Frank Hormel was Cedar Rapids mayor for one year in the 1880s and built a beautiful brick home at 1420 Mount Vernon Rd. SE. But he was mainly known as a talented orator and skilled attorney.
If a Fourth of July celebration or a reunion of the 1st Iowa Cavalry needed an eloquent speaker, Hormel got the call. When the community staged a program at the opera house on March 30, 1889, the centennial of George Washington’s inauguration, Hormel played George Washington.
Hormel — no relation to the famed meatpacking family — was born in Ohio in 1850. He graduated with high honors from Wittenberg College in Springfield, Ohio, in 1867. He opened his law office over the City National Bank at First Avenue and First Street SE in Cedar Rapids, eventually partnering with U.B. Blake.
Hormel’s parents followed their only son to Cedar Rapids in 1876, when he was named city attorney for Cedar Rapids. In 1883, Hormel built a small home for himself and his parents on Mount Vernon Road, which was outside the city limits at the time.
He built a larger home on the same property in 1885, the year he turned 35, ran for mayor and got married.
A Democrat, Hormel was expected to lose the mayoral election in the solidly Republican city. But he won by a margin of 400 votes out of the 2,421 ballots cast, serving a one-year term from March 1885 to March 1886. He did not run for re-election.
“Mr. Hormel, the successful candidate for mayor, is one of the rising young men of the city, and he has risen rapidly to the front rank of the many able attorneys in this city,” The Gazette reported. “He will give the city a good administration, for he has the ability and the natural pride in the welfare of the city to do so.”
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On Oct. 8, 1885, Hormel married Mary Bonnifield, the daughter of an Ottumwa banker, West Benson Bonnifield. The couple would have two daughters and a son.
In January 1886, Hormel was among those petitioning Congress for a courthouse and post office in Cedar Rapids.
The effort was unsuccessful, but by January 1892, U.S. Rep. John T. Hamilton, a Democrat representing Iowa’s 5th District, which included Cedar Rapids, reported progress.
He said plans had been drawn up for a post office in Cedar Rapids but he saw no way the city could secure a new federal courtrooms. If the city asked for an additional appropriation, he feared the city would lose even the money for the post office.
Hormel, though, argued for patience and continued efforts to get a building housing both. And that’s what happened — construction began later that year of a Federal Building at Second Avenue and Third Street SE, a building that included both a post office and room for the federal court.
Hormel did not live to see the groundbreaking, dying of tubercular meningitis during a trip to Washington, D.C., on May 18, 1892. He was 41.
After his death, Hormel was eulogized in The Gazette as “probably the hardest student in the (legal) profession and never entered the trial of a case unless he was thoroughly prepared. ... He was a man of strict integrity, honest and upright, conservative and economical, a great orator and a warm friend. Being of weak constitution, probably inherited, during all the years of his residence here, he was fighting for his health. Had he been of strong physical constitution, he would have been known and recognized as one of the most brilliant lawyers” in the region.
Hormel’s 11-year partnership with U.C. Blake was mutually dissolved in February 1888, and Hormel became partners with promising young attorney Carter Harrison. Interestingly, the abstracts kept over the years in the Blake & Hormel law office and by C.G. Greene survived and are among the oldest such records in the city.
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Hormel’s wife and children stayed in Cedar Rapids until 1910, when she sold the Mount Vernon Road house to Roy Fortner, who had been the property’s caretaker. Fortner and his wife, Mamie, eventually turned the large house into a “tourist home,” used by travelers for overnight stays — an early version of a bed-and-breakfast.
The home was torn town in 1955 to make way for a 17,000-square-foot Eagle Food Center. Crescent Electric Supply Co. took over the property in 1976 and stayed until 2008. After a lengthy zoning battle, a Kum & Go store opened there in 2013.
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