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Park-to-Park Residential Historic District


Charles and Catherine Doerr House, ca. 1891, 812 Avenue F, Park-to-Park Residential Historic District, Fort Madison, IA, National Register

Photo: Charles and Catherine Doerr House, ca. 1891, 812 Avenue F, Park-to-Park Residential Historic District, Fort Madison, IA. The Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2014. Photograph by Jane Giannone Moore, 1993, for nomination document, Cattell Tract Historic District, Camden County, NJ, NR# 94001103, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places.

The Park-to-Park Residential Historic District [†] was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2014.

The Park-to-Park Residential Historic District is located at the center of Fort Madison's Original Town site, which was platted in 1837. It was the first residential neighborhood developed after the city's incorporation in 1838. The easy availability of locally produced brick resulted in the construction of numerous large, architecturally significant houses, as well as churches and government buildings, which are extant and contribute to the integrity of the district as a whole. The district contains both single-family homes and a variety of original multi-family dwellings, which were associated with a spike in population following the arrival of the Santa Fe Railroad in 1887. The district's preferred name reflects the presence of two public parks that anchor either end of the neighborhood; both were designated in the Original Town plat. Old Settlers Park was formally established in 1838 when the town was incorporated, while Central Park was not developed until 1889. Due to its proximity to the downtown commercial district," the Park-to-Park Residential Historic District was a neighborhood sought after by many civic and business leaders, who could easily walk to their offices along its tree-lined streets; its desirability declined during the 1930s, when new upscale neighborhoods were developed on the bluffs above the Original Town Site.

Located along what are now Avenues E and F, immediately adjacent to the commercial district along Avenue G and the Mississippi riverfront, the Park-to-Park Residential Historic District was home to many of Fort Madison's community and business leaders. The houses that these doctors, judges, businessmen, and industrialists built in the 1800s and early 1900s reflected the great prosperity of the city.

Fort Madison was remarkably productive for its size, thanks to its proximity to both the Mississippi River's steamboat lines and the continually growing network of railroads connecting the town to major cities such as Kansas City, St. Louis, and Chicago. Fort Madison's factories made paper, flour, farm machinery and implements, and a wide variety of household and agricultural products. Its lumber mills and brickyards manufactured the literal building blocks of America, at a time when westward expansion was at its zenith.

Within walking distance of these enterprises developed the residential area that would become the Park-to-Park Residential Historic District. Many community and business leaders built the architecturally significant houses in the district, and many others chose the neighborhood for their residence after it had been developed. While they also may be associated with commercial or governmental buildings that are still extant, this nomination recognizes their prominence as a group, rather than as individuals. In the early years of the city, many settlers were tradesmen—blacksmiths, wagonwrights, brick masons, carpenters, etc., who often went on to become manufacturers and merchants—and professionals such as lawyers, bankers, and doctors. Over the years, the Park-to-Park Residential Historic District area was home to nine mayors, 26 physicians, 1O dentists, four judges, and 14 bank presidents or vice presidents, as well as several hundred business owners. Fort Madisonians were an enterprising group, and it was not unusual for any these individuals to pursue a variety of business opportunities, including some that might seem unrelated; for example, Dr. John Downs, a local physician, later founded a concrete block manufacturing company, based in part on his belief in the hygienic qualities of concrete block construction.

Both Fort Madison's commercial district and the adjacent neighborhood that makes up the Park-to-Park Residential Historic District initially developed between 1838-1865. Commercial construction during that period was concentrated within the area along Front Street (now Avenue H) facing the Mississippi River and the block to the north along 2nd Street (Avenue G). The residential neighborhood first developed primarily along 3rd Street (Avenue F) and 4th Street (Avenue E), east of what is now 11th Street. This area comprises most of the Park-to-Park Residential Historic District. An influx of German immigrants during the 1850s and 1860s spurred further development in the western end of the Original Town plat. While many of the earliest homes were relatively small, most of these were replaced by the large, two-story dwellings that can be found throughout the district today.

