The bluffs along the north side of the Des Moines River in Ottumwa, Iowa are a major landscape feature, having played an important role in the town's development since it was established in 1843. As Ottumwa grew and prospered, local business owners could afford more comfortable housing, and many began building "on the bluff," not only to be away from the swampy river bottom, but for the view.
While construction on the bluff began in the late 1850's, there were three major periods of construction in the neighborhood: the 1860's, the 1890's, and the 1920's. The decade of the 1890's was an especially busy period. The list of property owners through the years reads like a list of Who's Who in Ottumwa history: George Morrell (John Morrell & Co.), F.W. Simmons (American Mining Tools Co.), G.C. Janney (Janney Mfg.), J.W. Edgerly (wholesale druggist), J.H. Merrill (wholesale grocery), H.B. Hendershott (judge), etc.
The Fifth Street Bluff Historic District represents a prestigious residential neighborhood with representative houses from all decades between c.1860 and c.1930. The most popular architectural styles in the district include Italianate, Queen Anne, and Tutor Revival. Brick streets with limestone curbs were laid in 1895 and make a strong visual statement.
The Fifth Street Bluff area includes 64 houses/buildings and three structures (brick streets, stone retaining walls, and an iron fence). Of these 67 resources, 43 are considered to be key or contributing structures. The location of the Fifth Street Bluff area has shielded it from commercial development and preserved important historic and architectural features.
Architecturally, the Fifth Street Bluff area is important because it contains some of the best examples of specific styles in the city, and because it has the largest concentration of architect designed houses and buildings. Nine different architects or architectural firms designed the houses and buildings in the district from 1883 to 1929.
The most visually prominent architectural style in the district is Tudor Revival. It is interesting that all of these houses were architect designed and that all but one were owned by members of the Foster and Morrell families of the John Morrell & Company meat packing plant. Pictured at the right is the Foster-Bell House. The house was originally built in 1893. In 1923 the exterior was redesigned into its present Tudor Revival configuration.
The Queen Anne style was a very popular architectural style at one time in the district. Most houses received a rather subdued Queen Anne treatment, lacking the most flamboyant elements common elsewhere.
The Italianate style is well represented in the district. Several houses feature round arched windows and brackets with pendants. The house at the left was built in the mid-1870's for a local lumber dealer. It exhibits a number of highly decorative Italianate details in the brackets, Gothic window in the front gable, sawn-wood cornice board, and covered entry porch.
The Fifth Street Bluff Historic District is an area that should be viewed on foot. The brick streets with stone curbs, stone retaining walls, mature trees, and historic residences give it a strong sense of time and place.
Pictured at left is the J.H. Merrill house. The house was built in 1913 and replaced an 1860 frame house that burned. This house was designed by Ottumwa architect George M. Kerns and is an eclectic blending of several styles including both Tudor and Craftsman.
The original portion of the house on the right was built between 1856 and 1858. It was a two story brick house, probably with a hip roof in a simplified Italianate style. In 1895 the property was totally remodeled. A dining room was added to the west, and a massive staircase and library on the east. The roof was raised to create more attic space. The new roof was steeply pitched with Shingle style gable ends and dormer windows. The front wrap-around porch was given Neo-classical paired columns and balustrade, with an embossed pediment over the entry steps.
The east end of the Fifth Street Bluff Historic District is anchored by the F.W. Simmons house. This was designed by New York architect F.R. Cornstock and was built in 1899 in the Colonial Revival style. It features Neo-classical columns on both of the small single story porches, large round arched windows on the first floor, cameo windows flanking a central second floor window, pedimented dormers, and a Palladian window in the center gable.
Pictured right is a two and one-half story Shingle style house that was designed by Omaha architects Fisher & Lowrie. This fine example of the somewhat rare style was built between 1892-1897. It retains an unusually high level of integrity, with all original detailing in place. The rounded shingled corners of the second and third floors are especially nice elements. This remains in the family of the original owner.
The Trinity Episcopal Church at the corner of 5th and Market Streets was completed in 1895 from plans drawn by Davenport, Iowa architect Edward Hammett. It is of rusticated limestone in the Gothic Revival style. Gothic arched windows and doors are used throughout, with stone buttresses located between the windows along the sides of the sanctuary. An apsidal end is located on the east, with a three story bell tower at the opposite end, rising above the corner entrance. Like many houses in the Fifth Street Bluff district, the church is built into the hillside, so the lower level actually opens at ground level in the rear. This is an excellent, basically unaltered, example of late 19th century Gothic Revival ecclesiastical design.
Roughly bounded by Jefferson, E Sixth, Washington & Fourth Streets - Ottumwa, IA
- Historic Significance: Event, Architecture/Engineering
- Architect, builder, or engineer: et.al., Hammett, Edward
- Architectural Style: Tudor Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne
- Area of Significance: Architecture, Industry
- Period of Significance: 1850-1874, 1875-1899, 1900-1924, 1925-1949
- Owner: Private, Local Gov't
- Historic Function: Domestic, Funerary, Religion
- Historic Sub-function: Mortuary, Multiple Dwelling, Religious Structure, Single Dwelling
- Current Function: Commerce/Trade, Domestic, Funerary, Religion
- Current Sub-function: Business, Mortuary, Multiple Dwelling, Professional, Religious Structure, Single Dwelling
It is on the National Register of Historic Places.