Historical Resources of the Manville Heights Neighborhood, multiple resource area, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
The first settlement of the Manville Heights Neighborhood began in the 1840s when the area was acquired for agricultural use and logging by several pioneer families. Among the families to hold property for multiple generations in the area was that of Robert and Julie Whetstone Hutchinson.
Farmland and wooded acres of the Hutchinson and Black farms took on alternative uses around the turn of the 20th century. Iowa Citians looking for informal recreational opportunities along the Iowa River sought boating, swimming, and camping sites along the big bend adjacent to Black Road opposite Coralville. More formal recreational opportunities came to the area when the Johnson County Chautauqua was held on high ground above the river for three successive summers between 1906 and 1908. The first Johnson County Chautauqua Assembly was held from July 18 through July 27, 1906 with subsequent Chautauqua events held in August 1907 and 1908, all within the future Manville Heights Neighborhood. Chautauqua goers were urged to take advantage of an available campground near the Chautauqua site in order to enjoy a family vacation during the ten-day run of the event. Ready access to the grounds was provided by a ten-minute interurban trip aboard the CRANDIC during the Chautauqua with a station reportedly located at the south end of Lusk Avenue just a short distance from the assembly area. The circus-sized "Big Tent" for presentations and entertainment was erected in the level area between present day River and Bayard streets and Lexington and Woolf avenues. As many as 400 to 500 people stayed on the grounds paying $1 for rental sites without tents and $3.50 to $6.00 for various tents provided. The campground was reportedly located north of River Street between Lexington and Magowan avenues.
During the successful three-year run of the Johnson County Chautauqua Assembly in the Manville Heights Neighborhood, the platting of residential additions began to take place. Platting efforts moved from west to east. Some of the subdividing activity would precede actual development by years or even decades. The three earliest additions to be laid out in the west half of the neighborhood overlooked the Iowa River. Black's Subdivision, was the first in1906 laid out along a steep hillside above the central and northern end of Rocky Shore Drive. The area originally contained sites for summer cottages. Holding the Johnson County Chautauqua nearby was likely considered a boon to Black's Subdivision. Chautauqua Heights Addition was laid out the following year in 1907 in the southwest corner of the survey area. Its name also beckoned to Chautauqua goers. Black's Second Subdivision adjoined the two earlier subdivisions in1908 and extended along the east side of present-day Mullin Avenue.
A year later, in 1909 Manville Addition was laid out with a series of long, rectangular blocks that were centrally located in the neighborhood stretching between the railroad and Park Road. The following year in 1910, Manville Heights Addition was laid out on the blocks along the eastern edge of the neighborhood. A small portion of Manville Heights Addition in the southeast corner of the neighborhood was re-platted in 1938 as Capital View Addition. In later years, several auditor plats were made for previously undeveloped land along blocks fronting on Lee and Woolf streets north of River Street.
A closer examination of the development of the Manville Heights Neighborhood between 1906 and 1938 reveals distinct waves of development. The first wave was associated with the shift from agricultural land use to suburban residential development. For example, Black's Subdivision was named for an early landowner and farmer in the area, William Black. By the time the area was platted in 1906 the property was owned by F.X. Rittenmeyer, a German immigrant and pioneer settler in Iowa City in the 1850s. He had a saw mill operation in Newport Township north of Iowa City for many years eventually building personal residences in Goosetown and later at 630 E. Fairchild Street. It is unknown whether he or his family did logging on the Black's Subdivision site prior to its platting in 1906. The platting of Black's Subdivision appears to have been triggered by the popularity of river recreation and demand for lots to be used for camping and cottage construction. Platting followed completion of construction of access to the area via the CRANDIC electric interurban line in 1904. [Cedar Rapids and Iowa City Railroad] Day trips and longer stays between Iowa City and popular recreation spots located along Black Road (Rocky Shore Drive) and the Iowa River were made considerably easier. Black's Subdivision was first laid out and recorded in December 1906 and re-platted two years later as the "Black Spring's Addition." As plats show, the main changes involved the delineation of 18 separate lots within what was formerly labeled "Lot 1." A number of these parcels eventually had small seasonal cottages erected but these buildings were razed by the late 20th century and replaced in a later phase of development with larger single-family residences.
