Historic house now endangered

Jacob Lane · Wednesday, April 23, 2014
A historical stagecoach inn on the outskirts of West Liberty has officially been designated as an endangered property by Preservation Iowa (PI).

The inn, located several miles west of town off of Highway 6, is one of the last of its kind from Iowa's stagecoach period from 1836 to 1845.

As one of six locations chosen for PI's Most Endangered Properties program in 2014, WL preservationists hope more recognition will boost their cause.

"It's a tremendous opportunity to take a snapshot in time of the 1840s," says Bill Koellner, member of West Liberty's Heritage Foundation, "We see it as a real piece of history of the growth of the state of Iowa."

PI works to preserve Iowa's historical structures. Its endangered program seeks out endangered properties and puts word out to the media and preservation advocates and looks for resources. The stagecoach inn was the perfect fit for its program.

The WL Heritage Foundation caught wind of the historical location through Marlin Ingalls, an Iowa archeologist, more than six years ago. He and the foundation approached the Ryan Trust.

"At that time we looked at purchasing to save it because in the United States, when it comes to standing homes or stagecoaches from that era, there are very few," said Koellner.

But it's been a long process. The Heritage Foundation doesn't have the funding needed to purchase the land. The Ryan Trust will give half, but the rest of the money needs to be raised independently.

The foundation is currently putting most of its time and effort into developing the train depot campus downtown, its resources are spread too thin to add the stagecoach to its list of projects at the moment.

It hopes getting the word out will encourage others to get involved and give money. Becoming an endangered property has already boosted awareness of the stagecoach inn.

The foundation is also working to get it on the National Register of Historic Places, the official list of the United States’ historic places worthy of preservation.

"This stagecoach house has the potential of being developed, restored and becoming a tourist opportunity that would bring people off the interstate to see something historical," said Koellner.

The inn was located along a major stagecoach route in the 1840s, a midway point between Iowa City and Muscatine as well as between Iowa City and Davenport.

It served as an inn for travelers, swing station to switch horses and drivers, tavern, mail moving station and all around resting point for the weary.

Officially known as the The Beers and St. John Company Stagecoach Inn, it was built in 1842 by the Beers and St. John Company along with owner Egbert T. Smith.

The inn was awarded a federal mail contract between Iowa City and Bloomington in 1839 and again in 1841. It operated until 1855. A combination of the death of Smith's wife and the arrival of the railroad in Iowa City put an end to a need for the building.

The inn is two-and-a-half stories in height and still contains most of its original structure and materials. An octagonal cupola used to adorn the center of the roof's crest. It meshes elements of the colonial and late federal eras with a classical twist.

However, the structure of the building is beginning to fall. It needs stabilization and work to halt damage caused by aging, weather and lack of maintenance.

"We do not want to see the stagecoach house torn down," said Koellner. "We don't have the money to save it, but we're working with others to find money to be able to match the Ryan Trust."

The future of the stagecoach inn is still up in the air. Right now the focus is on purchasing the land. As for what will happen afterwards, there are still many possibilities for West Liberty's little piece of history.
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