154 Grant Street – Thomas Elder
Peeking through the redbud trees on the hillside between North Second and Elder Streets is the home that was built in 1868 for Thomas Elder and his wife, Sarah.
Born in 1804 in Washington County, Iowa, Elder and his wife came to Council Bluffs in 1868. He was 64 years old. For several years prior to his arrival, he held land interests here. In 1854, the Elders owned 14.7 acres in this location. In 1868, according to the nomination of the Lincoln/Fairview District to the National Register of Historic Places, they conveyed part of their land for a subdivision plat named the Thomas Elder Addition.
Although he resided in Council Bluffs for only a brief period of time, his name is familiar in the history of the growth and development of the city. Besides the addition, the street which intersects with Grant Street on the east was named Elder Street. He was an elder in the Presbyterian Church and was the author of letters from “An Elder” in The Nonpareil. He also served as an alderman on the city council.
Thomas Elder died in 1872 and is buried in Fairview Cemetery. He and Sarah had two daughters.
In the nomination of the district to the National Register of Historic Places, the Gothic Revival house is described as a two-story gable-front-and-wing house with highly decorative bargeboards in the gable ends, paired arch windows in the front gable end, a rectangular bay window with bracketed eaves and decorative woodwork details, a highly decorative porch with chamfered posts, and elaborate spindle frieze while maintaining its original clapboard and decorative shingle siding.
The screen doors on the front porch are original. An original carriage house faces Colfax Street.
On the 1868 Illustrated Map of the City of Council Bluffs, the streets on the hillside were not yet named. In early city directories, Elder’s address was listed as Market Street, the original name for Park Avenue. As shown on the map, Market Street crossed Broadway and went through to Washington Avenue. What appears to be a road or a path continues on up the steep hillside.
The development of the Lincoln/Fairview area began in 1850-1860s. At that time Oakland Avenue was known as Valley Street. In 1897 Valley Street was renamed Oakland Avenue, although most north-south roads across the city were called Streets. The name change represents the wealth and influence of those who had and were building their large stylish homes there. The neighborhood has been known by several nicknames, including “Nob Hill”, “Pill Hill” (several doctors lived on Oakland Avenue), and- during the depression- “Poverty Hill”. The district is named “Lincoln/Fairview” because the Lincoln Monument and Fairview Cemetery are within its boundaries. The Lincoln Monument commemorates the 1869 visit of Abraham Lincoln, during which time he viewed the Missouri River Valley and selected this area for the eastern terminus of the first transcontinental railroad.
Several reasons are suggested for the selection of this steep hillside to be developed as a residential district, the first being the chronic flooding of Indian Creek that flows through the city and follows the base of the hill. The close proximity of the residential district to the businesses located along Broadway allowed residents to walk to work, although it was noted that the walk to work would have been much easier than the walk home. Another likely reason for selecting this location was the magnificent view of the Missouri River Valley.
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.
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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