Peter Weis, John Mosbacher Home, 1550 Madison Ave.

There was a time when Madison Avenue was nothing more than a dirt path leading to vineyards and orchards. Apple tree varieties included Jonathan, delicious, Cortland, wealthy and winesap. Also in the orchards were pears, peaches, cherries, apricots, plums, raspberries and walnuts.

William Morrison Powers, an early settler in Pottawattamie County, was born in New Hampshire in 1811. His name appears in the 1850 Iowa census, and his occupation is given as “laborer.”

In 1853, he purchased 40 acres of land, including the Madison Avenue property, for $1.25 per acre – the going rate for the original land grants – and an additional 120 acres that extended into the present Bennett Avenue area. The 1880 city directory lists his residence as Broadway and Benton, and his occupation as “fruit grower.” His wife Mary, born in Ireland, died of typhoid fever in 1881. William died in 1882 and is buried in Fairview Cemetery. They had no children.

In 1871, he sold some of his property to Peter Weis and some to James F. Evans, which Evans deeded to Weis that same year. Records indicate the house was built in 1890. The first persons shown to be living there are the presumed builder Peter Weis, his wife Mary, and son Peter, age 21, one domestic lady and two laborers. City directories of the 1890s list his occupation as a fruit grower on Madison Avenue.

Peter Weis was born in Germany in 1834 and came with his parents to the United States at age twenty. The family settled in Wisconsin and, in 1858, Peter Weis came to Council Bluffs where he lived for the rest of his life, except for two years when he crossed the plains to Denver with an ox team

Around 1865, Weis went into business with John Clausen, conducting a grocery and implement firm under the name of Weis & Clausen, then he moved to the Madison Avenue fruit farm, known as Hillside Nursery. He was a director of the State Savings Bank and was one of the founders of St. Peter’s Church, built in 1887 for the German population who formerly attended the predominantly Irish St. Francis Xavier Church. A member of the Knights of Columbus, he was instrumental in the founding of the new St. Peter’s school. Peter died at age 91, survived by an adopted son, Peter J. Weis of Woodbine. Peter and Mary Weis are buried in St. Joseph Cemetery.

John Mosbacher, born in Germany in 1861, came to Council Bluffs in 1890. In 1900, he bought 11.99 acres of property from Peter Weis for $12,000. Mosbacher had extensive grape vines on Madison Avenue and apple orchards on Bennett Avenue. He also sold wine. The stencils on the crates of fruit read, “Hill Side Fruit Farm, J.G. Mosbacher Pro., Fancy Fruit & Wine Grower, Co. Bluffs, IA.”

Mary was born in Germany in 1848 and came to the United States in 1860. Mary and John were married in 1894. The couple had no children.

Mary died in 1936 at age 88. In 1938, John, a widower, sold 6.33 acres of the property to the Sisters of Mercy. It was known as Mercy Villa, or as their summer retreat. There they had picnics, etc., and raised fruits and vegetables, hogs and chickens, which were used by Mercy Hospital. Adjacent to the garage was the caretaker’s house, a one-room house that remains there.

John Mosbacher died in 1943 at age 82. He and Mary are buried in St. Joseph Cemetery.

In 1952, Bernard and Alma Lund purchased the property. It remains in the family at this writing, and is known to have hosted many a Fourth of July celebration.

The stately cross-gabled Victorian home with a large wrap-around porch with a wooden railing, round columns on brick pillars with triple columns at the corners, decorative dentils under the eaves – set back on a sweeping lawn – serves as a reminder of our historic past as we drive down Madison Avenue toward the ghosts of vineyards and orchards.

– Preserve Council Bluffs acknowledges the following sources of information for this series: National Register of Historic Places nominations, the reference department of the Council Bluffs Public Library, the auditor’s office of the Pottawattamie County courthouse, Council Bluffs Community Development Department, homeowners, family members and for this story, Ginny and Ken Abel.

Mary Lou McGinn can be reached by email at mlmcginn@cox.net.

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