Friday, October 12, 2018

Montauk: A Governor's Estate and Family Farm

In 1874, this beautiful Italianate mansion was built of brick molded of native clay and kiln at Clermont for William Larrabee, Iowa's 12th governor. This 14-room house sits on a hill about 200 feet higher than Clermont, a town approximately a mile to the south. It is surrounded by over 100,000 pine trees that Larrabee planted. Peacocks once strutted this 46 acres and turkeys roosted in the trees at night. There were also flower gardens.

Montauk built in 1874
Anna Matilda Appelman Larrabee, whom he married September 12, 1861, named Montauk for her sea-captain father, who told her about Montauk Point, Long Island, New York, where a lighthouse was located that guided him home from his whaling voyages. A dramatic view of the Turkey River Valley can be seen from the widow's walk, like those used by wives of sea captains to watch for ships, that crowns the roof. Look closely in the above photo to see a portion of the widow's walk on the roof left of center.

House with porch on back side
We were there too early to tour the home, but could walk around the grounds. I took this photo through the window of the front door showing the stairway inside. In doing some research, it was interesting to note that compared to homes of similarly prominent leaders of Iowa and the nation, Montauk was modest. This simplicity was a reflection of the Larrabees' conservative New England background.
Staircase viewed thru front door window
Montauk was lived in continuously for nearly one-hundred years. Over time, new furnishings and appliances mixed with older ones and reflected changes in style and technology. For example, a 1900 wood stove stands near a 1950s dishwasher. The house was built with central heat, a recent innovation at that time. The telephone was added in 1900 and electricity in 1910, and other new conveniences were added as available. Curios and souvenirs from his travels decorated his home. Today's visitors can view Wedgewood china, Tiffany lamps, music boxes from Switzerland, thousands of books and a large collection of paintings.

He was a native of Connecticut, but his schooling did not go beyond 8th grade. He helped his father on the family farm. He taught school two years, and his father taught him in business. At age 21, he moved to Iowa, and worked on his brother-in-law's farm in Poston to learn more about the business of farming. He felt farming in Iowa would be a good investment.

The first brown Swiss cattle ever shown at the Iowa State Fair were shown by Governor Larrabee in 1885. He was elected the Governor of Iowa in 1885 and served two terms, until February 1890. He had imported the first Swiss cattle to Iowa from Switzerland in 1882. They grazed on Montauk's meadows. It was once a working farm with farm animals, barns, an orchard and grain fields.

White barn at right rear houses antique carriage
Four bronze likenesses that he commissioned of Civil War heroes surround the front of the house. They are Generals Grant, Sherman, and Dodge, and Admiral Farragut. Click on any photo to enlarge it and escape to return to the blog.

General Sherman
Admiral Farragut
General Grant
General Dodge
 One of Governor Larrabee's daughters lived in the house until her death in 1965 at age 96. The family opened the home to the public in 1967, and maintained ownership until 1976 when the contents and 40 of the 200 acres were deeded to the State of Iowa as a historical site. The State Historical Society of Iowa now preserves it as a historical preserve. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Iowa Historic Site on National Register of Historic Places
The caretaker's home can be seen in the distance.

Caretaker's home
Inside this barn was an old carriage.

Barn housing antique carriage
This beautiful antique carriage is parked inside where the barn door is open.

Antique carriage
Old Trellis and flowers blooming at edge of what appears to have been gardens.

Evidence of flower gardens thru old trellis
This concludes our visit to Montauk.

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