712 Madison Avenue – Charles T. Christensen and Madison Avenue
At the bend in the street where Madison Avenue becomes South First Street, or South First Street becomes Madison Avenue– depending on which direction you are driving, is this attractive two-story house with an eye-catching bowed window. This subdued (or simplified) Classic Queen Anne features cornice returns, an oculus window in the front gable with decorative framing, and a wrap-around porch with classical columns.
Charles T. Christensen and his wife Gertie built the house in 1908 and lived here until 1914. The only information I could find about Christensen is that he worked for the John Beno Company. So we will take a look at what it was like in the early days of the Madison Avenue neighborhood.
A 1907 edition of the Nonpareil featured a lengthy interview with Cy Street, son of Judge Franklin Street, who came to Council Bluffs with his family in 1853. He left Council Bluffs for California in 1869. Returning for a visit in 1907, he toured the city with a Nonpareil reporter and described how it had changed “from a pioneer village to a modern city, from woods, brush, weeds, swamps and meadows to a wide valley gridironed with railroads and clustered with business blocks and dwellings.”
A major change in the topography was the extension of the streets leading from Broadway into the various glens along the valley. Street recalled that Park and Glen Avenues had not yet been laid out. There were no houses on Lincoln Avenue; Pawnee Indians camped there. Madison Avenue was three blocks long and included the Mynster residence, the home of Bob Russell – “a popular and prosperous barber whose daughter married Brigham Young” – the Kline Hotel, a jail and courthouse, E. Huntington’s residence, Dr. McMahon’s drug store (the first) and a two-story log store. Many of the streets were re-named in 1881, and Madison Avenue became South First Street.
In 1867 the Omaha Horse Railway Co. was founded, and by 1868 horse rails provided transportation, with horses pulling open cars with wooden benches. Rain, snow, and mud were the main challenges. In 1868 the Omaha & Council Bluffs Street Railway & Bridge Co. purchased the CB horse line and converted to electricity – becoming the first major street railway in the nation (from The Avenue A Trolley Barn & Office of the Omaha & Council Bluffs Street Railway & Bridge Company”).
Later, Fairmount Park was a major tourist destination. The Fairmount Park streetcar was a familiar sight (and sound) in the neighborhood as it followed the tracks around the corner at East Graham over the hill to West Graham and on to the formal entrance to Fairmount Park. According to reliable sources, the major challenge then became the boys who followed the street car and disengaged the cable leading to the power source, thus stopping the trolley.
Homes in various styles – Queen Anne, Italianate, Foursquare –were built along Madison Avenue/South First Street around the turn of the century. Many of them are still standing.
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, individual research, and Joe McGinn and Maynard Telpner.
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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