing view. With the University’s infill of buildings (Seashore, 1899, Van Allen, 1964), Church Park disappeared long ago, but the row of churches that line Jefferson Street attest to its original name. The Bostic House and St.
Mary’s church steeple one block away bring a commanding ambience to the neighborhood scene, and have dominated the neighborhood landscape for 150 years.
The Bostick House was designed to be public and political. Between 1851 and 1861 the owners were men who made important contributions to Iowa City. It was used as one of Iowa City’s unofficial City Halls before the city was incorporated in 1853. In 1855, Bostick left town and specifically directed Iowa City’s first lawyer (and the home’s mortgage holder), Hugh D. Downey, to sell the property to Alexander Rider and Dr. Henry Murray. Rider was an early settler who owned a livery stable. Murray was the first regular physician to practice in Iowa City, the personal physician to Governor Henry Lucas and also instrumental in assuring that the railway passed through Iowa City in 1850.
The property was again sold in 1856 to Joseph Zenieschek, who at age 18 reportedly was the first ‘Bohemian’ to own property in Iowa City. In freewheelin’ Bohemian style, he defaulted for taxes two years later and it passed through a state tax sale to mortgage holder Morgan Reno. Reno came to town in 1839 and was mayor of Iowa City by 1857. Not only did he switch from practicing law to banking by opening the second bank in town, he later became a territorial auditor (1840) and then the first-elected treasurer of the state (1846-1850). During the Civil War, he was commissioned in the Sixth Iowa Cavalry and organized regiments out of the Bostick House.
In 1861, Reno sold the property to George Rohret, an early settler and prosperous farmer. He was one of the famous “ax-men” Rohret brothers who walked five miles into town from their farm to hew the timbers for the Capitol. (In cardboard shoes! Not really.) Rohret moved into the house in 1896 and was the first owner to actually live there. He wanted a new house and in 1908 the Bostick House was picked up, turned and moved to the back of the lot. His wife had their new house, an American Four-Square-style at 328 E. Jefferson St., built atop Bostick’s old foundation. Its architect Wm. Goodwin related that George Rohret chose to build a house with the best prospect available in Iowa City; the best architect, the best construction company, the best materials and it was serviced with both gas and electricity. After the construction of his new home, Rohret continued to maintain the old brick Bostick House.
Around the corner at 324 E. Jefferson St. is a small modern house built in 1938 by the Englert family. This lot had always stood empty and had been used by contractor builders operating from structures and yards between 1878 and 1904. Directly to the north across the alley was the Englert-owned City Brewery, built in 1853, which later became the Englert Ice House after prohibition.
Another Englert residence in this area is the large Queen Anne-style home, now at 320 E. Jefferson St. It was built circa 1885 and was moved in 1910 from 321 E. Market St., where it had been the only residence on a commercial block.
To the west of the Englert house is the Hutchinson House at 318 E. Jefferson St. The first owner, Robert Hutchinson, settled in Iowa City in 1839 and worked as a carpenter and joiner. He is credited with erecting the first log house in Iowa City and served as the city’s first marshal.
The Hutchinson house was built as early as the mid-1860s in the Italianate style. Inspired by architectural pattern books that were imported in the 1840s, the Italianate home was the first Victorian-style dwelling to make the Iowa City scene. On the city’s north side, it is uncommon to find Italianate houses with towers or cupolas; Instead, most homes consist of the basic, rectangular I-House form from the Greek Revival period with additions of Italianate features. In this way, the Hutchinson house stands out among the others, and this is most evident on the house’s front, where major design attention was focused. It is formally oriented with a full-width veranda. Under-eave brackets and dentil molding are visually dominant decorations, and the first floor windows extend to the floor.
For many years, the Hutchinson house was the only house on the west end of this block. Originally built deep on the lot of 310 E. Jefferson St., it was moved forward to its present site in 1905. Its move was part of an effort to infill residential neighborhoods near the University of Iowa campus. In 1908, William and John Englert took ownership and lived there with family for a short while. From around 1911 through 1920 the building served as the State University of Iowa (SUI) Nurses Home and by 1926 it had become the SUI Obstetrical Home. It was converted to apartments in 1947 and has since been operated as the Jefferson Street Apartment House.
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Looking at the neighborhood now, one would not imagine these houses’ past. Envision the Bostick House lined with residents doing business at the City Hall or throngs of citizens signing up for Civil War duty. The fashionable Hutchinson House, built during the Civil War and housing the city’s first marshal who sold stone from the yard, then later purchased by the Englerts before they built the house next door. Feel the 19th century ambiance, smell the fires of the breweries as they constantly cooked their wort by the tens of thousands of gallons. Hear the constant chopping and banging of carpenters, coopers and blacksmiths echoing across the city, as you bounce along the rutted and muddy road that was once 19th century Jefferson Street. See your path illuminated by gas lights, kerosene lamps and, finally, bare light bulbs. And, consider the sight of three of these five homes being painstakingly moved to their present locations.
Marlin R. Ingalls is a professional archaeologist, historian and architectural historian within Iowa’s Office of the State Archeologist. He is a member of the State Historical Society of Iowa’s Technical Advisory Network and former member of Iowa’s State Nomination Review Commission, which reviews nominations for listing on The National Register of Historic Places. He is also a consultant specializing in helping preservationists and communities evaluate, document and restore their historic buildings, neighborhoods and other historic resources.