Copyright 2004 By Bob Hibbs

Postcard 266: Exploring a 1904 City Directory


The Foster, Graham & Shaffer Livery, Feed and Sale Stable is advertised in a 1904 city directory recently acquired by the author. 
The stable site now serves the Englert Theatre which currently is undergoing restoration in downtown Iowa City. 


By Bob Hibbs


Recreating a walk through Iowa City a century ago is easy – with the right resources and images.

The old commercial city directory is a principal resource, so when the author recently located one for Iowa City dated 1904, despite his no longer young or nimble body he might have been caught doing back flips at its junk sale source near the Quad Cities!

Obviously, he bought it, adding a smile and thank you to the several-bucks asking price.

Images are a separate matter, but they come from several key sources – from old school annuals and history magazines to his 2,200-plus collection of local postcards. Readers often volunteer the best ones – for which the author is sincerely grateful.

Old city directories are rarer than images. Only a few were printed and sold each year; and, unlike postcards, most were pitched as useless after they aged a bit.

The author’s personal library holds only a half-dozen that are more than 50 years old despite endlessly searching. The 1904 is oldest and most prized; but, those from the 1920s and 1940s illuminate other periods.

Those housed in public facilities aren’t available after 10 p.m. when most of the postcard articles are written.

Picking up the one for 1904, the first thing noticed are front cover ads for St. James Hotel, John Hands jeweler and Willard Welch china and housewares. All three were prominent businesses of that period a century past.

A few pages behind the cover, a single-page history reports that Iowa City’s 8,762 population is served by two telephone companies – Johnson County Telephone Co. and Bell Telephone (later merged).

It lists private and parochial schools – Iowa City Academy, Iowa City Commercial College, Irish’s University Business College, St. Agatha’s, St. Joseph’s and St. Brenden’s. Oh, wait a minute, St. Brenden’s?  Don’t recall that one; it’ll get some future research.

The history reports 14 miles of sewers, 5.3 miles of paving and macadam (early type of asphalt) streets lit by 118 arc lights and lined by 182 fire hydrants. Also, it notes “a $30,000 library is nearing completion” on the Linn and College corner.

The Daily Press – yes, half of the predecessor consolidation of today’s Press-Citizen – is offers at 10˘ a week by carrier, or $3.00 a year in advance. On next page Union Bakery at Market and Linn hawks “bakes of the best quality” every day at the bakery and “most of the grocery stores” and “all stations within 50 miles.”

Jewelry is peddled at 203 E. Washington by Sam Morrison for whom a Coralville park is now named.

Best image in the volume is a section page featuring the Coldren Opera House and Iowa City State Bank building, now the Savings and Loan Building at Clinton and College.

Fox, Hutchinson and Lake, “the old reliable lumber yard,” offers wares from the site now occupied by the City Hall, police and fire facility. Iowa Brewing offers Enlanger, “the beer for family use” at phone number 19.

Drs. Theodore and Clara Hazard, homeopathic physicians and surgeons, offer services at 120 E. Washington, the Phoenix Block building.  C.M. Reno provides real estate services upstairs at 110˝ E. Washington.

Six stables are noted, including Foster, Graham & Shaffer on the site which now serves the Englert Theatre.

The old directory isn’t worth much to most folks; but, the author was thrilled to find it.

P.S. "The Rec Center at 40” article a week ago resulted in a reunion of three center originals in its namesake Bob Lee 
and its then-young architects, Roland Wehner and Harvey Henry.

The three were among anniversary fete attendees, sharing punch, cookies and stories about erecting the structure four decades ago. Photos from the gathering may also be seen with postcards (# 84) and 83.

Next Saturday: Iowa City’s century-old germs lab.

Bob Hibbs collects local postcards and other historic ephemera and researches history related to them. 

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