The History of the Petersen House at 722 Brown Street

Some of the most frequent types of questions we receive relate to researching the history of residences and other structures built in Davenport and Scott County such as churches and businesses. The specific questions we are asked include: when was my house or building built, who built my house, who lived in my house, are there photographs of my house (or this building), were there any additions to the building, is this building in a historic district or on a historical registry, and what was this building used for. With the materials we have in the Richardson-Sloane Special Collection Center, we are able to help people discover details about their home or other buildings they are curious about.

We have these same questions about a property we have encountered a number of times through our work assisting patrons and researching Davenport history. The home which prompted our questions is found in the archival collection: 1994-05: Ingward Petersen Papers. There is an item that intricately illustrates a detailed and accurate looking hand-drawn map of two properties: 718 and 722 Brown Street. From the map, we have a written description of both yards and a drawing of the layouts of each home and landscaping. 718 Brown Street belonged to the Hussmann’s (also spelled Husman, Husmann) and 722 Brown Street belonged to the Petersen Family. With some investigation, we learned more about the 722 Brown Street home and the Petersen family.

This fragile map is dated 1907. With this information, we started our search with city directories to see when the Petersen family first moved into the house. Starting with the 1907 city directory we found that a Gerhard (Gerhardt) Petersen with his wife Ella lived at 722 Brown Street. He worked at Adolph Petersen and Bro., with his brother, Adolph Petersen, known for publishing the Iowa Reform newspaper. We worked backward finding that the earliest date that Gerhard lived at this location was 1885-1886 with his brother Adolph when they both were unmarried. They are first listed in the city directories in 1880 living at 314 Gaines Street, also known as the Hiller Building or the Schick apartments. They worked for Henry Matthey and Son publishers of the Sternen Banner, a daily and weekly German Democratic paper, located at 206 West 2nd Street. They lived there until their move to 722 Brown. On October 17, 1894, Adolph married Natalia Johannsen in Davenport, Scott County, Iowa. They lived together at 804 West 5th Street until settling at 526 1/2 West 2nd Street until his death on November 20, 1937. They had one son named Robert.

Gerhard remained at 722 Brown Street. He married Ella Stolle on November 15, 1894 in Davenport, Scott County, Iowa. They had three sons: Ingward, Oscar, and Ernest. He passed away on September 27, 1938. At this time, the home passed into different ownership.

Adolph and Gerhard began their printing and newspaper publishing company in 1885 at 502-504 West 2nd Street. The address of the business changed around 1893-1893 to 524-526 West 2nd Street. They continued working together until around 1919 when according to the city directories Gerhard began working as a printer for the Halligan Coffee Company where he worked until his retirement.

In the early 1920s, Robert, Adolph’s son began working as a printer at his father’s publishing shop. He quickly rose to being a manager and having a separate city directory entry for Petersen Linotyping Company. He took the business over completely after his father’s death.

The brothers’ photographs are featured in the 1905 Scott County, Iowa Atlas under the “Davenport Citizens” sections. Thus hinting at their rise in notoriety in Davenport society.

Another resource one can search is the Scott County Land Records including the Grantor/Grantee Index and Description Books. We found what we believe to the land description of property they used for to publish the Iowa Reform newspaper and records of land transfers to and from Adolph and Gerhard Petersen and other individuals.

After we exhausted our city directories and land records for information, we began search our map collection for evidence of 722 Brown Street. Sanborn maps are one of our favorite resources because they allow us to gather some interesting information about buildings and the build environments. Below are images of 722 Brown in our 1910 edition of the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of Davenport.

We also have many maps compiled and drawn by a well-known and local civil engineer and surveyor named, M. Huebinger. This map in particular was published in 1890 and is a “Map of the City of Davenport, IA.” It shows the past of different additions to the original town of Davenport. We learn from this map that 722 Brown is located in the Forrest and Dillon Addition.

In the Combined Atlases for Scott County, Iowa from 1882, 1894, 1905, 1919, we find fascinating maps of Scott County and the City of Davenport. There are not names of landowners for plots of land in the city, but they allow us to see the growth and development of the city as well as get a sense of where the land is located within the city.

The three volume set of 1956 Sanborn Insurance Maps of Davenport, Iowa have corrections and revisions dating to September 1978, making it possible to track changes to the city’s appearance over the three decades after the 1940’s updates to our copy of the 1910 edition. It helps us with the current research project to see the structure at 722 Brown Street. On this map, one notices that 718 Brown Street is no longer extant.

In our collections, we have two plat maps of the City of Davenport. The first is compiled under the direction of M. Huebinger and the other was completed by the Municipal Plat Map Service in Moline, Illinois. They show 722 Brown in the Forrest and Dillon Addition, section 3, plot 6.

After we looked at the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, the plat maps of the city of Davenport, atlases of Scott County, we wanted to confirm our suspicions of whether 722 Brown Street’s structure was extant or not, because according to the Davenport city directories, it was not list after 1981.

In a write-up of the Davenport City Council proceedings published in the Quad City Times on September 17, 1979, the minutes state the following, “Awarding contract for demolition of structures at 722 Brown Street and 1038 West Fifth Street in the amount of $6,000 to Scipio Thomas (79-891)”. (21)

We found more evidence in the historic building permits we have on microfilm that are searchable by address. We found entries for 722 and 718 Brown Street. The record for 722 Brown Street was owned by Raymond Wilcox and demolished by Scipio Thomas. The permit was issued on December 11, 1979. It lists the structure as a 2 story, 1 family frame residence that was condemned. The work had to be completed by January 16, 1980. According to the city directories Ray Wilcox owned the home starting in 1957. We guess that he used it as a rental until its destruction.

As for 718 Brown, it had a similar fate as the structure at 722. The building permit for its razing was issued June 4, 1971 and was to be completed by July 20, 1971. The owners were Home Owners, Inc, with c/o Hynes & Howes, and Scipio Thomas was awarded the bid to demolish the 2 story, 1 family, frame residence. The Hussmanns’ moved in the home around 1892.

Our research would not have to stop here. Questions cropped up while we scoured our materials. What happened between the Petersen brothers that lead to the split in ownership of the Iowa Reform? Did they continue to speak to one another? What happened to the Iowa Reform newspaper and the Petersen Linotype & Printing Company? What happened to the Petersen’s neighbors the Hussmanns, the Stroh’s, Sharfenbergs, Deusers, and the Boehls?

Someday, we hope that we can answer these questions. If this blog stirred questions about your home or another building, please post them below.

If you would like to learn about the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Centers resources relating to building research, we have an upcoming program called, “How to Research Your Home.” The Richardson-Sloane Special Collections staff will discuss how you can research the history of your home or building with resources from its collections. We will also present examples of home research projects. It is on Wednesday, May 18th at 6:30 PM at Main Library in the Large Meeting Room.

We hope it inspires you to research a building you are interested in and preserve our built environment by becoming active in local historic preservation groups and recording the current history of your home and built environment through maps, like the one from the Ingward Petersen Papers, and photographs.

(posted by Kathryn)

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