The next addition to be platted within the neighborhood overlooked both the Iowa River and the local Chautauqua grounds. "Chautauqua Heights Addition" was originally laid out on September 4, 1907 and recorded on September 12, 1907. The addition occupied 37.57 acres immediately north of the CRANDIC line and east of "Black Road" or present day Rocky Shore Road. The west edge of the addition has a steep 60 foot rise with only two roads, Dill Street and an abandoned street to the north, connecting the upland lots and streets to the river road. The second street was never built likely due to the formidable bluff and the fact that it was not needed. The gentle hill at the top of the bluff in the area now occupied by Black Springs Park is dotted with mature oak trees and park landscaping. The original plat shows the park area as a school house and waterworks reserve, not a park. Neither was built. Several streets have been abandoned from the original plat and lot lines realigned. The original plat had small lots likely intended for use as a resort area rather than as a residential suburb. Some of the area was laid out to accommodate a small separate village with several short streets provided for commercial use including "Main Street," now Teeters Court, and "Front Street," now abandoned but originally fronting on the CRANDIC line. Access to the line was likely intended along Front Street, a short stretch of street that was perpendicular to Main Street/Teeters Court immediately to the west.
Chautauqua Heights Addition took its name from the popular Chautauqua grounds located along the eastern edge of the addition where the grounds extended onto the Hutchinson Farm. Formal platting of the addition followed the first two Chautauqua seasons during the summers of 1906 and 1907 and preceded the third in 1908. Property transfer records suggest few lots were sold prior to 1909, however, when final changes were made to the plat. By that time the Chautauqua had moved a half mile away to the former Folsom estate on the south side of the CRANDIC corridor closer to Iowa City. Owner of the Chautauqua Heights Addition property, Anna M. Rider, retained engineers to finalize work on the addition in 1909. B.J. Lambert, CE served as engineer/surveyor and W.Y. Raymond as surveyor. Both men were professors in the UI College of Engineering at the time. Their non-academic engineering efforts were standard practice for professionals at the UI who were encouraged to "moonlight" to supplement their modest incomes and promote good will towards the UI. Raymond later became dean of the College of Engineering and Lambert continued as a civil engineer laying out residential subdivisions in the neighborhood south of Melrose Avenue in Iowa City and designing bridges such as the Burlington Street and Iowa Avenue bridges over the Iowa River also in Iowa City. Chautauqua Heights Addition was finalized in 1909. The plats show a reserve for construction of a water works and school house within an elliptical parcel surrounded by "Park Street." This piece of high ground became known as "Black Springs Circle Park" at a later date and the road became known as Black Springs Circle. Some streets in this addition were later abandoned because of difficulties encountered with difficult terrain and the desire to have more buildable lots. They included Loos Street, Willis Street, Vale Street and Front Street. A major change was the extension of Rider Street west of Main Street/Teeters Court to link up with Dill Street at the south end of Black Springs Circle.
Another subdivision to be platted after the final Chautauqua season was Black's Second Subdivision. Harriet Black, a widow, owned the land and had the plat filed in July 1908. It was located northwest of the Chautauqua grounds with some of the land providing views of the Iowa River. The upland in this subdivision included substantial terrain changes with ravines and ridges defining the location of streets and lot lines. It was finalized and recorded in November 1908 by a surveyor from Cook County, Illinois. Lots in this irregular plat were larger than those in both the original Black's Subdivision located to the west and the Chautauqua Heights Addition located to the south.
With the departure of the annual Chautauqua, another real estate speculator began efforts for the subdivision of a large tract of land in the central and eastern portions of the Manville Heights Neighborhood. Berten E. "Bert" Manville (1873-1965) was born in Bayard, Iowa and was employed by a book publishing company in Chicago. Here, he supervised a sales force of college students employed to sell encyclopedias throughout the Midwest states. In ca. 1905 he became interested in real estate development prospects in his home state. He wrote letters to bank presidents in county seat towns and, based on responses, made a tour of prospective communities. Iowa City was among the towns he visited and after initially being disappointed in available land, he struck a deal to buy 160 acres of land from Frank Hutchinson. Known as the old Hutchinson Farm, a portion of the land had hosted the Chautauqua between 1906 and 1908.
