Our American System Built home, named the Delbert Meier house after the first owner, celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2017. One of the advantages of owning an architecturally significant house in a small town is that we’ve been able to meet every owner or descendent in the house’s 100-year history. Here’s a brief history of the ownership of our the Delbert Meier house (with some names removed to respect privacy).
The Original Owners – 1917 to 1963
Delbert Meier and his wife Grace built the house and, along with their two daughters, took occupancy in 1917. Del was an attorney and briefly served as the town’s mayor. We’re not sure how Delbert and Grace would have heard about American System Built Homes. We have theories about his stumbling upon Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs when he would travel to Mason City as part of his law practice. Of course, that’s all theory. What we do know is that Delbert and Grace lived in the house until their deaths. Del died in the house in 1959. Grace kept on at the house following Del’s death but then fell ill on a trip visit her daughter in Madison. (That same daughter commissioned a house design by William Kaeser, a Wright-influenced architect. It seems there was an interest in design that ran in the family). After falling ill on that visit to Madison, Grace was never able to return to the house. She passed away in Madison in 1964.
The Farmer and Family – 1963 to 1966
Shortly after Grace fell ill, the farmer and his family took possession of the house. They weren’t in the house very long because the husband wanted to farm, prompting them to move outside of the town limits. But according to the farmer’s wife, they were there during a pivotal time in history. When she came to visit the house shortly after we bought it, the farmer’s wife told us that she would always remember the floors because she was cleaning for Bridge guests when the phone rang and she was delivered the news of Kennedy’s assassination. We also learned from the farmer’s wife that there was an oil tank in the basement (which has since been replaced with a gas forced air furnace). The kitchen was still original, she reported, with cupboards that were painted a pale aqua and a built-in ironing board. We found the original cabinetry in the garage (below) and were able to confirm the color.
The Grocer and Family – 1966 to 1977
The house was then purchased by the town grocer whose family name had been connected to local food markets for generations. The grocer’s daughter stopped by for a visit when she was in town for a class reunion. One Sunday morning our doorbell rang and we were greeted by a boisterous woman who announced, “I’m here to tell you all about your house!” We learned from her that it was her father who made a number of the big changes to the house. When they moved into the house it was almost 50 years old. The house surely seemed dark and dated through nineteen sixties eyes. And so the grocer opened up the entryway, removed all the built-in wardrobes, added the faux beams to the living room and dining room and built the new garage and roofline extension. Some of that work was completed right after the grocer took ownership. The grocer’s daughter said that she was in the 5th grade when they bought the house but that they lived down the street while doing renovations and finally moved in when we she was in the 6th grade.
The Teachers – 1977 to 2011
Thanks to the wonders of social media, we’ve been in frequent contact with the next owners of the house. The teachers were biking through town one day in 1977 when they came across the house that would become their home for the next thirty years. It was the teachers who gave the the house its birthright by following up on news of other American System Built Homes that were identified over the years and contacting the people connected with Frank Lloyd Wright organizations to verify the house’s provenance. The couple raised their two sons in the house while contributing to its preservation. It was their maintenance of the stucco and windows that has them still looking so good after 100 years! The teachers went on to build their own house in a beautiful wooded setting about 45-minutes away from the Delbert Meier house. They left behind all of the house’s documentation, including old photos and the original floor plan.
The Young Ones – 2011 to 2013
The last set of owners before we bought the house were the young couple. They were also teachers in the area who, after a couple years of ownership, got jobs that required a move. But while they were in the house they pulled down wallpaper and pulled up carpet, re-skimmed walls and painted the wood beams.
And now it’s our turn! We’re continuing to pour love and respect in this big, old house. We hope that whoever eventually takes over from us will continue to tell its story.