Historic beauty: Pre-Civil War era home in Mount Vernon stuns inside and out

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MOUNT VERNON — When Sarah and Roland “Moe” Richardson bought their home nearly nine years ago in Mount Vernon, it was in need of some tender loving care.

The pre-Civil war era home at 417 A Avenue South was built in the 1850s and has seen many occupants over the years, including William Brackett — known for developing much of Mount Vernon — who lived in the house in the 1860s.

“This house had quite a history and so many changes of hands,” Sarah said. “We had a lot of work to do.”

The Richardson’s snatched up the 2,000 square foot home in 2007 after it sat on the market unoccupied for more than a year. Among the most daunting of tasks was planting the yard, as it was mostly weeds and dirt when they bought it, Sarah said.

In addition to planting grass and a garden, the Richardsons also redid both bathrooms and the kitchen, turned a back porch into a four-season den, painted almost every room and built storage space in the basement because like so many old homes, there is little storage available anywhere else in the house, Sarah said.

“We did every square inch of this house,” Sarah said. “It was a project, but it gave us purpose in addition to our jobs.”

In 2014, Sarah retired from teaching English at Mount Vernon High School. Moe is a Realtor, but mostly retired.

Today, the home’s beautiful brick facade with tall Southern-fedearlist style pillars and lush green landscaping stuns from the street. The expansive lawn, surrounding gardens and mature maple and magnolia trees invite from the outside.

Step inside through the heavy white wood door to the entryway, where you’ll first encounter a steep staircase with elegant walnut trim. Upstairs is three bedrooms and one bath. Below is the parlor, dining room, kitchen, second bathroom and den.

The ceilings on both levels are nearly 11 feet, making each room feel big and bright. Windows wrap around the house, flooding it with natural light and a view of the mature trees outside.

“One of the reasons we bought this house is it’s so open to the outside,” Sarah said. When sleeping in the master suite — which has seven windows — she said she feels like she’s “sleeping in a treehouse.”

The panes throughout the house retain their original glass, but are modernized with storm windows. Much of the house, like the windows, has been modernized to today’s standards while still retaining its historic character. For example, the home is wired with new electricity, has a modern glass shower in the main floor bathroom and an updated kitchen with granite countertops and stainless steel appliances.

It’s tastefully furnished with antique family pieces that complement the old and new of the house — like the intricately carved Belgian wood hutch built in the 1700s that rests against the dining room wall, or the canopy bed used by Sarah’s mother, herself and her children in a guest bedroom upstairs.

Glass chandeliers followed Sarah from other homes to this one, as well as art from local artists including Grant Wood, Mauricio Lasansky and Ann Royer that hang on the walls. A particularly large painting by Grant Wood stands out in the dining room. It’s a copy of a commissioned piece of Sarah’s childhood home that was painted during the same period as American Gothic — you can find the original in the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art.

“I just love looking at something and knowing it was my great grandmothers or was my grandfathers or my children made it when they were little,” Sarah said. “I like to have things that remind me of my lifetime.”

Living in a home of more than 150 years has its challenges, of course. But with age comes a timeless beauty that you don’t quite find in newer homes, she added.

“We appreciate the architecture, history, style and dignity of this house,” she said. “There are a lot of people that wouldn’t want to live in a house like this because it’s not all open. ... That’s the way people live now and I love that, too, but this was so unique that we tackled it as a project and appreciated all of its detail that we think is missing in a lot of new construction.”

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