A critical event in the development of both the city and the Park-to-Park Residential Historic District was the establishment, in 1841, of a brickyard to facilitate the construction of the Iowa State Penitentiary at the far eastern edge of town. The earliest houses built in Fort Madison were log cabins, but these were quickly replaced as local brick became readily available. Two of the earliest brick houses in the city are still extant in the district. Amos Ladd, a bricklayer, was hired to construct the first buildings for the Iowa State Penitentiary. Ladd's own house, made of brick and located at 811 Avenue E, has since been incorporated into the current City Hall building. The two-story Ira and Sarah Bricker House (435 Avenue E) is also built of brick, as is the Lee County Courthouse (701 Avenue F), built in the Greek Revival style in 1841-1842. By 1843, 130 brick homes had been constructed and within two decades, most of the buildings within the city were made of brick. The Ladd and Bricker Houses and the Courthouse are the only buildings from the 1840s still extant within the district.

Houses within the district generally face north or south toward the Avenues, with outbuildings (primarily carriage houses or garages) sited along the alleys that bisect each block east-to-west. On some corner lots, additional houses or outbuildings were constructed on the rear portion of the lots, facing the side streets. Residences in the district are set back between 5-20 feet, and spacing between them ranges from 10-30 feet. Over time, some lots have been subdivided and/or combined, mostly to create larger properties in the central part of the district where governmental and religious buildings are located. The density of housing and number of discrete residential properties on each blockface has remained fairly consistent, numbering between 7-10 on most blocks.

Fort Madison's location on the Mississippi River supported its development as a port city and trading center. Steamboat and railroad brought passengers and freight; in the 1850s, the expansion of railroad lines and the subsequent construction of railroad maintenance yards and machine shops in the city drove growth in both its economy and population. The availability of multiple modes of shipping, combined with the hardworking entrepreneurial spirit of Fort Madisonians throughout the 19th century, created a community of business owners whose prosperity was reflected in the houses that they built.

The influence of the Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, and Italianate styles—all popular in the mid-1800s—is seen in the buildings of that period still extant in the Park-to-Park Residential Historic District. Fifteen buildings in the district were constructed between 1850 and the start of the Civil War in 1861. Starting in the 1840s and continuing into the 1860s, American residential buildings often combined characteristics from the popular architectural styles of the period, and this is certainly true in Fort Madison. Some houses combine Greek Revival and Gothic Revival elements—a center gable roof with arched gable windows, symmetrical facade with centered front entryway, prominent porch with classical columns.

The Italianate style was a favorite of the residents of Fort Madison throughout the late 1800s. Early examples from the 1850s and 1860s, as shown on the following page, include expressions of the style in various house forms, roof types, and levels of decorative detail. The occupants of these Italianate houses were civic and business leaders: Peter Miller, Sr., a blacksmith and merchant who also served as mayor; doctors Edward Whinery and Joel Walker; brothers Jacob and William Albright and Robert Albright, merchants; and Joseph Beck, Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court.

The home of Dr. Jacob and Sarah Bacon (601 5th Street)—a relatively nondescript brick foursquare with a dual-pitched hipped roof—became the rectory for St. Joseph's Church in 1925. The only other church-related building extant in the district from the 1850s or 1860s is Hope Episcopal Church (now St. Luke's Episcopal Church, 605 Avenue E), built in 1857 in the Gothic Revival style with a pinnacled bell tower, bracketed eaves, and pointed arched windows topped with drip molds.

The Civil War dampened the economies of many cities along the Mississippi, and Fort Madison was no exception. Little construction took place during the War—the district contains no buildings from the period 1860-1863 and further railroad expansion also was put on hold. Once the War was over, however, the city's economy recovered quickly, helped in large part by the lumber industry, which began to boom along the Mississippi River; additional railroad connections; and an increase in river traffic following the completion, by the 1870s, of a system of canals and locks around rapids to the north and south of Fort Madison. The period from 1864 to 1885 was a prosperous one for Fort Madison.

Throughout the 19th century, many residents of the Park-to-Park Residential Historic District were business leaders, whose homes in the neighborhood provided easy access to their offices in the adjacent downtown commercial district. Most homes in the neighborhood were less than a mile from the commercial district, resulting in an eminently walkable community. The pleasure of a walk to or from the office undoubtedly was enhanced by the aesthetic appeal of the tree-lined streetscapes within the district. The 1868 Lee County Gazetteer states that the city's "pleasant dwellings embosomed in forest and ornamental trees, are remarkable for their architectural beauty," and that "(i)n former years much labor was expended in planting forest trees about the principal streets ... Also, two Parks or Squares well planted with trees." The district today contains moderate tree cover, primarily along curb lawns and, to a lesser extent, within back yards. Historic photographs of district streetscapes provide a comparison between the tree cover extant in the late 19th century and today.

