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Old Fourth Ward SE Historic District

Waverly City, Bremer County, IA

The Old Fourth Ward SE Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013. Portions of the content on this page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]

The Old Fourth Ward SE Historic District serves as a representative example of the residential neighborhoods that developed in Waverly's four residential quadrants located northwest, northeast, southeast and southwest of the central business district from the late 19th through the mid-20th century. Located in the southeast quadrant in the blocks immediately south of the core of the business district, the Old Fourth Ward District provided housing for working class families as well as business and professional leaders. Many of these individuals resided in the neighborhood for several generations while establishing long-lived businesses or making substantial contributions to the local economy and civic life of the community. Architecturally, the residences demonstrated the aesthetic choices of the late 19th and early 20th century through the adaptation of popular architectural styles and vernacular building forms. In a number of instances local and regional architects as well as experienced local building contractors were called upon to erect well-designed and well-crafted dwellings. Though several other residential neighborhoods in Waverly likely qualify for the National Register, these aspects of historic and architectural significance make the southeast quadrant's Old Fourth Ward SE Historic District standout as significant at the local level.

The district contains a group of residential blocks associated with the development of Waverly for over a century from 1857 to 1959. The residential blocks in this portion of the Original Town Plat abut Waverly's main commercial street—East Bremer Avenue—and as such became the home to successive generations of merchants, bankers, lawyers, doctors and other commercial professionals as well as working class households whose family members were employed in the business district and local manufacturing concerns.

Prominent individuals who made their homes in the district included Waverly founder, civic leader, entrepreneur and newspaper owner, William P. Harmon and his wife Alzina (225 3rd Street SE); merchants such as hardware store owner, Sidney H. Curtis and his wife Sarah (302 1st Street SE); bankers such as Herman Moehling and his wife Prudence (322 2nd Avenue SE); automobile dealer Ernest Coonradt and his wife Ruth (410 2nd Street SE); lawyer Edward Smalley and his wife Louisa (416 2nd Street SE); and Judge George Ruddick and his wife Estella (321 1st Street SE). In each instance, these merchants and professionals played active roles in the civic and social life of Waverly. Many of these families shared German-American ancestry with a large number of neighborhood residents and were also members of St. Mary's Catholic Parish, which was founded by both German-American and Irish-American immigrants.

Buildings in the Old Fourth Ward SE Historic District represent a cross-section of residential architectural styles and vernacular forms from the mid-19th through the mid-20th centuries. Well-preserved examples of Greek Revival, Queen Anne, Classical Revival, Colonial Revival, Mission, Craftsman, and Bungalow style houses are scattered throughout the neighborhood. Iowa architects with important careers have been identified for several of these houses. In addition, virtually every vernacular residential form employed during the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Iowa is found in the historic district including Front-Gable, Gable-Front-and-Wing, Side-Gable, Hipped Roof or American Four-Square, Gambrel Roof, Minimal Traditional and Ranch forms.

The Old Fourth Ward SE Historic District neighborhood saw its development begin soon after Waverly was established in the late 1850s. Local founder William Harmon and his wife Alzina erected their personal residence in 1857 along the east side of Washington Street, later renamed Harmon Street, and now 3rd Street SE. It is one of several dozen houses that appear in the neighborhood on the earliest neighborhood map—the 1868 bird's eye view of Waverly and in the 1875 Bremer Atlas plat map. The Harmon House's location (225 3rd St SE) just south of the developing business district was on high ground several blocks distant from the Cedar River, which was located several blocks further south and west. William P. Harmon (1819-1864) was a significant person at the local level. Considered Waverly's founder, Harmon trained as a lawyer in the East before settling in Bremer County in 1853. Here he purchased land and surveyed the town of Waverly in Washington Township in 1853. He married Alzina E. Reeves the summer of 1853 and the couple removed to the new town the same year. Among other things, Harmon became an important civic leader, built a flour mill, was the founder and proprietor of the Waverly Republican newspaper, and was a partner in the building of Waverly's first hotel. He was a leader of the local Republican party and successful in political debate on behalf of his party during the Civil War years. He died at a young age in 1864. This is the earliest of two extant residence occupied by Harmon and the one most closely associated with his productive career.

