333 Willow Avenue – John Bennett
Visitors to the new Council Bluffs Public Library are given a special treat: a view of the historic Bennett House on the southwest corner of Bluff Street and Willow Avenue. Built in 1880, the “big white house with the green roof” was the home of John Bennett, early pioneer, merchant, public official, and banker.
John Bennett was born in 1832 in Allegheny, PA. The death of his father at age two and his mother at age six left him an orphan. He was raised by his uncle, John Keller, and his wife, Rebecca, in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Bennett entered the business world at an early age. When he was twelve years old he went to work in a hardware store. At age nineteen he left Cincinnati with the Keller family and spent the next two years in western Missouri.
The Kellers and John Bennett came to Council Bluffs in 1853. It is said that John Keller brought the first fruit trees to the area. Bennett worked as a clerk for the next three years, then he and Keller, a real estate dealer, established a lumber yard on the corner of Broadway and Fourth Street. He worked at the lumber yard until 1862, and then as a salesman for five years at the store of J.M. Philips.
Bennett operated a grocery store, on his own, from 1867 until 1871 when he was elected county auditor. Ten years later, he was elected county treasurer. He also served as an alderman. In 1888 he became head cashier at State Savings Bank, of which he was an organizer. He held this position until his death in 1909.
He married Charlotte Dunning in Bentonsport, Iowa, in 1868. The Bennetts had two daughters, Georgia and Gertrude.
Georgia was married to Louis Zurmuehlen, who was elected mayor in 1918 and served for three terms.
Zurmuehlen worked in sales at Peregoy & Moore Company and operated a wholesale tobacco company of which Georgia, his wife, was president. Louis Zurmuehlen was killed in an auto accident in 1930 while on his way to a meeting in Des Moines with the mayor of Council Bluffs.
Gertrude was married to Frederic Empkie, of the Empkie-Shugart-Hill hardware company. John Bennett built the Queen Anne house next door at 216 Bluff Street for his daughter, Gertrude. The Empkies were also killed in an auto accident, on an icy road near Woodbine, seven months after the death of Louis Zurmuehlen.
The Mid-Victorian Italianate house is maintained in much of its original condition. The many notable features include an elaborate roof cornice with large flower button sided brackets and sawtooth design work, an intricate pattern of side set bricks, dentils on the bay window, an ornamental wood canopy above the frosted glass front doors, and an unusual flower and sawtooth design on the door and window lintels. Clover and sunburst cutout designs set off the wraparound porch with turned columns connected by wooden spindles. Three of the four stepped chimneys remain in the original condition. The turret on the east side is typical of the Victorian period.
In its 133 years, only three families have lived in the Bennett House.
John Bennett’s name is familiar today in Council Bluffs. The Bennett Building (aka the Ervin Building) at the corner of Fourth Street and Broadway, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was built in the 1920s and named for him after his death.
John and Rebecca Keller’s son, Victor, was married to Mary Voorhis, daughter of Council Bluffs’ first mayor, Cornelius Voorhis.
Bennett and Keller and their extended families are buried in Fairview Cemetery.
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.
© 2021 Preserve Council Bluffs | All Rights Reserved