CEDAR FALLS — On a warm July afternoon the rattan chairs look inviting on the broad green lawn beneath towering trees. One can almost visualize Victorian ladies in white cotton lawn dresses drifting down the hill from the 1895 Queen Anne Victorian home to sit and fan themselves in the shade and sip lemonade, grateful for a cooling breeze that drifts across the Cedar River.
Restored to its early glory, the Daniel and Margaret Wild house on West First Street in Cedar Falls, not far from the Ice House Museum, Little Red School House and Behren’s Rapp Filling Station, is a graceful presence and indelible reminder of the city’s history.
Now, after months of diligent research and painstaking attention to detail in completing seemingly endless forms and inventories, homeowner Susan Card has finally won her prize.
The home is now designated on the National Register of Historic Places. In addition, Card has earned a preservation project of merit award from the State Historical Society of Iowa. She received the Judith A. McClure award for outstanding preservation of a residential property.
“I’m living the dream. I’m so lucky,” Card says, smiling. “For years, I’ve been looking for a Victorian-era house, and I knew I’d found it when I walked into this house.”
Card grew up in Cedar Falls and returned home from Colorado. She remembers walking past the house with her friends on the way downtown for a movie, banging a stick against the wrought iron fence.
“It reminded me of the Munsters’ house on TV,” Card recalls, laughing. Little did she know one day she should become its owner. She purchased the home from Audrey Smith and moved in five years ago.
Card credits Smith, who owned it for 35 years, with saving what once was a dilapidated old house from being torn down for progress.
When Smith decided to sell, Card says, “We had a meeting of the minds.” Card was undeterred by the home’s proximity to Illinois Central Railroad tracks. “I thought it was super cool.”
The Highway 57 project spurred Card into seeking status on the National Register of Historic Places for her home. “I’ve always wanted to do this kind of research and get more involved with preservation. I loved it — the research was so interesting. I was determined to do it, no matter what it took,” she explains.
She appreciated help from the State Historical Preservation Office staff and received state historic tax credits for her preservation and rehabilitation efforts.
Daniel Wild was a first-generation German immigrant who arrived in Cedar Falls in 1853. At the time, the settlement boasted 13 log cabins. He married Margaret in 1853 as well, and they had 10 children. By 1868, Wild was a successful businessman and entrepreneur, owning a brick company and later expanding into lumber, coal, farming and rest estate.
The home was designed by architect William A. Robinson. Although the abstract doesn’t give the exact year it was built, markings and a signature underneath the staircase are dated 1895. Wild used the finest materials available, including a pink granite foundation and exotic woods such as circassian walnut and Georgia curly pine. The house also features a rooftop porch turret.
Card tackled the second-floor bathroom as the first place to get her feet wet in renovation. She removed previous updates such as the fiberglass shower, restoring it to a Victorian look with marble floor tile and marble tiled shower. That done, she was ready to start on the kitchen.
“It was all untouched,” she says, including the uneven floors, limited counterspace and low sink. “I’m glad the kitchen hadn’t been done because I wanted to do it myself. I’ve always had an idea for a kitchen.”
She sat down with her friend and kitchen designer Sandra Luttchens-Van Allen, who works for Omega, and over a period of months formulated a plan. The kitchen’s footprint could not be altered.
“It was meticulously planned to maintain the home’s character and integrity,” Luttchens-Van Allen explains.
The project included removing a nonfunctioning chimney and adding a window for a river view. Original pine cabinetry was kept and other original woodwork repurposed or restained, including rosettes, beadboard paneling and trim.
Super white marble was used on the center island, providing much-needed working and serving space. The soapstone apron sink came from Vermont. The already-enclosed four-seasons porch is open to the kitchen and provides a banquette and table for casual meals. A fireplace was installed for a hearth-room effect.
Card had the home repainted in a period-inspired color scheme with the main body in yellow, the home’s original color.
The experience of living in the Wild family home has further ignited Card’s passion for preservation, both of old homes and historic communities. “Anything I’ve learned about it, I’ve thought I could use helping other people through the process,” she says.