This Queen Anne-style house at 295 S. Eighth St. was built in 1903 for Thomas Shepard Farnsworth next door to the house where he grew up. He was one of five children born to Emma and Shepard Farnsworth, a banker, who lived at 301 S. Eighth St.
Thomas (Tom) Shepard Farnsworth was born in that house on Aug. 1, 1877. He received his early education at Bloomer, the elementary school close to his home and the Shattuck Military School in Faribault, Minnesota, until 1895, then he held a clerical position at Council Bluffs Savings Bank.
Cora Keller was born on March 3, 1877. Her parents were Elizabeth (Noble) and Samuel Keller, furniture dealer, who lived at 226 N. Second St. (The History We Live In, Aug. 6, 2017). She had one brother, William, who became an orthopedic surgeon in Tacoma, Washington. As a teen and a young woman, her name appeared frequently in newspaper reports of teas, parties, and social events — either attended or as hostess.
On June 28, 1898, Tom Farnsworth enlisted in Company L in response to the second call for volunteers to serve in the Spanish-American War (April 21 – Aug. 13). He became a private of Company L, 51st Regiment of Iowa Volunteer Infantry and went to the Philippines where he served for 18 months – mostly on detachment duty (H.H. Field; “History of Pottawattamie County”).
On Oct. 5, 1898, the newspaper reported that Tom Farnsworth and Cora Keller were married at her parents’ home on N. Second St. Rev. W. S. Barnes of the First Presbyterian Church officiated. The announcement added: “The bride will accompany Mrs. Farnsworth and Miss Sadie Farnsworth to California that she may be near her husband, who is a member of Company L”.
Their son, Thomas Keller Farnsworth, was born on Feb. 8, 1901, at 226 N. Second St. On Dec. 31, 1901, Keller-Farnsworth Furniture Company became incorporated and Tom Farnsworth was made vice-president.
In June of 1903, the newspaper reported: “Mr. and Mrs. T.S. Farnsworth have taken the house at 525 S. First Street, until recently occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Ray Bixby. Both Mr. Bixby and Mr. Farnsworth are erecting new residences which they will occupy in the course of a few months. (The Sunday Nonpareil, June 7, 1903).
This 2 ½ story house is described as an excellent example of the Free Classic variation of the Queen Anne style of residential architecture. The nomination of the S. Eighth St. district to the National Register of Historic Places lists the notable features of the house: “Palladian-style windows in the gable fields, a cutaway bay window on the first story of the north-facing gabled wing; paired two-story bow windows at the southwest corner of the house, one on the west facade and one on the south; leaded glass windows; a wraparound front porch in the “Free Classic” style; and a projecting rectangular window between the first and second stories on the south facade that likely marks the location of a staircase. A paired window is located on the second story of the front-facing gable end.
A prominent two-story wing on the northeast corner of the house does not appear to be compatible architecturally with the rest of the house, although Sanborn fire insurance maps show that a two-story wing in this location was present as early as 1928. It appears to have been built originally as a one-story wing, then later raised to two stories.
Newspaper articles indicate the Farnsworths led an active social life and took part in community events. Tom was a member of the Elks and Eagles, and was a member of the American Automobile Club, sometimes participating in races, and was prominent in Council Bluffs business circles.
The 1908 city directory lists Tom Farnsworth as vice-president of Keller-Farnsworth Furniture Co. and residence as 295 S. Eighth St. By 1910, he was listed as president.
In 1914, the company declared bankruptcy. Farnsworth sold the house to Samuel Keller (Cora’s father). Newlyweds Grace and Julius Rosenfeld moved into the house (Julius was secretary and treasurer of the company). He purchased the house from Keller in 1916.
Tom Farnsworth moved to Omaha (Council Bluffs city directory) but remained president of the company.
Cora and their son, Thomas Keller Farnsworth, moved to the Kellers’ home at 226 N. Second Street. Tom graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School and from the University of Iowa Medical School in 1923. He was an orthopedic surgeon and practiced first in Birmingham, Alabama, then in Long Beach, California.
In 1915, Samuel Keller retired from management of the store. In 1919 he sold his lots to the Continental Furniture and Carpet Co.
In 1916, Tom Farnsworth is not listed in the Council Bluffs city directory. The notice of Tom and Cora’s divorce was published in September of 1916. The 1920 Census lists Tom S. Farnsworth, his second wife, Jennie, and mother, Emma, living in Long Beach. Cora moved to Long Beach in 1944.
Dr. Tom K. Farnsworth died at age 48 in 1949. Cora died at age 81 in 1958. Tom S. died at age 93 in 1970. All are buried in the Los Angeles area.
The rest of the story
The lead story on page one of the May 1, 1956, issue of The Daily Nonpareil read, “Continental Keller Co. Sold to Omaha Group” (Nebraska Furniture Mart) and summarized its history:
“History of the local store dates back to 1906 when Julius Ungar, father of Leo, and Julius Rosenfeld, founded the Continental Furniture and Carpet co. In 1925 it was consolidated with the Keller Furniture Co., and took the name of Continental Keller.
“The entire building was remodeled in recent years, and a new front built.
Ungar said he will continue to remain at the store for an indefinite time. He said he and Rosenfeld … will continue to live in Council Bluffs.” Both lived on Forest Drive – Julius Rosenfeld at 601 and Leo Ungar at 637.