House building spread from the north edge of the neighborhood south and west toward the Cedar River before and after the Civil War with population increasing to 2,291 during the town's first decade from 1859 to 1870. The first Lincoln School (no longer extant) was built to serve Fourth Ward families in 1868 just north of the historic district. Both the 1868 bird's eye view and the 1875 plat map show houses scattered on the Original Town Plat blocks south of 1st Avenue SE with density greatest along the north edge. The earliest houses are depicted as largely rectangular in shape in both views with smaller carriage houses also delineated in the bird's eye view. Though the accuracy of both historic images is difficult to confirm, the density suggested is consistent with the overall city population. Historical research completed during the Southeast Quadrant Historical and Architectural Survey in 2012 was able to identify only two surviving houses from this first generation, pre-1880 period. They include the Harmon House noted above and the original St. Andrew's Episcopal Rectory (ca. 1864) at 219 2nd Avenue SE. It is likely that an unidentified number of the small houses appearing in the 1868 and 1875 views remain as fully enclosed sections or wings in later houses. It is also possible that based on the large number of house moving instances reported in Waverly newspapers through the late 19th and early 20th centuries, some of these early houses were removed to other sections of town or to rural properties.

The next several decades saw Waverly's population grow at a fast rate with 3,177 residents recorded by 1900—a 35 percent increase during the 1890s alone. Along with this substantial population increase came the construction of several dozen houses in the neighborhood. Vernacular house forms favored simple two-story frame dwellings using Front-Gable and Side-Gable forms or combinations of the two to create large Gable-Front-and-Wing houses. In some instances, the latter form was the result of multiple additions built onto earlier houses to provide for expanding families and the need for more living space. The Queen Anne Style was introduced to dwellings with more complicated plans and surface finishes during these decades. At least 12 fully designed houses in this style survive in the neighborhood with the more limited application of Queen Anne ornamentation for selected window hoods, window designs, door and entrance details, or porches reflected in many other houses of the Old Fourth Ward SE Historic District. Pockets of the neighborhood where the style and ornamentation are especially common include the 300 and 400 blocks of 1st and 2nd Streets SE. The ready adaptation of this style for so many houses was in part due to the fact Queen Anne Style building products became available from regional planing mills (diamond-cut, square-cut, octagonal-cut, and fish scale shingles), and window, door and sash factories (multi-panel doors, spindle friezes, columns and turned posts, and stained glass cottage windows). Such material arrived by railroad shipments from concerns in Red Wing, Minnesota; LaCrosse, Wisconsin; or Dubuque, Clinton or Davenport, Iowa.

At least one family has been documented as building its second house in the neighborhood during the pre-1900 period. This came when hardware merchant Sidney H. Curtis and his wife Sarah built a new house at 302 1st Street SE. This move across the street to the south from their first much smaller house located at 91 2nd Avenue SE, allowed the 2nd Avenue house to be moved to northwest Waverly in 1901. Sidney H. Curtis (1829-1914) was a significant person at the local level. Curtis was born in New York State and immigrated to Iowa from Erie County, Pennsylvania in 1855. He opened the first hardware store in Bremer County the same year. He became an important civic leader and eventually was associated with the Republican Party. He held the position as a Bremer County Supervisor and was chairman of the Board of Supervisors in 1873. He was a founder of the local Methodist church serving as a trustee for 50 years. His hardware business prospered throughout his life with his sons joining him in its operation that continued after his death. The house is the only extant building associated with Curtis' life.

Another family from this period that typified the civic roles played by residents of the neighborhood was that of Leopold and Mathilda levy who built a house nearby at 317 1st Street SE. Leopold was a native of New York State where he worked as a clothier before moving to Des Moines and then Waverly in 1881. He acquired this property in 1886. He opened his own clothing emporium selling men's clothing, gents' furnishings, hats and caps. While residing here, Leopold served a four year term as trustee for the Iowa College for the Blind in Vinton beginning in 1894 as well as on other local boards. Like her husband, Mathilda was active in civic affairs serving on the Waverly Library Board when the Carnegie library was under construction in 1904.

