Chronological History of the American Gothic House
1881: Property platted by W.H. Jaques.
1887: Charles and Catherine Dibble become the first recorded owners of the home. Mr. Dibble owned a livery stable in Eldon. They later lost the house when it was sold for overdue taxes.
1897: E.P. Forest Howard purchases the home. He used the front room for a candy and novelty store. The venture was unsuccessful.
May 1917- September 1933: Gideon and Mary Jones purchase the home. Mr. Jones was a drayman who owned a very fine pair of mules. Their children were grown and gone when they moved into the house. The Kitchen Addition (west wing) is added by the Jones family in the 1920’s.
August 1930: Grant Wood visits Eldon during an art exhibition sponsored by Edward Rowan. John Sharp takes Wood on a drive through town, which leads to his discovery of the house that would inspire his “American Gothic” painting.
Approximately 1960: Carl Smith, son of Seldon and Myra Smith inherits the house upon the death of his mother.
1974: The house gets a National Resister of Historical Places Nomination.
1977-1981: Railroader, Bill Wilkinson and his wife, Carol, rent the house with their young daughter Allisa. They enjoy visits from Carl Smith and especially the visit from Nan Wood Graham. Rent is $50.
1982-1989: State Historical Society of Iowa takes Iowa Heritage License Plates on the road featuring the American Gothic House.
1997-2003: Bruce Thiher, Postmaster of Eldon, rents the house. He enjoys helping people take pictures and giving tours.
1998: Issuance of the American Gothic Postage Stamp and Dedication of the American Gothic Parkway.
2003-2005: Larry Brown, Postmaster, rents the house.
2005-2006: Mark Ballard rents the house.
2006-2008: A school teacher rents the house.
2008-Present: House continues as a private residence.
An active interest in preserving the house can be traced to as early as 1960 when Des Moines architect, William J. Wagner, and Des Moines Register and Tribune art critic, George Shane, visited the house at the request of Eldon banker, Robert Weidenbach. After the visit, on February 2, 1960, Wagner wrote Weidenbach hinting preservation of the house might be in order: “The visit to your American Gothic House was interesting and enjoyable. I will probably seem a little too enthusiastic but I feel you have a ‘First’ in Eldon. It was a painting ‘American Gothic’ that made Grant Wood internationally known.”
Ten years later, Weidenbach began corresponding with Carl Smith who lived in Ohio, concerning the poor condition of the house and perhaps transferring the deed to the city of Eldon to ensure the house was maintained. Smith declined, but liked some of the ideas that Weidenbach had told him and focused more attention in repairing and maintaining the house. The house was also becoming quite a tourist attraction as more people got wind of it. This constant, although erratic, flow of tourist did not go unnoticed by the citizens of Eldon.
During the 1970’s the preservation movement began to pick up momentum and house was selected for placement on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. In 1980, the 50- year anniversary of American Gothic, Nan Wood Graham (Wood’s sister and the women in the painting) and Carl Smith posed in the front of the house in celebration of the mounting of the bronze National Historical Plaque. IN 1987, residents of Eldon formed Gothic Area Tourism of Eldon, known locally as GATE, to further promote the American Gothic House and the city of Eldon, which also boasts a historic opera house and railroad depot. By this time, however, the interest in the house was no longer Eldon’s alone, as the State Historical Society of Iowa was negotiating to acquire the property, thus securing it as a national landmark and tourist attraction.
November 7, 1970
Dear Mr. Smith,
Your letter dated October 17, 1970 relative to the American Gothic House in Eldon was received. The Lions Club, the Wapello County Agriculture Fair Association and the Town Council, as well as local citizens and the business men are very much interested and enthused with your letter offering the house as is. The Town Council told me they now have arranged for 24 hour Police Protection in Eldon and that a Police car will make all the rounds each hour a day and night. The Council will cooperate fully with us. We feel proper lighting at nighttime can also be arranged and street improvements will also come. The lots across the street belong to the City and they can become parking ground and rest area. If it is left where it is we could get at it soon and in a few days we certainly could clean-up the location where it now stands and a carpenter could be put to work. As we see it, this could develop into a terrific thing for Eldon. May we get your reaction promptly- time is running out.
November 22, 1971
SUBJECT: Seldon Smith House
Dear Mr. Smith:
In our recent telephone conversation I mentioned that the City of Eldon is willing to accept a Deed or Title to the above mentioned house. We have enough funds to get things started and it could be well onto the way of restoration by summertime as the Lions Club will furnish much of the labor and we have excellent carpenters to supervise the work. If you feel you should have some cash in this transaction — please let us know your figure. Our plans do not call for moving the property. The City has installed better lighting there and plans to make a better road if the property can be secured. Our plan calls for tearing off the back porch which detracts from the house. We also plan on a good safe cellar door and for filling in that old cistern before someone gets hurt. know it is hard to keep children and some older folks out of an unoccupied house. The Boy Scouts are busy and their Committees are live have had good publicity about the “Gothic Trail” but there has been a lot of criticism regarding the shape in which the visitors find the old house and naturally we want to correct that situation. I would appreciate hearing from you, at an early date, so that we may make our plans.
Thanking you, I am sincerely,
December 10, 1971
SUBJECT: American Gothic House
Dear Mr. Weidenbach:
I want to thank you for your letter of November 22, and for your phone call. I have been trying to clear my schedule for a trip to Eldon. I was hoping that my son could make this trip with me. As yet, I have been unable to firm up any trip plans. My son is very capable in Industrial Arts, the subject in which he has a college major and a degree. He would be capable of renovating the house and I was hoping that he and his wife could live there until some of the more urgent things were completed and then if necessary have someone else take over, so that the place would be occupied with responsible people that are sympathetic to the ideas which you and I have in making this a worthwhile attraction for the Eldon Community. At this moment, I do not feel that we should turn it over to anyone, lock stock and barrel, however, what we have in mind is complimentary to the ideas which you have been suggesting.
Carl E. Smith