The Cedar Rapids Chandlers built big homes, lent their name to tiny park

 

A west-side Cedar Rapids park and the historic home across the street from it are part of the Chandler family’s legacy.

Both are found on Dean’s Hill, often shortened to The Hill, as it was called at the turn of the 20th century.

 

The “Dean” was John F. Dean, who developed a large portion of west Cedar Rapids and also served as cashier of First National Bank, an institution he helped organize in 1863 with John and Charles Weare.

Development of Dean’s Hill began around 1886, with serious grading beginning in 1897. Realtor George T. Hedges advertised elegant homes for $6,000 in 1899, as well as “lots overlooking the city” that sold for $100.

Chandler home

Chandler Pump Co. moved to Cedar Rapids from Monticello in 1890, paying Dean $750 for three lots to build a factory.

The company’s president, John A. Chandler, built a home on Dean’s Hill at A Avenue and 12th Street NW.

His son, Charles H. Chandler, decided to build his home about a block away, at 1304 First Ave. SW, in March 1896.

“The style will be French renaissance and colonial combined and when completed the residence will cost from $8,000 to $11,000,” The Gazette reported March 23, 1896. “It will be two stories with high gables, practically three stories and will be ornamented with a wide porch extending along the avenue front and with verandas and cozy corners at the second story.

“The exterior plans are elaborate and pleasing, and the interior arrangement is nothing short of palatial. Mr. Chandler’s new home will be a great addition to that portion of the city.”

 

Chandler Park

In 1904, after First Avenue West and Third Avenue SW were paved, a triangular piece of ground was left that could serve no useful purpose — except as a small park.

The J.C. Likes Paving Co. of Des Moines and the city struck a deal. The paving contractor secured the rights to the land from its original owners, J.D. and Emma Whisnand of Polk County and canceled the $1,500 assessment against the property. It then delivered the deed to the city for $1,000.

 

Another small parcel was acquired by Chandler, then a city alderman, to complete the triangle, on the condition the tract be improved and named Chandler Park.

Homeowners in the area said they were willing to contribute to the expense of creating the park, among them Chandler and H.D. St. John, president of the Anchor Mill Co. and owner of People’s Theater.

Chandler — president of the Chandler Pump Co., following his father’s death, and president of Commercial Savings Bank — had just retired as a city commissioner. He promised to furnish a hose and sprinkling equipment to keep the park’s flowers and grass in good condition. It was jokingly suggested he also could help with the park’s upkeep since he lived across the street and his pump company was good at producing those kinds of items.

The park wasn’t a done deal, however.

In the spring of 1905, a lawsuit was filed, claiming the parkland didn’t belong to the city but rather to Hawkeye Loan & Brokerage Co., which had acquired the property in a 1901 tax sale. The lawsuit also claimed that paver Mike Ford was entitled to $84.92 plus interest. A judge ruled the claim was void. The ruling was appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court in 1906 and apparently was decided in the city’s favor.

In 1915, Chandler Park’s 0.14 acre was valued at $2,000, one of the smallest parks in the city. On Jan. 17, 1916, the City Council finally officially named the land Chandler Park.

More than 80 years later, in 1998, “Ascent,” a sculpture by California artist Robert Ellison, was placed in the park, where it’s a familiar sight on The Hill.

Apartments

After the Chandlers built a new brick home at 1500 Third Ave. SW in 1911, the house on The Hill became the home of their son, C. Ray Chandler and his family, who lived there until 1925, when C. Ray Chandler became one of the directors of the Cedar Rapids Amusement Co.

Next, Sherman and Adelia Freeman moved into the home, remodeling it into apartments. The Freemans lived on the first floor with a private entrance. Their daughter and son-in-law, Vera Ione and W.H. Cumley, and their two children also lived in the house.

The Freemans celebrated their golden wedding anniversary on The Hill in 1937, and Sherman died at his home in 1941.

It continues today as an apartment house.

 

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