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Restoring Ranshaw House

North Liberty to renovate historic home for public use
The Samuel and Emma A. Ranshaw House, located at 515 W. Penn St. in North Liberty. The historic home will undergo renovations this spring, with plans to remove the kitchen and bathroom on the main level, install accessible restrooms, update plumbing and electric and install two furnaces and air conditioning units. Once completed, the building will serve as a space for public use. (photo by Cale Stelken)

NORTH LIBERTY– It’s been nearly 15 years in the making.
North Liberty’s historic Samuel and Emma A. Ranshaw House, located at 515 W. Penn St., is finally getting the renovations it so desperately needs.
Built in 1908, the Queen Anne style home was sanctuary to some of Johnson County’s wealthiest farmers, Samuel and Emma A. Ranshaw, before the family lost it during the Great Depression. It had indoor plumbing with hot and cold taps, gas lighting, softened water and other amenities before such innovations were commonplace. Throughout past decades, the structure went through various incarnations, such as housing units and the original Kinderworld daycare, and survived a fire before sitting dormant for an extended period.
The City of North Liberty purchased the historic home in 2004 with plans for demolition to make way for additional parking for the new aquatic center. But with much of the original interior features intact, the city chose to maintain one of the last surviving heirlooms of North Liberty history. As early as 2008, an attempt was made to transform it into the Welcome and History Center for the City.
The house, inducted into to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012, hasn’t always received the honor its legacy would imply, having the Johnson County Paranormal Team spend a night within its hallowed walls and a window, now boarded up, having been shot out with BBs. Currently, it houses supplies for North Liberty’s Summer Lunch & Fun program, about to enter its fifth year.
Initially, city plans for renovations were only to be accomplished through grant funds. This proved a difficult task, however, with various grant requests made and the only repairs so far having been to the roof and exterior paint, which wouldn’t hold to the decaying siding. After sitting vacant for several years, the time came for the city to either fund the project out of its own pocket, or demolish Ranshaw House after all.
During the Jan. 23 North Liberty City Council meeting, Councilor Annie Pollock questioned the community’s interest in the renovation as well as the funding in the face of a potential deficit in the city’s upcoming budget. Jim Sayre also expressed a lack of support in funding Ranshaw House, but relinquished, “the boat has sailed on that particular piece.”
Councilor Chris Hoffman, however, sternly defended the restoration of the historic building, citing the city’s longstanding plans to maintain its heritage amidst the home’s gradual deterioration.
“From a historical standpoint, North Liberty’s pretty young, and we don’t have anywhere else in the city with historical significance. The Ranshaw House is one of the few remaining pieces that we have to accomplish that,” he said.
“When you stand on that porch and look to the north or to the northeast, you see just what those settlers saw from that home,” Hoffman added, insisting further, “Discussion about the Ranshaw House not being improved upon, or doing away with it or doing something else with it is never gonna be a topic I want to entertain.”
The project moved forward with four affirmative and one opposed.
Currently, the house is inhabitable. There is no plumbing or heating– the boiler was removed during asbestos abatement– so initial plans are to update plumbing and electric, install two furnaces and air conditioning, remove the kitchen and bathroom on the main level and install accessible restrooms. The carpet will also be removed, with the original wood floors to be stripped and resealed. The estimate for initial phase renovations is $200,000, with Wolf Construction expected to be awarded the contract.
Historical features such as the carved plaster columns, hanging light fixtures and decorative second-generation radiators will be restored and maintained. Other later additions to the house will be replaced with more period-accurate fixtures.
Ramp accessibility and upstairs renovations will likely be completed during a later phase of renovation.
Assistant City Administrator Tracey Mulcahey said once renovations are complete, the city plans to use Ranshaw House as a public space to host modest events such as Girl Scouts meetings and bridal showers. Individuals who lack transportation to the Department of Corrections in Coralville might benefit from the building serving as a meeting place with their probation officer, and WIC has also expressed interested in using the space.
Mulcahey is currently getting an estimate on exterior paint and writing one more grant application for historic preservation of the exterior, hoping for that to come to fruition this spring. The interior renovations are expected to be complete by June, in time for the Summer Lunch & Fun program to begin. The history committee is convening soon and will be recruiting volunteers as well, with painting expected to take place in the fall.
As for the entirety of the renovations, Muclahey is hopeful Ranshaw House will be restored to its former glory within the next 24 months.