Historical Society emergency grant helps save historic cottage
Wetherby cottage in Iowa City saved from demolition

For immediate release Dec 28, 2007


Contact: Jeff Morgan, Jeff.Morgan@iowa.gov, (515) 281-3858

(DES MOINES) – The State Historical Society of Iowa has awarded $15,000 in emergency grant funds to help save the Wetherby cottage in Iowa City from demolition.

The funds come from SHSI’s Historic Resource Development Program (HRDP), which is funded through the Resource Enhancement and Protection Act (REAP) program enacted in 1989.

“We have a limited amount of emergency grant funding that we can use to help preserve and protect Iowa’s historic structures,” said Cyndi Pederson, director of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs. “The Wetherby cottage has significant historical importance not only for Iowa City, but for the entire state.”

The cottage, which dates to the 1850s, was owned by artist and photographer Isaac A. Wetherby, whose legacy includes being the first to photograph Iowa City as the state capital as well as producing the earliest daguerreotype photograph of the Old Capitol in 1854. He also photographed many well-known Iowans such as Governor Samuel Kirkwood and Iowa Chief Justice William Miller.

The cottage had been slated for demolition to make way for other development, but the owner opted to donate it to the Friends of Historic Preservation (FHP). The SHSI funding will be used to help FHP and Marybeth Slonneger to relocate the structure, stabilize it and use it as a cultural and community resource. Research is also underway to have the cottage listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Slonneger, author of the book Wetherby’s Gallery: Paintings, Daguerreotypes & Ambrotypes of an Artist, and Mary Bennett of the State Historical Society, were instrumental in forming the partnership between FHP and the Committee to Save the Wetherby Cottage. Bennett worked as a volunteer to successfully secure REAP/HRDP funds while Slonneger will oversee the relocation and stabilization of the building to ensure that grant activities are carried out. 

“My hopes are to integrate the cottage into the historical Goosetown neighborhood here in Iowa City,” Slonneger said. “And long-term, I’d like to see the house restored and become part of the National Register of Historic Places. Right now I am just holding my breath until everything gets under way.”

SHSI holds Wetherby materials in its collections in Iowa City and Des Moines, including nearly 1,500 glass plate negatives, paintings, watercolor sketches, valuable trade cards and a rare canvas advertising banner.

Bennett, special collections coordinator, said SHSI received a significant donation from Wetherby’s great-great granddaughter in October: an original Wetherby view of Old Capitol with Gov. Kirkwood delivering a memorial address for President Abraham Lincoln’s death on April 19, 1865.

“It’s a piece that is very rare indeed, a national treasure,” Bennett said.

More information about SHSI HRDP/REAP funding is available at www.iowahistory.org or by contacting Kristen VanderMolen at kristen.vandermolen@iowa.gov or 515-281-4228.

More information about Wetherby is available in the latest issue of Iowa Heritage Illustrated magazine, which features an article by Slonneger titled Wetherby’s Gallery of Early Iowa. Included are many photos from the SHSI collection. Single issues are $7 or a one-year subscription is $24.95 and can be purchased by calling Deb Pedersen at 319-335-3916. Single issues may also be purchased in the gift stores at Western Historic Trails Center in Council Bluffs, at the State Historical Museum in Des Moines and at the SHSI Library in Iowa City.

The State Historical Society of Iowa is a trustee of Iowa’s historical legacy and an advocate for understanding Iowa’s past. It identifies, records, collects, preserves, manages and provides access to Iowa’s historical resources. Its dual mission of preservation and education serves Iowans of all ages, conducts and stimulates research, disseminates information, and encourages and supports historical preservation and education efforts of others throughout the state. More information about SHSI is available at www.iowahistory.org.


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