Queen of the Block: C.R. couple spends more than 50 years caring for Victorian home

 

When Jim and Jo Shumaker moved into their cottage-style Victorian era home in 1966, they hoped it would be their forever home.

Turns out the Shumakers were the perfect caretakers for the historic property.

Built about 1899 and originally on Third Avenue and Sixth Street SE in downtown Cedar Rapids, the Queen Anne-style home was moved to its current location on a picturesque hillside in the northeast quadrant near Franklin Middle School in 1916.

“I can’t even fathom them moving this house,” Jo said.

The photo the couple has from that time period shows tiny saplings out front, which now have grown into towering trees that provide a shaded sanctuary.

“The trees are so much bigger now than even when we first arrived,” Jim said. “The whole lot is also lined in hosta, two deep in some places.”

The Shumakers have spent half a century in the home. They’ve not only made it a priority to create memories in the home but to also make sure the house stays in tiptop shape.

“This house has drawn a lot of attention over the years,” Jim said.

“It is a storybook house,” Jo added.

 

The Shumakers think they are the home’s fourth owners — having lived in it longer than any of the previous occupants — and have done a fair amount of research into the history of the home and its inhabitants. One previous owner operated a tea room in the home during the Depression. Bedrooms also were rented out to boarders at one point, and some of the common rooms on the first floor were rented out for card parties and graduation parties.

“They even held a wedding reception that we heard about,” said Jo, noting all the first-floor rooms have doors that can be closed to make them private.

 

The daughter of one previous owner — whom Jim worked with, ironically — shared many memories and photos of her time growing up in the home.

“It makes it more fun for us when we know the things that went on here before us,” Jo said.

The Shumakers raised their three children in the home. On their 50th anniversary of living in the house, one son commissioned a painting of the home as a gift to Jim and Jo. It hangs in the hallway on the main floor, where Jo proudly points it out.

“Having lived in the home for more than 52 years, we have a lot of stories we can tell,” she said.

Walking around the home, there are plenty of intricate details and unique features to discover. The natural oak woodwork has been beautifully maintained. There’s a stunning built-in hutch in the dining room. A curved nook and leaded glass windows set the living room apart. And a wide, wood-burning fireplace in the living room is something the Shumakers use often over the holidays when they are hosting their grown children and their families.

 

Jim, a retired mechanical engineer, has spearheaded the restoration and preservation projects the couple has taken on.

“We’ve done it all ourselves,” Jim said of the many projects. “We are the caretakers, and we try to do it well.”

The side porch, for example, has been fully restored.

“Twenty years ago we tore it down to the foundation because it was sinking,” Jim said. “We had a new concrete foundation poured and rebuilt it from there.”

He also recalled that when their sons were in high school, they started the process of replacing the roof on the whole house, including the steep turret.

“We worked on it over three summers,” Jim said.

The galley kitchen at the back of the house is another prime example of Jim’s handiwork.

“This is the second kitchen he’s built for me,” Jo said, proudly.

He built the cabinetry in his workshop behind the house, and put in slate countertops and a farmhouse sink. Looking around the kitchen, you’d be hard pressed to guess this renovation was done 20 years ago.

“If you wait long enough, everything comes back in style,” Jo laughed.

The home doesn’t show too many signs of its age, but if you look near the kitchen door, you’ll spot the bells that were used to ring the boarders in the home years ago. Jo joked that they came in handy when her kids were young as well.

Despite all the projects they have completed, the couple never changed the home’s footprint.

“This house takes a lot of maintenance, but it is more than worth it,” Jim said.

They have repainted it more than once, opting for its current white and light green combination some 25 years ago.

After ascending the steep staircase, full of distinctive turns, you’ll find three bedrooms — all with interesting windows and coved ceilings — and a small bathroom.

“They aren’t big rooms, but they are cozy and comfy,” Jo said.

And perhaps one of the most fun features of the home is the small, round sitting porch just off the master bedroom.

“We love to come out here at 4 p.m. and have a drink on the porch,” Jim said.

With all their hard work, they’ve earned at least that.

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