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'Mt. Pleasant Beautiful'

Historic Preservation Commission launches project for May's Historical Preservation Month

GTNS photo by Grace King

The Mt. Pleasant Historic Preservation Commission will use abstracts, which is a record of homeowners and other records of a house, to piece together a brief history of homes that were featured in a book published in 1909 called “Mt. Pleasant Beautiful.”
GTNS photo by Grace King The Mt. Pleasant Historic Preservation Commission will use abstracts, which is a record of homeowners and other records of a house, to piece together a brief history of homes that were featured in a book published in 1909 called “Mt. Pleasant Beautiful.”
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The Mt. Pleasant Historic Preservation Commission is publishing an updated version of “Mt. Pleasant Beautiful,” a book published in 1909, which featured 120 homes and businesses in black and white photographs.

The commission is working with homeowners to publish an update to “Mt. Pleasant Beautiful.” It will showcase 80 of the original homes that are still standing and incorporate current photographs of the homes alongside brief historical descriptions. The book will be available before Christmas.

Lea Bradley lives at 500 West Monroe Street, a home that was featured in “Mt. Pleasant Beautiful.” The “Mt. Pleasant Beautiful” project has been on her bucket list for many years, she said.

“I thought it would be so cool to include a historic narrative of the homes,” Bradley said.

Bradley’s home was built in 1892 by an architect from Tennessee, Dr. Ball. She said because Ball was “instrumental” in starting Mt. Pleasant Utilities, the home is unique in that it was wired for electricity in 1892. There are still two original light fixtures and two original pocket doors in the house.

The house at 500 West Monroe Street has been a boardinghouse for women and a nursing home, with each room except for the kitchen home to a resident.

“I have people visit who say, ‘My grandma lived in that room,’” Bradley said.

The commission sent a letter to each homeowner who currently resides at the 80 houses still standing that were featured in “Mt. Pleasant Beautiful.” Around 30 homeowners arrived to the first meeting at Jerry’s Restaurant in March.

On Monday, May 13, the commission visited the Henry County Courthouse to familiarize themselves with the Recorder’s Office, Assessor’s Office and Treasurer’s Office. They pulled tax assessments and other records on the houses pictured in “Mt. Pleasant Beautiful” to piece together a complete history of the homes. Ten people with the commission and homeowners were present.

The commission will meet at the courthouse again on Monday, May 20, from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Homeowners have been contacted about the project and are invited and encouraged to attend. They will host more workshops throughout the summer such as a tour of the archives of Chadwick Library on the Campus of Iowa Wesleyan University to help homeowners know how to research their properties.

Steve Rod, member of the commission, was at an auction in 1970 when he first saw the 1909 version of “Mt. Pleasant Beautiful.” It went for over $200 — a price he couldn’t afford at the time.

Seeing the value of preserving “Mt. Pleasant Beautiful” and the history of a community, he reprinted the book in 1988. It was again reprinted in 2013.

“People are interested in doing ancestry for their personal history. This is the history of your house,” Rod said.

Rod’s home at 409 North Main Street is featured in “Mt. Pleasant Beautiful.” It was built in 1903 by a former farmer from Des Moines County. His daughter inherited the house and owned it until the 1930s. Someone new bought the house and owned it until 1981 when it was sold at auction to Rod, the third owner of the house.

“We’re trying to preserve it. You can’t have a 1930s kitchen in your house, but we’re trying not to make any major changes,” Rod said.

The bathroom in Rod’s house was renovated from 1980s style to 1903, complete with a claw foot tub and black and white tiled floor. There is a modern toilet and plumbing.

Rod said that he got into historical preservation because once you get into something you just want to get into it deeper and deeper.

“There’s all kinds of neat, historic stuff in Mt. Pleasant. Finding it is the problem,” Rod said.

Jeff Thomas would like to see current homeowners of the historic properties researching their houses and building their historic sketch for the book.

Thomas lives at 208 East Henry Street, which is featured in “Mt. Pleasant Beautiful.” In the 1909 book, there is a girl pictured sitting on the front porch of that house. He plans on having his daughter sit on the front porch in the same style for the “today” photo in the updated version of “Mt. Pleasant Beautiful.”

Thomas said the project may give some homeowners more appreciation for their historical properties.

“It might make it more interesting, so when your plumbing backs up you won’t be so mad,” Thomas said with a laugh.

Barb and Doug Kennedy reside at 402 East Monroe Street in Mt. Pleasant and attended the commission meeting on Monday to begin researching their property.

“We really don’t know a lot,” Barb said. “We’re interested in finding out more of the history of our house.”

The Kennedys moved into the home, which was featured in the 1909 “Mt. Pleasant Beautiful,” in 1987. They said their home still is referred to as the Cruikshank home, the last name of a former superintendent of the Mt. Pleasant Community School District.

From looking at the abstract, Doug said that they already learned the property where the house resides used to be 160 acres. It was purchased from the U.S. government for $200 in 1839.

Joy Lapp, with the commission, said they hope the “Mt. Pleasant Beautiful” project will lead to a larger project — establishing historical districts in Mt. Pleasant. Historic district would be placed on the National Register of Historic Places and be eligible for tax rebates, tax credits and some grant funding, she said.

For more information about “Mt. Pleasant Beautiful” or for questions about how to be a part of the project, call Lea Bradley at 319-931-0671.