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Neighbors Growing Together | Nov 22, 2017

Work ensures future for historic Iowa City house

Jul 15, 2013

IOWA CITY (AP) — When a thunderstorm and high winds tore through Johnson County last month, Alexandra Drehman was a bit nervous riding out the severe weather in one of the area's oldest houses, and braced herself for an afternoon of creaks and leaks.

Instead, the two-story brick house at 1030 Carroll St., called Plum Grove Historic Home, proved as sturdy as the day Robert Lucas, Iowa's first territorial governor, moved in.

The Iowa City Press-Citizen reports that as structurally sound as Plum Grove is, the historic property is showing its age, however, and work is set to begin this summer on a project that will shore up a number of growing issues.

“It'll be here for another 200 years, as long as there's people taking care of it,” said Drehman, executive director of the Johnson County Historical Society. “That's why I really enjoy my job, because that's what I get to do.”

The house, which is owned by the State Historical Society of Iowa and managed by the county organization, will undergo $52,000 in repair work this summer, including roof maintenance, window and window well restoration, interior plaster fixes, painting and work on the entry door.

The repairs, which are being funded through state infrastructure funds, are essentially the second phase of a 2008 project that included the building's tuckpointing, said Jerome Thompson, curator for the State Historical Society.

“They've been needed for quite a while,” Thompson said of the renovations. “We had an architectural study done several years before 2008 that recommended a course of action.”

Earlier this year, two groups that help with the preservation and furnishing of the historic site — the Plum Grove Questers and the Colonial Dames of America — completed an interior refurbishment that included removing carpeting the entryway and in its place installing a more authentic painted oil cloth flooring.

Gretchen Fuller, a member of the Plum Grove Questers, said it's important to preserve this piece of local history for future generations.

“Our children need to have something to remember, too,” Fuller said.

Plum Grove was the retirement home for Lucas and his wife, Friendly, who lived in the house, which was then south of the city, from 1844 to 1853. The property was originally built on 360 acres of farmland, though now only about four acres remain.

The state acquired the home in the early 1940s, and it is now decorated with modest furnishings and stays true to the 19th century with no running water or electricity, except for a light in the basement. The home is temperature and humidity controlled, however, to prevent the hot summers and cold winters from taking a toll.

“Most of the people who come in here say they drive by every day, or they’ve lived across the street for years, but have never come in here,” Drehman said. “It is a hidden treasure, because when people finally make it in say, ‘I never knew this was here.’”

Donna Kellam of Springfield, Va., toured Plum Grove with her husband and children recently while visiting friends in Iowa. She said she appreciated getting a glimpse into another time period.

“I like looking at the old furniture and seeing how they lived,” Kellam said while strolling through the grounds.

Drehman said Plum Grove will remain open to the public throughout the renovation project.

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