George House in North Liberty listed as one of Iowa's most-endangered historic structures

A home in North Liberty is one of the most at-risk buildings in Iowa, according to an annual list from a nonprofit dedicated to preserving historic structures throughout the state.

The George House, at 10 Jaro Way, a spacious home built by farmer and banker Jacob George in 1892, could be demolished as part of a redevelopment, Preservation Iowa said in a news release about the list.

It said the Queen Anne-style home is one of the few from the 1800s in fast-growing North Liberty that retains many original features, including a wraparound porch and turret on the exterior and wood flooring, and a staircase, pocket doors and other millwork on the interior.

George was a prosperous farmer who owned over 450 acres of farmland near North Liberty at the time the house was built. He also operated a saw, feed, and sorghum mill and was a vice-president of the North Liberty Savings Bank.

The George House in North Liberty
The George House in North Liberty

Matt Lepic with Matnic LLC, the owner of the property, plans to build two 12-unit residential buildings on the site under rezoning approved by the city last year.

Lepic told the Press-Citizen on Wednesday that he has owned the property for almost eight years and has tried to maintain it. He said it has never been his intention to tear it down.

"I have lost a large amount of money with upkeep and the property either being vacant or under-rented," Lepic said. "I allowed a day care to function out of the property for many years, losing $400 per month so that it could run."

Lepic said he offered the home for free to anyone who has the means to move it to another location, and at one point had a contract with someone before the new year who was going to move the home and make it into a shelter or a nonprofit, but that deal fell through. He said he has been in contact, as well, with Cedar Rapids preservation group CR Heritage and is trying to figure out a plan with the organization.

"Since my prior commitment fell through we are again in the mix of working with (CR Heritage) to move the home as soon as possible or in the least be able to part out the home and its heritage. We have yet to put a date on anything as we are still deciding when we will be starting this process," he said.

Rusnak told city zoning officials at a meeting last March that the house is not listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Unlike Iowa City, North Liberty does not have a historic preservation commission.

"I do agree that it's a cool Victorian home," Rusnak said.

Jon Marner with MMS Consultants told city officials that adding more housing units would be a good use for the site because it is surrounded by townhomes and higher density and sits near Christine Grant Elementary.

There are five other buildings on Preservation Iowa's 2023 list:

William Fletcher King Memorial Chapel, Mount Vernon

Built in 1892 in on the Cornell College campus, the William Fletcher King Memorial Chapel dominates the Mount Vernon skyline. The Victorian Gothic-style chapel has three towers, the largest of which is 130 feet tall and features the only remaining Model 17 tower clock made by the Seth Thomas Clock Company. Windows throughout the building feature stenciled glass.

Renamed in 1940 to honor the Cornell president who oversaw its construction, the chapel became a cultural center for Mount Vernon. On Oct. 15, 1962, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke there about strides made for social and economic justice, but also pointed out the income disparity between white and Black families that he said drove a wedge between the races.

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"This reveals that we still have a long, long way to go," King said, calling for hiring to be based on merit, not skin color.

"I am convinced that men hate each other because they fear each other," King said in the speech. "They fear each other because they don’t know each other and they don’t know each other because they don’t communicate with each other, and they don’t communicate with each other because they are separated from each other."

William Fletcher King Memorial Chapel in Mount Vernon.
William Fletcher King Memorial Chapel in Mount Vernon.

Cornell College has invested heavily in the upkeep of the chapel, adding an elevator in 2015 and completing reconstruction of the tower and restoration of the original clock In 2018. But the 2020 derecho severely damaged the structure.

The winds fractured four main supporting trusses and warped the west wall by more than eight inches, according to the Preservation Iowa report, and also damaged the roof.

With the chapel closed, a team in 2021 removed its organ, and last July, crews drilled 52-foot-deep moorings to stabilize the west wall, according to the College. It said pews were moved to make way for scaffolding to support the roof.

Repairs are expected to start this summer and be completed by the fall 2024, according to the college. But the work could cost as much as $8 million, according to Cedar Rapid TV news station KGAN. That's a sum equivalent to about a fifth of the small liberal arts college's total spending in 2021, the most recent year for which a financial statement is available.

