209 Park Avenue – Thomas Tostevin

by | Historic Homes

Thomas Tostevin, the thirteenth mayor of Council Bluffs, was a familiar name in the early days of the city. The names of his friends, who were pallbearers at his funeral in 1905, are remembered as well- in names of streets and historic homes that are still standing: H.H. Field, Lysander Tulleys, F.O. Gleason, Andrew Graham, John T. Oliver, W.B. Mayne, and Henry DeLong.

Thomas Tostevin was born at Guernsey, an Island in the English Channel, and came to the United States with his parents when he was four years old. They settled in New York City.

The Tostevins were members of the Friends church. In 1849 they moved, with their two youngest children, to Salem, Iowa, a Quaker community. In 1856 the parents returned to New York and died soon afterward.

209 Park, Tostevin2

Thomas Tostevin was educated in the Friends college in Duchess County, New York. He came to Iowa in 1849 and settled in Henry County where he began his career as a civil engineer. He married Harriet Gibbs in 1852, and in 1854 they moved to Council Bluffs. The couple had four children, all of whom relocated to other states.

Tostevin was appointed by the governor to survey the original squatters’ claims, now known as the original town or original plat, within the city limits.

He was also appointed deputy United States surveyor of public lands in northwestern Iowa. In 1861 he was appointed county treasurer and recorder to fill a vacancy and was re-elected for three successive terms. In 1868 he was elected mayor. Tostevin also helped to survey the routes of the Northwestern, Rock Island and Milwaukee railroads.

After 1879, his last year as surveyor for Pottawattamie County, Tostevin worked full time as a surveyor until within a few weeks of his death at sixty years of age. In the early fifties he did engineering work on the western bank of the Missouri river, now the city of Omaha. In 1857 he laid out the town of Rulo, Nebraska, and was then appointed by the legislature of the state of Nebraska to locate a territorial road from Rulo to Fort Kearney. He was also instrumental in the drainage ditch projects in Pottawattamie and Harrison counties. He was one of the founders of the local temperance movement.

Harriet Tostevin purchased the property on which the house was built in 1859. The earliest city directory listing the Tostevins at this address is 1869, although no house numbers are listed and few city directories on microfilm are available from the 1850s. The earliest is called The Emigrants’ Guide.

Tallgrass Historians describe the Side-Gabled Cottage as an I-House variation (an I-House being one room deep). The small-scale two-story house has side-gabled orientation and a front-gabled rear addition. The façade has a centered front door with a transom window flanked by single windows, with three shorter windows across the second story above the porch. Modifications include the application of asbestos shingle siding and the removal of the porch railing. Some of the windows appear to be the original 6/6 double-hung windows.

The nomination of the Park/Glen Avenues Historic District identifies the house as contributing, though modified, because of its early architectural and historical significance.

David Tostevin, brother of Thomas, was also a surveyor. The Tostevins are buried in Fairview Cemetery. Their gravesite is marked only by cornerstones. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Quaker religion, because of their belief in simplicity, discouraged the use of headstones. Today, Tostevin is a well-known street name.

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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