As the turn of the 20th century approached, a new school was built to replace the original Lincoln School. Completed in 1898, the school had a capacity for 200 students from the growing population of the Fourth Ward. The continued popularity of the neighborhood after 1900 was attributable in part to the continued growth of the downtown. Commercial buildings along nearly three blocks of East Bremer Avenue attracted homebuilding to nearby blocks to the south that continued to have either vacant parcels or lots with small houses that were acquired and razed or moved to make way for new houses. Between 1900 and 1919 more than 23 houses were built in the neighborhood. A substantial majority of these houses were built on east-west avenues from 2nd Avenue SE to 4th Avenue SE. On 2nd Avenue SE, the lots had originally been oriented in this way but the sale of corner lots and reconfigurations of sub-divided parcels facing the north/south streets kept the development of strong north and south facing houses until the post 1900 period.

In one case, a single family built three houses during this period on adjacent parcels on vacant land along the 300 block of 3rd Avenue SE. The half block had been held for more than 20 years beginning in 1889 when Henry Schlutsmeyer, a dry goods merchant, and his wife Francis acquired four parcels. The vacant stretch of 3rd Avenue SE likely remained undeveloped because it had a difficult land profile for house building. About a decade later, they built the personal residence at 309 3rd Avenue SE followed ten years later with a house next door at 315 3rd Avenue SE for their son Ernest and his wife Beulah. Two other houses were built on the four lots including one built in ca. 1906 on a parcel from the Schluytsmeyers' holdings facing 3rd Street SE and one built in ca. 1915 at 317 3rd Street SE, perhaps for a second son, Rudolph. It was eventually used as a rental house, however. Together this real estate development demonstrates the type of steady development that took place over 25 years. The Schlutsmeyer houses reflected a gradual shift from more highly ornamented houses to more modest but still large-scale houses—a practice seen on virtually every city block in the district.

One of the important decisions that favored continued residential development in the Old Fourth Ward SE Historic District came soon after the turn of the 20th century. St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church was established by German Catholics in Waverly before the Civil War with a church located on "Catholic Hill" in northeast Waverly. After the turn of the 20th century, church members sought a location for a larger building closer to the center of town. In 1912-1913 a Romanesque Revival Style brick church (no longer extant) was erected at 120 2nd Avenue SE and by ca. 1915 a modern rectory was constructed next door at 112 2nd Avenue SE.

Another decision that favored development came in 1916 when the Bremer County Board of Supervisors voted to build the Harmon Street (3rd Street SE) Bridge in order to connect the downtown to the newly platted residential and factory subdivisions under development south of the Cedar River. Though the bridge provided a route to areas further south of the Old Fourth Ward, its construction had the effect of heightening overall interest in the neighborhood. In later years, 3rd Street SE became a frequently used route to the south side.

By the eve of World War I, the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood remained a favored residential district for merchants, professionals, public employees, tradesmen and a growing number of retired couples and widows, the later group sometimes taking in boarders. Among the new merchants building homes were another druggist, banker, two dry goods dealers, a grocery store owner, a livestock buyer, a second generation hardware store owner, an agricultural implement dealer, a photographer, and the owner of a monument company. Public officials included a county surveyor who later became a real estate dealer and a county treasurer who later became a banker.

The decades of the 1920s and 1930s saw the Old Fourth Ward SE Historic District become nearly fully developed; fewer than a dozen houses from this period survive in 2012. Midway through these decades on April 15, 1930, the Waverly City Council officially changed city street and avenue names for the last time to numbered streets and avenues and divided the city into directional quadrants. Bremer Avenue—the only non-numbered avenue to survive—divided the north and south halves of the community and the Cedar River split the east and west halves of town.

‡ Marlys A. Svendsen, Svendsen Tyler, Inc., Old Fourth Ward SE Historic District, Bremer County, IA, nomination document, 2013, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Street Names
1st Street SE • 2nd Avenue SE • 2nd Street SE • 3rd Avenue SE • 3rd Street SE • 4th Avenue SE • 4th Street SE