In the early days of Council Bluffs, when technology was a word of the future and large moving equipment was horses, one could occasionally witness a house being moved to another location. When it did happen, it was covered in great detail by The Daily Nonpareil.
The moving of the Eli Lodge Shugart house at 601 First Ave. was no exception.
The story of the Eli Shugart family and house covers an important part of the history of the growth of Council Bluffs — the house because of its size, age, and prominent location, and Shugart because of his part in the success of the business community.
Eli Shugart was born in 1836 in Fayetteville, Franklin County, Pennsylvania. His grandfather, Eli, was a soldier in the Revolutionary War. His father, John, fought in the War of 1812 and worked as a brick and stone mason in Pennsylvania.
In 1840, the family moved to Ashland County, Ohio, where John turned to farming and Eli received his early education and helped his father on the farm.
By the time Eli was 14 years of age, the family was living in Bureau County, Illinois, where Eli continued his education, attending Smith’s Princeton Academy at Princeton, Illinois. While living at Princeton, he learned the tinner’s trade, and entered the hardware business in 1857. This he continued successfully for 11 years.
In 1860, he married Angela Downing, a native of Bureau County, Illinois. While living in Princeton, the couple had two children; Fannie (born in 1861) and Minnie (born in 1862) — both of whom died in infancy. Lyman was born in July of 1866.
In 1868, the family moved to Council Bluffs, where their fourth child, Elmer, was born. In 1869, Eli and G.W. Lininger began selling agricultural implements under the firm name of Shugart & Lininger. The business continued successfully for 37 years and included as partners — at various times — the names of other pioneers in the implement trade — Lininger, Weiss, Waite.
In 1880, the firm became known as the Shugart Implement Co. By 1881, a three-story building with150 foot frontage and 100 feet deep was erected.
The Council Bluffs souvenir booklet, published for the Trans-Mississippi and International Expo of 1898, noted: “In 1892, The Pioneer Implement Co. succeeded the old organization, Mr. Shugart holding the presidency of the new concern. The Pioneer Implement building is the largest of its kind in the city, and the company has a trade covering western Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, and reaching down into northern Missouri and Kansas.”
Eli Shugart also served as vice-president and president of Empkie-Shugart-Hill, wholesale hardware company. He was an organizer, director and president of Citizens State Bank; director and president of First National Bank; associated with State Savings Bank, McClelland Bank and the Independent Telephone Co.
He was the owner of extensive and valuable real estate and commercial buildings, and a principal donor of Associated Charities to build a home for poor women and children.
Shugart was an advocate of the Union during the Civil war; an honorary member of Abe Lincoln Post; a charter member of several lodges; and was among those who secured grounds for Fairmount Park. He was a member of the Republican Party and the First Presbyterian Church.
Angela Shugart died in 1887 and was buried at Princeton, Illinois, where they were married and their two infant daughters are buried.
In 1899, Eli Shugart and Mary Jane Triplett, a teacher in the Garner Township schools, were married at Edgewood Farm.
In 1903, the ownership of the property at 601 S. First St. passed to Lyman and Elmer and the house became a rooming and boarding house.
Mary Jane died in 1906 when their son, Marion, was born. Eli died of heart and kidney failure in 1908 in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, and is buried in Princeton, Illinois, along with his two infant daughters and wives Angela and Mary Jane. Marion was raised by his brother, Lyman.
In 1909, Elmer bought Lyman’s share of the 601 S. First St. property. In 1911, Elmer had the house moved to the center of the block to make room for the construction of the Shugart Apartments on the corner. Nels Jensen was the contractor for this very large undertaking, and hired Tom Davis, with 25 years of experience moving large brick buildings, to assist with moving the house.
The Evening Nonpareil on Aug. 8, 1911, wrote, in part: The many “angles and porches and bay windows and additions and ells serve to shift the balance of weight ... It took many weeks’ work to remove the foundation and substitute the temporary workings for the firm brick that extended many feet into the ground. Timbers were first placed in position instead of the brick, and these were held in position by jack screws. These have been replaced by skids and rollers, upon which it is proposed to slide the big brick building into its new position at the rear of the lot, and at the same time to turn it a quarter of the way around to face the east instead of the south.”
Tom Davis was in charge of the moving of the building, and of lowering it onto the foundation built under it at the new site. The slightest variation in the rate of speed of the lowering would mean a crack at some point. The building would be placed on jack screws, with a “trusty man” in charge of each of the screws. At the sound of a whistle by Mr. Davis, every man would twist his jack screw a half turn — no more and no less. The process would be repeated until the building was lowered a fraction of an inch at a time to the desired level.
The evening Nonpareil on Aug. 11, 1911, carried the headline, “Shugart House Safely Moved” and this story:
“The actual moving of the old Shugart homestead at the corner of Sixth Street and First Avenue was practically completed Tuesday. The rollers were all placed in position on Monday, and Tuesday morning the big wire cables were attached and a team of horses furnished the motive power for pulling the big brick house to the rear of the lot.
“Not a sign of an accident marred the removal of the old structure ... Everything went as smoothly as clock work, and not a jar nor a tip marred the walls that show no signs of the decades they have served as one of the landmarks of the city.
“There yet remains the task of turning the old house a quarter way round on its axis, so that it will face to the east, on Sixth Street, instead of to the south, on First Avenue as heretofore.”
The 1875 house and all of its additions, built while the family was living there, still stands, its Italianate features evident in the low hipped roof, heavy brackets under the eaves, quoins on the walls at the corners, most of the tall windows with original lentils above, and chimney. An early Sanborn Fire Insurance Map indicates the presence of a full-width front porch. The front entry and window were likely in the same location, but of a different style.
H.H. Field, in his “History of Pottawattamie County”, wrote: “His life record may well serve as a source of inspiration and encouragement to others, showing what may be accomplished through carefully directed diligence and perseverance and proving, too, that success and an honored name may be won simultaneously.”
Thanks and appreciation to Mary Carpenter of the Resource Department of the Council Bluffs Public Library and Darlene Vergamini.