The demise of an iconic Iowa mansion and a  mystery left behind
Dec 2023

The demise of an iconic Iowa mansion and a mystery left behind

Light streams through upstairs windows at the former Poe mansion in December 2023, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

By Cindy Hadish/Save CR Heritage

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Ernest Kosek recalls exploring the creek behind his home, playing hide and seek in the house, and other adventures he experienced living in the 1917-built mansion in southeast Cedar Rapids.

“As a child, I never realized how fortunate I was to grow up in a loving home next to the Cedar Rapids Country Club and Indian Creek,” Kosek said of the mansion his family moved to in the early 1950s, when he was just 3. “It was a fun place to grow up.”

Now in his 70s, Kosek still remembers the orchard behind the home at 340 27th St. Dr. SE, with apple and pear trees, skating and tobogganing at the country club with his friends, Bud Reading and Rick Scherling, and the thick walls that kept the house cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

He took one last look at his childhood home in December 2023, pointing out the dining room where he, his two sisters and parents spent a considerable amount of time, the room that served as his father’s study, sleeping porches-turned-balconies where he spent summer nights, and the part of the house where his great-grandmother lived.

This room served as the study for Kosek’s father when the family lived in the Cedar Rapids mansion, beginning in the 1950s. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

“It was a wonderful place,” he said, pointing out where the “servants quarters” were located, though they never employed servants, where the family’s piano had been and the former solarium, where his mother, Vlasta, grew plants.

That wonderful place will now be relegated to the memories of Kosek and others who called it home, as the storied mansion was demolished the week before Christmas.

Sitting high on a hill, the roof of the home was severely damaged in Iowa’s hurricane-strength derecho windstorm in August 2020.

The Cedar Rapids home is seen in December 2023, shortly before it was demolished. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

Neighbors said the owners, who had planned to sell the home, had already moved out, and eventually decided the damage was too much to repair. Save CR Heritage tried, but was unable to reach the owners after learning of the damage.

Before it was demolished, Save CR Heritage was given a short window of time to save doors and other items, though, after sitting vacant for more than three years, the mansion was a shell of its former grandeur, having been completely stripped and vandalized.

Terry Philips, at right, works with his crew on the front entrance to the Poe mansion in December 2023. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

Preservation expert Terry Philips and his skilled crew removed windows that were original to the home and other architectural salvage that otherwise would have gone to the landfill.

One of the Save CR Heritage volunteers came across a concrete wall in the cliff behind the mansion with the inscription, “Sept. 1937 Walter.” Given that it was before Kosek’s time, he speculated that a worker who built the wall had written his name there, but it remains a mystery how Walter was connected to the mansion.

A concrete wall with the date Sept. 1937 and the name, Walter, was found in the cliff behind the Cedar Rapids mansion. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

The home had been owned by a string of prominent Cedar Rapids luminaries, including Kosek’s father, also named Ernest Kosek, an investment banker who served in the Iowa house and senate, whose brother, Frank Kosek, owned the well-known Kosek’s Dime & Dollar Store in Cedar Rapids. With a strong Czech heritage — the elder Kosek was born in what is now Sykora Bakery in Czech Village — he participated in a number of organizations, including Sokol Cedar Rapids and the Czech Village Association.

“My parents lived in the house longest and they made everybody welcome,” Kosek said. “I will have emptiness and sadness now that my former home is no longer there.”

Demolition ends on the house Dec. 20, 2023. DW Zinser allowed Save CR Heritage to salvage items from the home before it was demolished. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

Nikki Halvorson, president of Save CR Heritage, provided extensive research on the mansion, which was first owned by Arthur and Anne Poe. Find newspaper articles and more on the Save CR Heritage Facebook page and the list of more than a century of homeowners here:

The Poe Mansion was constructed in 1917 for Arthur and Anne E. (King) Poe. Arthur Poe was a prominent businessman and civic leader in Cedar Rapids. He managed Quaker Oats for many years and was either a second cousin or a great nephew to Edgar Allen Poe (records give mixed information).

In his younger years, he attended Princeton University where he became a football star. He was retroactively selected by the Helms Athletic Foundation as the national football player of the year for 1899. In 1969, he was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.

The library of the Poe mansion is seen shortly before the home was demolished in December 2023. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

In addition, Arthur served as director of the Red Cross in Cedar Rapids, president of the Cedar Rapids Chamber of Commerce, president of the Coe College Board of Trustees, vice president of St. Luke’s Hospital, a member of the International Board of Directors of the Y.M.C.A., trustee of the School of Religion at the University of Iowa, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee of the Diocese of Iowa, trustee of Iowa Episcopate Funds, and also vice president of the Morris Plan Bank.

