AUTOMOBILE ERA: 1909-1929
The first automobile arrived in Iowa Falls in 1902 with Frank McMillan at the wheel. by 1906 E. S. Ellsworth owned a Winston "Model K", and several other autos were seen around town.
The spring of 1909 brought the opening of the first automobile garage in Iowa Falls. Built by W. G. Gohring just south of his blacksmith shop on Stevens, the 22' x 50' building was designed for the sale as well as repair of autos. Sheridan Babcock soon joined the firm as a partner. Four different kinds of automobiles were offered by the firm of Gohring and Sheridan: Reo, Mitchell, Ford, and Overland. Within a few months two other dealerships opened. C. L. Gade was the agent for the "Lampert", and Nelson and Son decided to handle Jackson and Mason cars in addition to their implement business. The Sentinel was full of information about autos, dealers, owners, and speed limits.
Speed limit set by city council is six miles per hour, but everyone is violating this ordinance. It seems the ordinance should ask all autos to drive on the right side of the street to help avoid accidents.19
It would appear that many of the sixty-seven autos in Iowa Falls in 1910 were being driven in a somewhat reckless manner. Not content with driving in town, auto owners planned excursions to neighboring cities. A caravan of twenty-two autos carrying ninety-three people drove down from Mason City to have dinner at the Woods Hotel. The trip from Mason City was made in about three hours.
Northwest of the business district Mrs. Simplot began construction of her domestic school "Edgewood" at 719 River Street, and new houses were being built throughout the community. There was talk of a new bridge across the river at the west end of Washington, and some citizens were recommending that the streets in the business district be paved. Ornamental electric cluster street lights were ordered by the Commercial Club to line both sides of Washington "from the Sentinel corner (Main) to the Farrington corner (Oak)."20 With the installation of the new lights it was said that Iowa Falls had gained a metropolitan appearance. The official census figures for 1910 showed Iowa Falls with a population of 2797, but many businessmen disagreed. The directors of the Commercial Club completed their own count and found a population of 2965, a gain of 168 over government figures.21
The much hoped for Washington Avenue bridge was completed in 1912. This opened a whole new area of town west of the river for development. Frank Foster was the first to plat a new addition, but others were to follow. By 1913 houses were going up in every direction on the west side. These houses represented the most popular residential designs of the time, with bungalows and English cottages in the majority. A number of summer cottages or cabins were also built along the river in the western part of Iowa Falls, including Foster's own cottage at Westwood.
Eighteen blocks of paving were laid in 1912, ten on Main (leading from downtown to the college campus), six on Washington, and two on Stevens. As soon as it became known that Main was to be paved, the residents got busy and had a 20' strip in the center landscaped, creating a boulevard through their neighborhood. The following year twenty more blocks were paved, with six more being done in 1916.
Talk of two great automobile routes passing through Iowa Falls was heard in 1911, but it would be 1916 before the dream became reality. the construction of the Oak Street bridge in 1898 and the Washington Avenue bridge in 1912 undoubtedly facilitated the decision.
Railroads continued to play an important role in daily life in Iowa Falls. In 1912 Iowa Falls became a junction point for the Dakota division of the Rock Island. The citizens passed a resolution asking the Rock Island for a new depot. That did not come to pass, but the R. I. did make schedule and equipment changes that vastly improved passenger service. "Solid steel vestibules were installed...you can go to California without a change...."22 There were thirty-four trains a day in Iowa Falls on three different railroads in 1913.
Among the new construction downtown was the triple front Cuplin Block, built in 1913 on the north side of Washington. St. Matthew's Episcopal Church was built on the corner of Railroad and Oak that year, perched on the palisade overlooking the Iowa River. The block west of Estes Park (formerly the public square) was selected as the site for the new Federal Building (Post Office). In December the Sentinel reported that Iowa Falls had had a prosperous year with over one half million dollars spent for improvements in 1913.23
While the first movie theater had opened in 1907 (the Bijou, later renamed the Lyric), the first to be built specifically as a movie theater was the Rex at 615 Washington in 19114 (it continued in operation until 1954). In 1917 an elegant new bank building was designed for the southwest corner of Washington and Stevens by a firm which specialized in bank designs, the Lytle Company of Sioux City. Just twenty-two feet wide, the two story building was of brick with lavish terra cotta detailing in the Neo-classical style popular for banks of the period.
J. E. Dougan opened an auto dealership early in 1914, then purchased a lot on East Washington for the construction of a fine large (66' x 132') garage. This is the earliest of the extant auto garages. Around the corner Burkett-Johnson Motor Co. built their garage in 1920 on the west side of Oak.
Apartment buildings were under construction in 1914 just west of the business district. Orlando Stubbs' building was called the Orlando Apartment House, and Elwood Brogan followed with the Brogan Apartment House. The Sentinel noted the construction of the new apartment house on Estes Street, "38' x 62', pebble dash finish with brick on the front....cost $15,000."24
During the second decade of the new century the Woods Hotel was sold and remodeled, street lights were installed along the business section of Stevens Street, Rocksylvania Avenue was graded and graveled, and the first rumors were heard about a new hotel on the east side. (The Arling Hotel was actually built in 1916 on Rocksylvania just west of the depot.) Swift & Company built a new multi-story brick building near the depot in 1920, replacing their original building which burned. A new Foster Bridge was built across Elk Run in 1925. Houses in the west part of Iowa Falls had been built so rapidly that a numbering system had to be instituted for addresses.