"From the beginning, Cornell College has been strongly committed to the maintenance and preservation of this focal point of campus and community life," the Preservation Iowa report said. "The financial resources needed to address and repair the identified issues will be steep."

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Wilson Middle School, Cedar Rapids

Constructed in Cedar Rapids in 1924, Wilson Middle School was designed in a Gothic Revival style, featuring arched entrances and decorative elements like carved gargoyles and spires. The Cedar Rapids Community School District may demolish Wilson Middle School under a plan voters will consider in September.

Wilson Middle School in Cedar Rapids
Wilson Middle School in Cedar Rapids

The plan would approve a $312 million bond to reduce the number of middle schools in the district and provide more equitable services to all students, according to the Cedar Rapids Gazette. Local group Save CR Heritage is working to convince voters of the educational, environmental and fiscal advantages of renovating and adding to the existing school.

"Like other schools constructed at the time these schools were built with thick walls and durable materials designed to last for generations," the Preservation Iowa report said.

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Iowa Canning Company Seed House, Vinton

Built in 1927 in Vinton, the Iowa Canning Company Seed House is the last surviving structure associated with the company, which at its peak produced more than 3 million cans of sweet corn each year. It employed 250 people, and the seed house is where dried, processed and stored seeds for its contract farmers.

The Iowa Canning Company Seed House in Vinton.
The Iowa Canning Company Seed House in Vinton.

All of the other remaining buildings associated with the company were demolished after flooding by the Cedar River in 2008. The seed house retains its original brick and concrete foundation, wood frame window sashes and interior wood and concrete floors. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.

But in 2011, a derecho damaged the building and the 2008 flood threatened the integrity of the structure. Vinton condemned the property in November.

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Hastie Farmhouse, Carlisle

Sitting on 18 acres high on a ridge between the North and Middle rivers near Carlisle southeast of Des Moines, this farmhouse was built in 1863. Its first owner, Andrew Hastie, immigrated to Warren County from Scotland around 1850 and founded Scotch Ridge Presbyterian Church in Carlisle, which still exists today.

The Hastie Farmhouse near Carlisle.
The Hastie Farmhouse near Carlisle.

Recently the agricultural land near the farmhouse was rezoned to allow the construction of a housing subdivision. The home's current owners plan to build a home in the new subdivision and place the farmhouse and its acreage up for sale, which could lead to its demolition, according to the Preservation Iowa report.

"Today, the house continues to be maintained as a residence and is in good condition apart from some deferred maintenance," the report said. "Despite several remodels over the years including the addition of a north portico, much of its historic character remains."

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207 Lafayette St. , Waterloo

207 Lafayette St. in Waterloo is in danger of being demolished and is in disrepair.
207 Lafayette St. in Waterloo is in danger of being demolished and is in disrepair.

The threat to a classic home in Waterloo is an example of the consequences of redlining neighborhoods, according to the report.

The "once grand" American Foursquare-style residence at 207 Lafayette St. was built in 1913. American Foursquare homes were popular between the 1890s and 1930s and incorporated boxy elements. The house fell into disrepair years ago, but "distinctive features of its Colonial Revival style, however, such as the round classical columns and the pedimented gable on the porch remain," the report said.

The home sits near the Cedar River in an area that suffered redlining under a 1930s federal policy, which made it difficult for the predominately Black residents of the neighborhood to get loans or insurance, the report said. The city of Waterloo purchased the home in 2022 after it had sat vacant for five years. It has not had water service since 2016 and the front door and some windows are boarded up. Extensive roof damage and unsealed exterior openings have resulted in significant interior damage.

While the city attempted to sell the property to a group to rehabilitate the site, there's been no interest. Demolition is likely, according to the report.

Des Moines Register staff writer Philip Joens contributed to this article.

George Shillcock is the Press-Citizen's local government and development reporter covering Iowa City and Johnson County. He can be reached at (319) 214-5039, and on Twitter @ShillcockGeorge

This article originally appeared on Iowa City Press-Citizen: Preservation Iowa list North Liberty home among state's most endangered