CEDAR RAPIDS – When it comes to any home improvement project, things don’t always go according to plan.
Homeowners Dawn Stephens and Greg Young didn’t predict it would take four years to finish work on the historic home they had moved, but are more than eager to enter the final phase.
“It’s hard to ask for and accept help,” Stephens said, noting that when they realized the continual stream of projects was taking a toll on their marriage, the couple finally decided to reach out for assistance from friends.
They asked for volunteers to help this weekend and are asking for anyone who wants to help to come next weekend, as well, from 6-9 p.m. Friday, May 11, and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, May 12.
The Brewer House, a building on the National Register of Historic Places, was moved in April 2014, about 10 blocks from its previous site at 847 Fourth Ave. SE, to its current location at 616 10th Ave. SE.
Spectators lined the route and a marching band – friends of Young and Stephens – played tunes as the then-117-year-old house made its half-day trek to its new site in the Oakhill Jackson Neighborhood.
Even as the move was celebrated, a setback occurred when it was discovered that the measurements for the poured concrete foundation were wrong.
The house movers – Goodwin House Moving of Washington, Iowa – couldn’t sit the house down on the new foundation; an issue that took two months to correct.
During that process, it also became apparent that they would need to face the new foundation with limestone to give it a similar appearance to the original foundation, adding $20,000 to an already tight budget.
“At that point, there was still a lot of work left to do and no money left to do it, so it’s been whatever we can get done ourselves, with volunteer help from mostly my mom, for the last three years,” Young said.
Altogether, the couple estimate they have spent $340,000 on the home since it was moved.
Mercy Medical Center had owned the house, designed by well-known local architect Charles Dieman, but wanted it removed. Instead of demolition, they agreed to let Young and Stephens have it moved.
Luther Brewer was city editor of the Cedar Rapids Republican, an early competitor to what was then called The Evening Gazette, and owner of the Torch Press publishing house. An avid book collector, Brewer and his wife, Elinore, helped found the first public library in Cedar Rapids.
President William Howard Taft, Brewer’s friend, made numerous visits to the home; one of the reasons the building was listed on the National Register in 1998. Both Brewer and his wife died in 1933.
Touches of that early history, including a photo of Luther Brewer, can be found in the home, and the two are restoring numerous original details, including bookcases, lighting and windows.
While they both appreciate all of the architectural elements and are committed to preserving the home’s history, they advise owners considering moving a home to get as much specific information as possible before making a decision, and to expect to be flexible with the schedule and budget.
Young and Stephens will recoup some of their investment in the form of historic tax credits, and one of the reasons for the volunteer days is to meet a deadline for those tax credits next month.
They also plan to host a graduation party for Stephens’ niece in June and have another deadline coming up soon for their building permit. They are asking for help with tasks including carpentry, cleaning, sanding woodwork, moving furniture and even outdoor work such as raking and weeding.
“The history of this city is a source of pride and this house is a part of that history,” Young said, noting that while he has been reluctant to ask for help, “at this time, we’re willing to accept help to restore this home to its former glory.”