129 Bluff Street – Thomas Metcalf/Joe Smith

by | Historic Homes

Thomas Metcalf purchased this property in 1892 from Mary Clinton, widow of attorney Samuel Clinton who lived next door at 133 Bluff Street.

Thomas and Henry Metcalf came to Council Bluffs from Ohio in the fall of 1867 and opened a hat and cap store in an 8 x 20-foot room on the south side of Broadway. In 1869 they were joined by their brother, George. Metcalf Bros., a retail business selling hats, caps and furs, and later adding clothing, soon expanded into a wholesale business with both stocks of goods occupying the Whitney block on Broadway. Fifteen years later they moved to 17 and 19 Pearl Street, and 18 and 20 Main Street- a block owned by Thomas Metcalf. They later opened a jobbing firm.

According to The Blue Book of Iowa Women, Eva Canfield and Thomas Metcalf were married in Charder, Ohio in 1871. The couple had three children: Thomas, Jr., Frank, and Della. Mrs. Metcalf was a very active member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, representing the local chapter in the statewide organization. She was also a member of the first Garden Club in Council Bluffs. The black topsoil seen today on the lawn and garden was hauled there by the Metcalfs.

129 Bluff St., Metcalf

The house had a second life. It was sold in 1907 to Ida and Joe Smith, a prominent Council Bluffs clothier. It was remodeled extensively in 1908 and exhibits a combination of the Craftsman, Prairie and Tudor Revival styles, with shingle siding on the first floor. Other notable features include original multi-pane over single-pane windows, massive roof with wide eave overhang, rectangular canted bay on the second floor front, two-story bay on the south side, roughened brick foundation, and a hipped dormer on the north side. Recent restoration reveals faux timbering on the second level. The house was converted to apartments in the 1950s, and recently restored to a single-family dwelling.

The late Norman Filbert, Jr. described the house in a 2003 Daily Nonpareil article Memories of grandparents remain vivid. Norman recalled, “If I close my eyes, I can still see, plain as day, my grandparents and their house at 129 Bluff Street, now redesigned into apartments. I spent many exploratory hours there as a youngster, walking down from the top of the street, then paved with bricks and sporting a streetcar that ventured east and on to Pierce. My grandmother Ida… was the tomboy of the family. She was the one who dressed up at Halloween and greeted guests seeking goodies with the most ghoulish of appearances at the door.”

Joe Smith & Co., founded in 1905, was a familiar clothing store on Broadway for 70 years. Born in1864 in a two-room log cabin in Marion County, the second of 10 children, Joe Smith left the farm at age 18 and came to Council Bluffs. He first worked at a bakery, then at the Pacific House Hotel. After working two more short-term jobs, he went to work for the Haverstock clothing store where he remained for five years, then the John Beno Company. In 1899 he formed a partnership, Smith & Brady, and opened a store at 415 West Broadway. Six years later, he bought out the partner and renamed the store the Joe W. Smith Co., located across the street at 416 West Broadway, its permanent home.

129 Bluff St. Metcalf

Smith was one of the promoters of the YMCA building, past president of the Chamber of Commerce, the Retail Merchants Assn., the Iowa Clothiers Assn., a charter member of the local Elks and Rotary groups, a director of the City National Bank, served on the Salvation Army Board and was active in Boy Scouts. An editorial in the Daily Nonpareil at the time of his death read, “He worked hard at his business, but he worked just as hard to make Council Bluffs a better place in which to live.”

Source Material

Preserve Council Bluffs acknowledges the following sources of information for this series: National Register of Historic Places nominations, the reference department of the Council Bluffs Public Library, the auditor’s office of the Pottawattamie County courthouse, Council Bluffs Community Development Department, homeowners, family members and individual research.

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Preserve Council Bluffs is a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote and preserve the heritage of Council Bluffs through its architecture, sites, and people.

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