Mr. and Mrs. Poe lived in the mansion for just a handful of years but eventually had a limestone house built next-door to the mansion around 1923. This home still stands today at 300 27th St. Dr. SE and is where Arthur Poe lived until he passed away in 1951.

After the Poe family left the mansion, the family of Robert Soutter and Ethel M. (Heywood) Sinclair moved in. Many will immediately recognize the Sinclair name. Robert Soutter Sinclair was the son of Thomas M. and Caroline (Soutter) Sinclair of the Sinclair/Brucemore mansion.

The upstairs railing of the mansion is seen before the home was demolished in December 2023. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

Robert eventually took over the T.M. Sinclair & Company meat packing plant, becoming its president and treasurer. He was also president of Universal Crusher Company and vice president of Cedar Rapids Savings Bank & Trust Company. The Sinclair family lived in the mansion from 1923/24 until 1930. After they moved out, the home sat vacant for several months to a year.

Sometime in 1931, Lt. Sutherland C. & Frances D. (Mills) Dows moved to the mansion on the hill. Lt. Sutherland C. Dows, son of utility executive William G. Dows, was president/chairman of the board of the Iowa Railway & Light Corporation. He was also president of Dows Real Estate Company, among other corporations.

The Dows name in Cedar Rapids goes very far back. The city’s 1876 directory shows an early business location for railroad builder Stephen L. Dows, grandfather of Lt. Sutherland C. Dows, along the Dows & Ely Block at the intersection of Washington and Eagle Streets, now 2nd St. SE and 2nd Ave. SE, respectively. The old 3-story Dows Building is visible at the corner of 2nd St. SE and 2nd Ave. SE on city Sanborn Maps from 1884, 1889, 1895, and 1913.

Balconies on the mansion had once served as enclosed sleeping porches, according to Ernest Kosek. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

In 1930, following the 1926 death of William G. Dows, the corner portion of the older three-story Dows Building (originally a post office location) was demolished and rebuilt. This “new” construction is the eight-story building we know as the Dows Building today. The entrance of the new corner building now faced 2nd St. SE instead of 2nd Ave. SE, leading to a small change of address.

After the Dows family left the mansion in the late 1940s, the home again sat vacant for some time. In 1950, the Ernest and Vlasta V. (Vondracek) Kosek family moved in. Ernest Kosek was born in the old Kosek Bakery in Czech Village, now known as Sykora Bakery. He graduated from the old Washington High School, attended Coe College, and then graduated from the University of Iowa with an electrical engineering degree and a minor in money and banking.

Volunteers of Save CR Heritage work to save elements of the mansion in December 2023. Items will be sold to raise funds to move the J.E. Halvorson House in Cedar Rapids. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

He was a veteran of WWII and owner of Ernest Kosek & Company Investments, Stocks, and Bonds/Ernest Kosek Enterprises (501 Merchant’s National Bank Building) which he ran for 40 years. Ernest Kosek also served in the Iowa Senate and House of Representatives. The Kosek family sold the home to the Golobic family in 1996, who lived in the home until 2012. After this, the Brown family owned the home.

“Though the Poe Mansion met an untimely demise following the derecho at just 106 years old, it’s important to note that multiple important historical structures associated with the families who lived in the Poe Mansion still survive today and serve as gifts to our community,” Halvorson noted. These include a second Cedar Rapids Poe home, the Sinclair/Brucemore and Douglas mansions, a portion of the T.M. Sinclair/Wilson meat packing plant, the Dows Building and the Sykora Bakery building.

See more photos before the Poe mansion was demolished, below:


Sharon Manwiller Rosenberg

So sorry for the loss of this historic home.

    Cindy Hadish

    Thank you for your note, Sharon. It was truly heartbreaking to see it go, and we can’t imagine how much that would be amplified for those family members who spent so much time there.

Rosemary Schultz McCullough

The loss of the mansion is so sad. I was born and raised in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and the memories i hold in my heart are precious. Reference to places like the bakery and other landmarks spark those memories. I have now lived on the island of Kauai for 15 years which i love but my home will always in Cedar Rapids. Thank you for this article.

    Cindy Hadish

    Thank you, Rosemary! We keep hoping to turn the tide here on saving our city’s history, but it’s a longtime mindset that is difficult to change.

Jeanne Dedrick

It is so sad to see this beautiful old home destroyed.

    Cindy Hadish

    Agreed! We wish there had been a different outcome.

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