The Chautauqua was a major summer event. Iowa Falls contracted with the Redpath-Vawter Chautauqua to provide a seven day event. Redpath-Vawter furnished everything that was necessary for a chautauqua ...including all talent, auditorium tent, rest tents, extra fence, seating, staging, lights, crew, superintendent, advertising of every kind and description.....The chautauqua to be put on at Iowa Falls is the very best the Redpath people have to offer, and the same grade of talent will appear at Iowa Falls as appears in the largest cities in Iowa visited by this chautauqua institution.25
The only obligation that the city had was to sell 750 tickets for the event. Each ticket sold for $2.00 and was good for all seven days. Since there were five "superb programs" each day, the $2.00 ticket was a bargain. Once the show started the ticket price went to $2.50.
When the new Federal Building (Post Office) opened in December 1914 the Sentinel carried a front page story with pictures. However, the month before the paper had been less than enthusiastic about the building.
The work on new federal building seems to be progressing rather slowly. There is too much "gingerbread" about the building. It would have been a better plan to cut out some of the "flubdubbery" and given us stone pillars in front rather than wooden posts. It is rather a surprise that the government builds extravagant along certain lines and then reduces expenses by using wooden pillars on outside.26
After years of talk and planning, in 1925 the Iowa Falls Electric Company (which became Central States Electric that same year) built a hydro electric plant and dam across the river downstream from the Oak Street bridge. The resultant high water level destroyed the power for the old flour mill land covered the romantic River Drive.
Probably the biggest news of the decade was the routing of two federal highways through Iowa Falls. The north/south Jefferson Highway (U.S. 65) was graded during the spring and summer of 1916, while the grading for the east/west Grant (or Hawkeye) highway (U.S. 20) was approved in August 1916. Both of these highways were transcontinental in scope, the Jefferson running from New Orleans to Winnipeg; and the Grant from Boston to Seattle. Gas stations (a new building type) were constructed in Iowa Falls along Oak and Washington, the two highways. In 1924 there were five oil stations located on Oak alone. It does not appear that any of these early stations are extant. In 1927 the city bought three stop and go signs for use on Washington. For a period of ten years the citizens of Hardin County argued the pros and cons of paved roads. After many problems, the whole primary road system of Hardin County was drained, graded, and graveled (68 miles in all) by November 1922. By 1929 it became generally recognized that gravel was not the answer for primary roads, and the decision was made to pave. By October 1930 Highway 65 was paved across the county, and in 1932 the paving of Highway 20 was completed.
AUTOMOBILE ERA: 1909-1929
Streets, Highways and Bridges. It appears that the original paving is non- extant. However, at least two bridges date to this period (the present Oak Street bridge, and the Foster Bridge over Elk Run ). These structures demonstrate the use of reinforced concrete as a building material and may be of as much engineering significance as architectural/historical.
Commercial Buildings. These are located primarily in the downtown business district, but some are also found in the east side district near the depots. These are primarily two story brick buildings, rectangular in shape, with the narrow end of the rectangle to the street. They vary from one to two storefronts in width, and have a flat roof which slopes gently to the rear. Many exhibit the simplified design of the Craftsman movement with different colors and textures of brick being used, detailing created by brick patterning, rectangular windows often in pairs, and cast concrete panels as decorative elements. The Neo-classical style was popular for banks and one excellent example remains.
Public Buildings. The major public building from the period is the Federal Building (Post Office). It is of brick and follows the popular style for public buildings, Neo-classical, with a symmetrical columned facade. Other public buildings may exist from this period, but none were recorded in the intensive survey.
Churches. One church from this period was recorded in the intensive survey, St. Matthew's from 1913. This small stuccoed church illustrates a popular style from the period, Tudor Revival. Other examples may be identified outside the business district.
Industrial Buildings. This type is not well represented. The Swift Plant from 1920 is typical of reinforced concrete design from the period with concrete piers and brick curtain walls. The other major industrial site is the hydro electric plant and dam which were recorded as part of the reconnaissance survey.
Residences. These will make up a large part of this property type. Little evaluation has been done since these were part of the reconnaissance survey, however, it appears that there are neighborhoods that developed during this period which contain good examples of the popular house styles of the time: Bungalows, Craftsman houses, English cottages. The area west of the river contains large numbers of these. In addition, there is a group of large two story brick houses located primarily to the north and northeast of the business district which display strong influences from the Prairie School, Tudor Revival, and Classical Revival styles. These large houses appear to have been architect designed. While single family dwellings are the norm, several apartment buildings were constructed just west of the business district during this period. These are two stories with a high foundation, a symmetrical facade, and are of masonry construction.
401 Washington Single story brick auto garage, arched roof, 1917-30. Not eligible without additional information.
417 Washington Dougan Garage, single story brick, 1914. Alterations to facade negate eligibility.
514-518 Washington Cuplin Block, two story brick triple storefront, 1913. Alterations negate eligibility.
601 Washington First National Bank, single storefront brick located on corner, Neo-classical columns and details, designed by the Lytle Company, 1917. Eligible.
613 Washington Two story brick single storefront, original windows, prism glass transom, and interior. 1911-14. Eligible.
615 Washington Rex Theater, two story brick single storefront, glazed brick facade, 1914. Alterations at street level negate eligibility.
105 Oak Single story brick auto garage, 1920. Not eligible without additional information.
Estes at Main Federal Building (Post Office), 1913-14, brick, Neo-classical. Eligible
Oak at Railroad St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, 1913, brick, Tudor Revival. Eligible.
E. Rocksylvania Arling Hotel, two story brick, 1916, Neo- classical elements. Must be considered endangered due to physical condition. Not eligible without additional information.
509 Hamilton Swift & Co. building, 1920, multi-story reinforced concrete with brick curtain walls. Not eligible without additional information.
A number of sites in the reconnaissance survey fall within this context and property type and appear to be potentially eligible.