The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Herrity

September 10, 2013

Women’s Club was once Curtis Family Mansion

The Women’s Club, at 420-5th Avenue So., was built in the early 1880’s for the George Curtis family. It is an ornate Queen Ann Style brick mansion, with beautiful gables and jutting dormers, and has been an eye-catching mainstay for many decades on what used to be called Clinton’s “Avenue of the Elms.”

 

George Curtis was the founder of Curtis Brothers woodworking industry, which flourished in Clinton for exactly one century, (1866 to 1966). He was “the business brains” of the outfit, and he brought his brother Charles and their Uncle George to town to help him, as they possessed the necessary physical skills. Brother Charles eventually would live in another Fifth Avenue mansion, at 417 (now apartments), and their uncle at nearby 402-6th Avenue So.

 

George Curtis was Clinton’s second U.S. Congressman, (1892 to 1896); Judge Aylett Cotton was the first; Bernhardt and William Jacobsen were 3rd and 4th, respectively. His massive congressional chair is still located in the foyer of the home. He desired to have his elegant home built with the finest materials and craftsmanship available. Each room features exquisitely carved woodwork, the lumber for which is said to have come from different forests around the world. The millionaire patriarch, who designed much of the house himself, brought skilled artisans from Europe to do the woodwork. Many family furnishings remain. There is a black teakwood settee in the hallway that was made in Japan. Above it hangs the Curtis family heraldry, complete with ancient armor, sword, lance, javelin, and battle-ax.

 

After the home was completed, Curtis had Josiah Rice, a noted local architect, design a coordinating coach house. Both were sold to the Clinton Women’s Club in 1925, for the nominal price of $25,000. This group endeavors to preserve and maintain the property as best their limited financial resources allow. To provide income at the outset, they made several rooms out of the former ballroom, where carefully screened “maiden ladies” used to live, but that is now rare. Over time, the upper floors have been painstakingly redecorated, many with period pieces, and only recently opened for public viewing. Tours and special events are hoped to eventually replace lost rental income.

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