Manville's efforts to secure the land and subdivide it were not a simple deal. With the help of Isaac B. Lee, a local insurance salesman, and Al Meardon, a local realtor, Manville placed an option to purchase on a portion of the farm. He then set out to sell the lots through subscription and secure financing from First National Bank to pay for the balance owed. The effort, later dubbed the "Manville Plan" by Bert, was a success. On June 7, 1909 the Manville Addition was formally laid out on 80 acres of the Hutchinson farm located between Park Road on the north, the CRANDIC Line on the south, Woolf Avenue on the west, and Hutchinson Avenue on the east. Manville Addition was originally platted in nine blocks, each measuring about five acres and roughly 300 feet by 640 feet. An additional strip of town lots laid out in three long half blocks extended along the east side of the large blocks. Bert later recorded in his unpublished autobiography that "Manville Addition" was named for his father, Lyman B. Manville, and not himself. Two streets in the additions were named after investors Merton Ferson, law librarian at UI, and Evan Rowland, Johnson County Sheriff. Access to Iowa City east of river was via the wagon bridge completed in 1908 on Park Road.
In 1910 a second addition, the Manville Heights Addition, was laid out to the east extending to North Riverside Drive. Initial purchasers of multiple lots and entire blocks ranged from UI professors to a bank cashier to other realtors. Part of Manville's strategy was to discount lot prices initially to establish interest and encourage brisk sales. He was successful not only in the Manville Heights Neighborhood but also in at least six other subdivisions in Iowa City and Coralville. These included 109 previously unsold lots in the Rundell Development on the east side of Iowa City after World War I, Coralville Heights (Coralville) in 1923, Kirkwood Place and Kirkwood Heights in 1925, Summit Hill (Coralville) in 1929, and Coralville Heights Second Subdivision (Coralville) in 1947.
The Manville Heights Addition, unlike the earlier Manville Addition, was laid out with "patience" and "long-term real estate investor" written all over it. In the Manville Addition, Bert sought to make whole-block sales for wholesale prices to trusted local citizens. His intention was to recapture his investment in order to make further real estate purchases and carryout additional subdivision efforts. This well thought through sales plan took advantage of Manville's knowledge of effective sales techniques. With the Manville Heights Addition, however, individual lot sales were part of Bert's plan from the start. Discussions for a West Campus had been on the drawing board since before Bert came to Iowa City and holding the house lots until they appreciated in value made good sense. The interruption of two world wars and a national economic depression were not on Bert's horizon, however. The Manvilles' patience was tested as they continued to hold and sell lots well into the 1950s in the neighborhood.
On the eve of World War I, the neighborhood comprised by Black Springs Addition, Black's 2nd Addition, Chautauqua Heights, Manville Addition and Manville Heights was taking shape as a picturesque West Side residential suburb. Served by a streetcar line [see: Streetcar Suburbs, 1888-1928], near a new municipal park, and located near the natural beauty of the Iowa River, the Manville Heights Neighborhood needed only one more thing—a nearby employment center for its residents. Discussion had been underway for the possible expansion of the campus of the University of Iowa from the east bank to the west bank of the Iowa River since 1905 when a study by the Olmstead brothers made this recommendation. The Flexner Report published in 1910 reviewed the state of the country's medical schools; it described deplorable conditions and poor training at the University of Iowa Hospital. Though initially traumatic, the controversy generated by the report sparked a reformation in the UI College of Medicine and an increase in state funding. Together with a $2.25 million matching grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Iowa General Assembly approved construction of a new University General Hospital. Settling on a location away from the crowded East Campus was the next step and the choice was eventually to look west of the river. Completion of the Burlington Street Bridge in 1915 made the decision for campus expansion more palatable and in 1917 an 80-acre tract was acquired between Melrose Avenue and the CRANDIC line for a West Campus. A new hospital site and space for new athletic facilities were a part of the expansion plan that unfolded at the end of World War I. The first UI facility to open was the Children's Hospital in 1919 soon followed by completion of the Psychopathic Hospital in 1920 and Westlawn (nurses' dormitory) in 1921. The General Hospital was under construction from 1924 to 1928.
The missing factor in Manville Heights' equation for sustained growth and stability—an employment center—was at hand. Together with the Melrose Avenue neighborhood located south of the new West Campus, Manville Heights would provide housing for the new physicians and nurses, hospital administrative staff, and University faculty associated with the new General Hospital and College of Medicine on the West Campus. N New General Hospital Site
† Maryls A. Svendsen, Svendsen Tyler Inc. for City of Iowa City, Historical Resources of the Manville Heights Neighborhood of Iowa City, Iowa, nomination document, 2010, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.