203 Bluff Street – Henry Van Brunt
Henry H. Van Brunt was featured in the Council Bluffs souvenir booklet of the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition held in Omaha in 1898. His business was noted as “the largest and finest carriage repository west of Chicago . . . Mr. Van Brunt is the Prince of buggy men in the great west today.”
Van Brunt was born in Jefferson County, NY in 1848. He came to Council Bluffs in 1868 and opened his business at 12 – 22 Fourth Street in 1878. Besides carriages, Van Brunt was a dealer in buggies, coupes, surreys, phaetons, wagons and bicycles, harnesses, and farm implements. According to the above-mentioned souvenir booklet, “the ‘Van Brunt’ buggy, manufactured under his specifications, became one of the most popular in the West”. The VB seeders were sold to John Deere, and the VB emblem was so well known it remained on the seeders until 1980 before it was replaced with the John Deere emblem. His warehouse at 10th and Broadway handled the transfer business for implement companies. By 1910 his sons were operating the Van Brunt automobile dealership.
The Van Brunt house at 203 Bluff Street, designed by local architects Bell & Berlinghoff and built in the Queen Anne style in 1890, was within walking distance of the Van Brunt business on Fourth Street. It features a steep hipped roof with steep cross-gabled ells, rounded bay windows, and a canted corner bay. Most of the numerous and varied window types are original, including all of those on the first floor except for the kitchen. The wrap-around porch has recently been restored. The house retains the narrow clapboard siding. The ornate pediment over the doorway with a floral design and swirls has a shield with the date of construction and the initials V.B.
Henry and Lillie Van Brunt had two sons, George and Henry. The large Italian Renaissance house at 224 South Eighth Street was built in 1908 for George and his wife Hazel by her father, C. R. Hannan, Sr. Hannan was president of City National Bank and the first president of the Iowa Bankers Association. The Hannans lived next door, on the corner of Second Street and Eighth Avenue.
The George Van Brunt family moved to Los Angeles in the 1920s. Their daughter Barbara, a student at UCLA, entered a singing contest at the Cocoanut Grove and won a two-week contract to perform there. Discovered by a Hollywood scout, she became the voice of silent film stars and cartoon characters when talking movies became popular. Barbara was married several times. Her husbands included one of the original Dead End Kids and one of the actors who played the legendary Sky King of radio and television fame.
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, homeowners, individual research and- for this article- Chuck Hannan.