Restoration underway at Frank Lloyd Wright-designed boathouse in northeast Iowa

Cedar Rock State Park 'man cave' is 'shining example' of architect's work

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QUASQUETON — A $220,000 restoration of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed boathouse at Cedar Rock State Park is to burnish a rare architectural gem.

“We are incredibly excited about getting it back to its original condition,” said Katie Hund, site manager at Cedar Rock, the state-owned estate built by Wright for Lowell and Agnes Walter in the early 1950s.

The restoration, ongoing for the past two weeks, “will make Cedar Rock a shining example of Wright’s work,” she said.

Of the few boathouses Wright designed. Lowell Walter’s “man cave,” as she calls it, is thought to be the only one in its original condition, she said.

Lowell Walter considered the boathouse his personal retreat and spent time there relaxing and making phone calls to the tenants of the approximately 5,000 acres of farmland he once owned in Buchanan County.

Hund said the pavilion housed Walter’s wooden boat, powered by a 33-horsepower outboard, that was capable of 30 mph in an era when that was fast. “He liked to pick up friends at the park in Quasqueton and take them upriver in the boat to play cards in the pavilion,” she said.

While the house itself remains in good repair, deferred maintenance and exposure to the elements have degraded the elegant brick pavilion that features a fireplace, sleeping and lounging quarters, boat storage and launching facilities and a deck overlooking the scenic Wapsipinicon River.

The boathouse, with its overhanging roof, cantilevered construction and Wright-designed furniture, echoes key features of the main house, which sits at the opposite end of the limestone spine known as Cedar Rock.

Workers are restoring the building’s brick and concrete exterior and refinishing the walnut woodwork inside the boathouse. Completion is expected in September, according to Josh Smyser, owner of TNT Tuckpointing and Building Restoration of Stockton, the lead contractor on the project.

Smyser said about 6,000 deteriorated bricks are to be replaced as part of the restoration.

“This is our first Wright project,” said Smyser, whose company specializes in restoring historic structures, including Terrace Hill, the governor’s mansion in Des Moines.

Hund said watching workers pump concrete through an extensive set of pipes to the remote site made her wonder about the labor involved in the original construction.

Restoring the boathouse has been the top priority of Friends of Cedar Rock, a volunteer support group that has raised most of the money for the project through grants, donations and special events.

Hund said the friends have secured grants from the Buchanan County Community Foundation, the Community Foundation of Northeastern Iowa, the Black Hawk County Gaming Commission and the state Resource Enhancement and Protection program. The largely depleted Walter Charitable Trust has also contributed $50,000 to the project, she said.

The trust fund, which consisted of two bequests totaling $1.5 million, covered Cedar Rock’s expenses from 1982, the year the Walters bequeathed it to the state, until 2009, when the Department of Natural Resources assumed most of the site’s operating expenses.

The park hosts about 10,000 visitors a year, many of whom come to see Wright’s handiwork and have donated to the boathouse restoration fund, Hund said.

It appeals to people with diverse interests ranging from engineering and architecture to woodworking, Iowa history and scenic beauty, she said.

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