A handful of extant houses in the district were constructed at the end of the Civil War (1864-1865), along with two churches (St. John's and the German Catholic Church, now St. Mary's) and the Lee County Jail. No remaining buildings represent the years 1866 or 1867, and only one extant house (the Napoleon and Sibil Miller House, 713 Avenue E) was built in 1868. After that, five or six houses remain in the district from each year, 1865-1871, with one or two representing each of the subsequent years through 1885. Many of these houses were built in the Italianate style, with a few examples of the Greek Revival, Second Empire, and Gothic Revival. A handful of gable front Folk National houses are also present, and by the mid-1880s, the district's extant buildings were being constructed with the first flourishes of Victorian decorative detail.

The next 20 years were architecturally important for Fort Madison, for this period saw the construction of many large, elaborately designed homes for the city's wealthy residents. Although the city was expanding to the west, the residents of the Park-to-Park Historic District neighborhood continued to be associated with downtown businesses. The majority of these were built in the Queen Anne style that dominated American architecture during the late Victorian era. Some of these were concentrated along single block faces, such as the north side of Avenue F, between 11th and 12th, where all but one of the houses (the Lauther House at 1133 Avenue F) are in the Queen Anne style. Another small cluster of Queen Anne houses is located around the northwest corner of Old Settlers Park, at the other end of the district. Many more examples of this style are scattered throughout the neighborhood.

The city's economic expansion was driven, in no small part, by the arrival of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad in 1887. Community leaders in Fort Madison secured the connection by offering the "Santa Fe," as it was called, money to build a bridge over the Mississippi and 60 acres of land for the railroad's switchyards, maintenance shops, and storage buildings. The railroad's construction crews and workers brought in nearly 1,000 new jobs to Fort Madison, and many new residents. The influx of workers created an immediate need for additional housing. Sixteen duplexes were built during this time, generally in a side-by-side configuration, and Samuel Atlee built a series of seven rowhouses at 314-326 Market Street (now 502-514 8th Street). Other single-family homes were converted to duplexes or apartments.

In 1889, the city developed the lower public square into Central Park and began using brick to pave its streets. (Some brick streets are still extant within the Original Town plat, particularly north of the Park-to-Park Residential Historic District.) Although additions were made to the west, the Park-to-Park district continued to be developed. Sanborn Fire Insurance maps for 1889 and 1894 show few empty lots remaining along 3rd Street (Avenue F). [Note: Properties on 4th Street (Avenue E) were not included on Sanborn maps for those years.) Between 1880 and 1900, the city's population doubled to 9,278. The first two decades of the 20th century were mostly stable for Fort Madison, with a few periods of growth and prosperity. The completion of the nearby hydroelectric dam in Keokuk, in 1912, enabled Fort Madison to attract new businesses (and cultivate existing ones) that needed inexpensive electricity. The construction of a second railroad track on the Santa Fe line between Kansas City and Chicago brought in an influx of workers, many from Mexico, between 1907 and 1920. The population of Fort Madison reached 12,066 in 1920 and 13,779 in 1930.

Early 20th century construction in the Park-to-Park District was solely residential. Thirty-two extant properties were built between 1900-1919, including 30 houses, one duplex, and one small apartment building. Most of these buildings utilized wood-frame construction and were relatively small compared to their 19th century predecessors, reflecting the architectural trends of the time. The houses built during the 1910s typically featured full-width porches, and at least 25 older extant houses were updated with new porches from 1900 to 1930.

By the 1930s, the most desirable real estate in Fort Madison was located on the bluffs above the Original Town site. Some construction continued in the Park-to-Park District neighborhood, in the popular Revival styles of the period (Tudor Revival, Colonial Revival, and Dutch Colonial Revival) that were also being built in the new wealthy neighborhoods on the bluffs. As before, the new houses in the district were large and substantial.

Throughout the 20th century, properties throughout the district were redeveloped and garages were built along the alleys, sometimes taking the place of former carriage houses. The pace of construction had slowed considerably by 1940, and the last significant primary resource was constructed in 1958.

Adapted from: Steph McDougal, president, McDoux Preservation, LLC, Park-to-Park Residential Historic District, Lee County, IA, nomination document, 2014, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Park-to-Park Residential Historic District Map

Street Names
10th Street • 11th Street • 12th Street • 4th Street • 5th Street • 6th Street • 7th Street • 8th Street • 9th Street • Avenue E • Avenue F

**Information is curated from a variety of sources and, while deemed reliable, is not guaranteed.
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