623 West Washington Avenue – Judge Finley Adams Burke

by | Historic Homes

The story of Finley Adams Burke and his family is as colorful as his most unusual house, built c.1886.

Burke was born in Monongahela, Pennsylvania on July 17, 1815. His father was Patrick Burke, “a native of Philadelphia of Irish parentage and a Revolutionary War soldier”, according to a biography published by Hawley & Co., 1880-1881. His mother was born in County Down, Ireland. The family immigrated to America when she was a child. Her name was Adams, and his grandmother’s name was Finley. And so he was given the family names.

Following his education in public schools, Burke had a profitable glass-blowing business, then began building steamboats and was a steamboat captain on the Ohio River for several years. Quitting the river, he was elected city collector of the city of Wheeling, Virginia (now West Virginia) where he lived for about ten years. He left in 1856 and came across Iowa by “emigrant wagon” to what was known as Taylor’s Station on the old Western Stage Co.’s road. He first settled in that part of Pottawattamie County later known as Washington Township. He was the second settler there. ”He placed his wife and children and household goods onto the prairie farm that was a grassy wilderness and began breaking sod.”

623 West Washington

In 1859 he moved the family to Council Bluffs. He was filling the office of justice of the peace when he came to town, and held that office by re-election until 1869 when he was elected to the office of city recorder and police judge (one position). He was retained in that office by re-election until 1879, was out for one year, and held the office again until 1882 when the charter was abolished and the Superior Court was established. He was then elected to the office of city clerk, and clerk of the Superior Court. He served in this position until three months before his death at age 74.

Burke’s first wife was Eliza J. Smith, a native of Fayette County, Pennsylvania. Their children were William, Elizabeth, Isabel and Hugh. In 1862, William Burke bought W.W. Maynard’s interest in the Nonpareil – founded in 1854 by Maynard and Jeremiah Folsom as the Chronotype. Soon after, he started the Daily Nonpareil and was that newspaper’s first editor.

Margaret McMillan, born in Pennsylvania in 1829, was Burke’s second wife. They were married in Wheeling in 1849. Their children were Mary, Emma, Finley, Virginia, Edmund, George, John and Ambrose. Finley was a well-known attorney and built an impressive home at 510 Oakland Avenue.

Judge Burke died on June 3, 1889. Margaret died on May 27, 1915. The Burkes are buried in Fairview Cemetery.

In a lengthy article at the time of his death, the Daily Nonpareil reported: “The hundreds who attended the funeral of Father Burke yesterday afternoon was a magnificent tribute to the worth of the man who for so many years had been in our midst” The cavalcade included 100 members of the Odd Fellows, the chief of police and a detachment of police, the mayor, city council, a judge of the Superior Court, and members of various organizations to which he belonged.

Records show that F.A. Burke purchased the lot in 1876 but lived at that location as early as 1871- the year of the earliest city directory –most likely renting an earlier house. The house was built c.1886. The consultant for the 2000 survey of the area prior to the construction of the Avenue G viaduct lists the house as “Double House, 1800s, Potentially Eligible (for National Register)”.

However, the interior appears to have been built as a single family dwelling that would accommodate two families- one on either of the two sides that mirror each other. It has one house number (as opposed to a large Victorian house on neighboring Mynster Street, listed in the survey as “Single Dwelling, 1889, Potentially Eligible”, but has two house numbers- 738-740 – indicating a double house). The staircase in the large central hall is original and unpainted, as in the rest of the house, except where alterations have been made for conversion to a four-plex. The two-story back porch was added later. The style of the house is Italianate (1840-1885) with elements of the Queen Anne-style (i880-1910) possibly added later; or the house may have been constructed with elements of both styles. Of special interest are the two-story three-sided corner bay windows and the two-story full-length front porches with a central doorway on both porches.

The house is slated for demolition, but efforts are being made to restore the property and give it a new life.

Source Material

Preserve Council Bluffs acknowledges the following sources of information for this series: National Register of Historic Places nominations, the Council Bluffs Public Library, the auditor’s office of the Pottawattamie County courthouse, Council Bluffs Community Development Department, McAlester’s “Field Guide to American Houses”, 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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