Reprinted with permission © 2002 The Fayette County Union, West Union, Iowa
Brick by Brick: Restoring the Herriman Mansion
Supporters of the Herriman Mansion (The Brick) restoration project experienced a recent setback when the property owner announced his decision not to make the land near Wadena available for restoration.
Everett Zupke, project leader, said although Eldon Lenth will not sell the land, he did offer to donate the building for restoration or any other historical use if it were removed from his property.
Zupke admitted this development presents an entirely new set of alternatives and related challenges to consider.
Zupke said, "My conviction that this property deserves to be preserved and restored is not swayed by these developments. My personal feeling is the moving of the mansion to a new location is neither practical nor historically accurate, since so much of the history relates to the land Major Herriman selected as the location for his new, large, extravagant-for-the-time home for his family and his farm laborers.
"I will therefore explore other alternatives and, only if someone identifies a way, would reconsider the alternative of moving the building."
Zupke is leading an effort to restore and preserve the mansion, constructed by the founder of Wadena, Major D. B. Herriman, in the late 1850s.
The Sumner native's interest in "The Brick" stems from genealogical research Zupke had started over a year ago. Information was initially gained from his mother, Mary "Lucille" (Davis) Zupke, who was born and raised in Wadena.
In their discussions, Zupke learned his grandparents George and Nina (Walls) Davis lived in the Herriman Mansion from 1908-1911. In fact, two aunts, Thelma and Laurel, were born there. Laurel would later live there also with her husband and two children from 1936-38.
Zupke personally visited the site, presently owned by Eldon Lenth and family, in June 2001. He cautiously poked his head in a few doors and tested one stairwell.
What he discovered was a vastly deteriorated 142-year-old building. The badly damaged roof expedited damage to the interior caused by rain and snow. Rodents and vandals had also caused serious damage ,to the former mansion.
From these findings, Zupke explained the first step in the remodeling project would be to stabilize the structure and preventing it from deteriorating further.
Zupke said the objective of the restoration project is to eventually return the Herriman Mansion to its original layout as much as possible. Exceptions would be having modern restroom facilities, handicapped access, electrical power, etc.
A Technical Advisory Network (TAN) was scheduled by Kim Tschudy of Wisconsin. The visit was conducted by Marlin Ingalls, in April 2002. The beneficial report, which evaluated the project, was received in May. Zupke stressed the importance of the TAN report in providing guidance in applying for REAP grants.
Over an eight-hour period and at what seemed a dizzying speed, Zupke scanned over eight decades of Fayette County Union microfilm in July. With a scheduled return to his home in Cypress, Calif., a week later, Everett was attempting to verify publication dates and the history involving the Herriman family and the Herriman Mansion.
Zupke said a current priority is obtaining placement on the National Register of Historic Places. This acknowledgement (sic) would make the project eligible for additional restoration grants.
The Herriman Mansion was previously added to the Iowa's Most Endangered Properties List in 2001. The list is published by the Iowa Historic Preservation Alliance, a non-profit organization concerned with preservation of the state's historic properties.
Zupke said the restoration effort has involved volunteers from throughout Fayette County. Special thanks were bestowed upon Tex Heyer and Jan Baade from the Fayette County Abstract Company in West Union for preparing the title history.
Wadena mayor Ed Gage has been an ardent supporter and initiated the effort to allow the Illyria-Wadena Community Betterment Association to collect tax-deductible donations. Allen Knox, Clermont, has also provided additional contacts for the project.
Other individuals discovered with ties to the structure are Pat Smith, Ralph Fest. Lois Erickson, Grace Durnan, Mike Durnan, Earl Wilbur, and Jerry Probert.
Anyone who would like to share information, ideas. or contributions to the Herriman Mansion Restoration Project may contact Zupke at (714) 828-1894 or Gage at (563) 774-3205.