April 17, 2021

Two new historic districts in Newton listed to National Register of Historic Places

The City of Newton’s history is being celebrated in its 175th year in an exciting way with two new historic districts being added to the National Register of Historic Places. The listings were confirmed by the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs and the State Historic Preservation Office of Iowa in January.

After more than 340 volunteer hours of working on the nomination, the Historic Preservation Commission can celebrate its success in adding these historic districts to the city.

The commission hopes to include signage that directs visitors to the historic districts and alerts them when they have entered the area. Hurto said with the addition of the new districts, Newton now has four historic designations in town, including the downtown district and Maytag Park.

“We hope that heritage tourism people who are interested in seeing various architectural styles will ultimately be drawn here,” commission chair Larry Hurto said.

The First Avenue West Historic District, which runs from 414 First Ave. W. to 622 First Ave. W., and the First Avenue East Historic District, which runs from 415 First Ave. E. to 629 First Ave. E., which also includes 5-10 Cardinal Court, were both listed in the National Register of Historic Places effective Dec. 7. The districts share a boundary with the Newton Downtown Historic District, creating a preservation corridor in the City Center along First Avenue East and West.

“It’s exciting that we would get the news at this particular time,” Hurto said. “(The residences) would represent a transition from 1846 to about 1890 of the city of Newton’s economy from agricultural to industry based.”

The process was funded by a grant from the State of Iowa. Historic Preservation Commission members that worked on the project included Hurto, Mary Jo Niskin, Rita Reinheimer, Tanya Michener and Ken Barthelman. Richard Carlson, with the office of the state archeologist, served as the consultant on the project.

Reinheimer took the helm as project manager as the research was being conducted. She said as they were digging into the history of these residences, they uncovered so many interesting stories in the process.

“It’s just nice that we have recognition for these houses, built by people who were very important people in our city and they have been well maintained,” Reinheimer said. “There’s a lot of Newton history that went on in those houses and in those districts.”

The two new listings are the first historic districts in the City of Newton that focus on residential architecture rather than commercial or public buildings. The architectural styles and resources associated with the city’s growth, community planning and development, and important persons provide the basis for the two historic districts.

“These residences that we studied on First Avenue were the homes of the people that were the doers, the movers, the shakers of the community,” Hurto said.

Hurto mentioned Judge David Ryan as one of these prominent figures in the community. His former home still stands on First Avenue East. It was with the help of the architectural historian Carlson the research team was able to properly date the home.

“It was Carlson who actually was able to pin down the date that Judge Ryan’s house was built on First Avenue East in 1868. I’ll just tell you frankly that we had not realized that there were any properties as old as that,” Hurto said.

Buildings in these two districts have construction dates that range from 1868 to the mid-1990s, with properties constructed between 1900 and 1930 and are representative of early 20th century development along First Avenue in Newton.

As industry and commerce grew and developed in Newton, many prominent industrialists, bankers and merchants constructed homes immediately outside the city center where their homes had room for picturesque yards, enjoyed easy access to the city center and were conspicuous along a major thoroughfare. Eventually, a growing middle class fueled by Newton’s manufacturing success also began to reside along the corridor.

“I’m pleased to say there are certain people that have really done a nice job of maintaining the historic integrity of their property,” Hurto said. “Wherever possible, we would encourage people to retain the historic look because it really can promote a lovely look to people as they’re passing through town.”

It is the hope of Hurto and the commission to hopefully be able to host presentations about the houses in the district and tell the stories they have uncovered about the people who built and resided within those halls.

“Every house has a story,” Hurto said. “If the walls could talk, we would hear some fascinating stories about some of the parties that were held.”

Hurtos also hopes, if the current owners are agreeable, to perhaps host open houses that would allow people to get a glimpse of these historic properties from the inside. But with the on-going health crisis, he knows they will have to wait until the situation improves.

The Houses

The districts exhibit primarily late-19th- and early-20th-century residential architecture, with some mid- to late- 20th-century buildings. There are examples of popular high-style architecture, including

Bungalow, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, Craftsman, Prairie Style, and Mission Revival, as well as various examples of vernacular types of homes. The most frequently observed form in the potential districts is the two-story four-square. This type became a fixture in American neighborhoods and was adaptable to various styles such as Colonial Revival, Prairie Style or those with more vernacular detailing.

The properties located in these two new districts will benefit from recognition of the property’s historic, architectural or archaeological significance. Listed properties are also taken into account during various preservation and development projects.

Additional benefits include:

• National recognition of the value of the properties to the nation, state of Iowa and community

• A tool for local planning, heritage tourism and education

• Provides for review of any federally licensed, financed or assisted projects to determine its effect on historic properties

• Eligibility for federal and/or state income tax credits

• Provides consideration in the decision to issue a surface coal mining permit

• Provides qualification for federal assistance for historic preservation (such as planning and rehabilitation), when funds are available.

Listing on the National Register of Historic Places does not ensure preservation or protection, does not restrict a property owner’s private property rights or require that properties be maintained, repaired or restored; however, significant modifications may result in removal from the register; does not affect the use or sale of private property; does not stop federally assisted government projects and does not guarantee that grant funds will be available for all properties.

“Certainly, we as a commission don’t dictate anything to the property owner. We could advise, we could make recommendations, answer questions as we’re able to but it’s ultimately up to the property owner to do with it what they care to do,” Hurto said.

Contact Pam Pratt at 641-792-3121 ext. 6530 or pampratt@newtondailynews.com

Pam Pratt

I have been at the Newton News since October 2014. I started as the Associate Editor and was promoted to Editor in April 2019.