David Van Allen gave tours of the house where his father grew up and answered questions about the Van Allen family from curious spectators during the Henry County Heritage Trust’s Historic House Tour on Sunday, April 14.
David, the son of Maurice Van Allen, recalled sliding down the banister as a child in the historic home built in 1862 by his great-grandfather.
When people meet David Van Allen, the first question he gets asked is “Are you related to ...?” Occasionally, he meets someone whose life his father saved.
In fact, Esther Hult, of Swedesburg, remembered Maurice treating her husband for polio.
“My husband was a patient of his,” Hult said. “My husband said that if it wasn’t for Maurice, he wouldn’t be walking.”
During the Historic House Tour, David talked about the afternoons he spent in the Van Allen house, which was moved from its original location on West Washington Street to 204 North Van Buren Street in Mt. Pleasant in 2009. It is owned by Henry County Heritage Trust.
David complimented the restoration work on the house, calling it “really excellent.”
The house was built by George Olney Van Allen in 1862. His son Alfred Morris Van Allen was born in the house. Alfred married Alma Van Allen and they had four sons: George, James, Maurice and William.
Alma’s bedroom is decorated with green and blue floral wallpaper. All four of her children were born in that room.
Across the hall is a bedroom that all four boys shared. On the wall is George’s diploma from Mt. Pleasant High School in 1930. On the dresser is the birth certificate for James and report cards from Iowa Wesleyan University.
A U.S. Army uniform, which belonged to Maurice, and a U.S. Navy uniform, which belonged to James, hangs in the closet. A rocking horse is on the floor, and children’s books and family portraits are placed around the room.
Down the hall is an office, which would have belonged to George Olney and later to his son Alfred. Through the office is a sleeping porch, where the family would spend their evenings and sleep on summer nights.
David also shared memories of his father Maurice, a neurosurgeon at the University of Iowa.
Maurice was really good with patients, David said. He was very compassionate and interested in not only helping them but in what they were interested in, what they did and what their family life was like.
“He would observe them talking about something they knew a lot about, and learned a lot more from talking about what they were interested in than he did talking about their symptoms,” David said.
Maurice, who was also a professor at the University of Iowa, was known for his theatrical lectures where he acted out symptoms. David said his father’s lectures were funny, entertaining, informative and “visually interesting.”
James Van Allen was also an “interesting character,” David said. He was brilliant with an incredible memory that he reinforced on a daily basis by keeping an extensive journal.
“At the end of each day, he would write down who he met and what he did,” David said.
David said that James’ father Alfred Morris and his grandfather George Clinton were also extensive note keepers, but they wrote more “mundane things” about the price of groceries and the rain, David said.
“‘Jimmy’ didn’t suffer fools,” David said. “He rather enjoyed debunking theories and called astrology the ‘benign fraud.’”
Mona Gales, with Henry County Heritage Trust, said she fell in love with the Van Allen house the past few years as she helped work on restorations.
Gales’ favorite place in the house is the parlor because it speaks to elegance. People don’t have parlors in their house, she said. The family, however, did most of their living in the library, Gales said.
Alfred Morris Van Allen would read to his children every night from a dictionary. He kept journals every day, a few of which still sit on a shelf in the clock.
“It’s just beautiful. The Van Allens were very prominent in Mt. Pleasant. It’s carrying on their tradition. It’s home coming,” Gales said.