On November 13, 2013, two young(ish) men, idealistic dreamers from Chicago, were handed the keys to Iowa’s only American System-Built Home. Attracted to a life of rural tranquility in an historic old house, these two men envisioned a future in which they’d transition away from the hustle and bustle of city life and settle full time in bucolic small-town Iowa. Until then, they would make the five-hour drive from the city to the country every other weekend. They would restore the house, collect its stories, and, maybe someday, even publish a book about it.
Eight years and hundreds of thousands of miles on the car odometer later, those two men are a little older and maybe a little less idealistic. They’ve driven through torrential downpours and blizzards, through darkness and hail, past deer lingering in the roadway and accidents on the interstate. Weekends have been spent stripping woodwork and painting exterior trim; rehabbing bathrooms and freshening up the kitchen; reaping and sowing homegrown vegetables in the backyard garden. They met with former owners who regaled them with the tales of this majestic old house. They started a blog and then turned it into a book.
At some point, probably around 2018, our two dreamers started to awaken to reality. Moving from Chicago to Iowa on a full-time basis was not going to be possible. Their careers, as well as longtime friends who are more like family, were going to keep them anchored to Chicago for the foreseeable future. They found ways to spend longer stretches at the Meier House, taking advantage of holiday weekends and work-from-home policies. The early days of the Coronavirus pandemic provided them the opportunity to spend weeks-long stretches at the house. They made great progress on house projects but they also had an opportunity to pause and consider what they were doing. And that, you might say, was the beginning of the end.
We’re coming up on our ninth anniversary as stewards of the Meier House. Nine years of long drives and long projects. Although we’re loathe to admit that aging is slowing us down, there’s no denying that we’re not as energetic as we used to be. That’s why we’ve made the difficult decision to sell the Meier House.
There’s a part of us that wishes we could stay; that we could continue restoring this historic old house and sharing its stories with Frank Lloyd Wright fans. But that part of us also wishes that we could somehow slice open the earth, grab Iowa by the border and drag the house two hours closer to Chicago. You know, if we can’t get to the house, let’s bring the house to us! If only that were feasible!
There’s this BBC sitcom called Ghosts that we recently watched. It’s about a young couple who inherit a rundown, old castle and, due to an unfortunate accident, the ghosts who inhabit it suddenly become visible to one of them. Living in the Meier House and collecting the stories of its previous owners has been a bit like that. No, we haven’t seen any spirits in the house. And we haven’t experienced comedic situations that always resolve themselves within 22 minutes. But we have lived amongst the ghosts of this old house. By meeting previous owners and their relatives, we made the walls of the Meier House talk. We inhabited their stories and, in turn, tried to do right by the house.
And that’s why we’re selling. We know that to do right by the house, we need to pass it along to the next stewards. We’re not here as often as we’d like and that’s keeping us from projects that would further improve the house. This is a house to be lived in, to be enjoyed. So, with lumps in our throats and tears in our eyes, we’ve placed a For Sale sign on the front lawn. We’re proud of what we have been able to accomplish in our time here – the work we’ve done, the people we’ve met, the book we published. This is a bittersweet goodbye – we truly adore this house but it will be nice to settle in one place for a while. And those ghosts? They will live with us even when we return to Chicago full-time.
Sounds familiar I’ve spent years restoring a faux-Wright, actually John Randal McDonald. Commuting from my home in Minneapolis to Racine, Wisconsin. I now live in Racine with a ton of work left to do.
Nine years?! What a legacy you left in Monona!