Exploring the county's many limestone buildings makes for an enjoyable tour
Madison County, Iowa, has its bridges. Marion County has its stone buildings.
Andy Hansen owns one of Marion’s oldest homes at 202 E. Santa Fe St. Known as the Kellison house, the two-story limestone home dates to 1879, making it older than the Historic Elgin Hotel across the street.
It’s one of a multitude of stone structures across the county. A tour exploring the area to photograph them makes for a fun day.
Hansen bought the home in 2019 and uses it as a bunkhouse and weekend rental.
“I have a guide service, and we have a hunting club,” Hansen said.
The home was vacant when Hansen bought it. It had gone up for auction but didn’t sell. Hansen purchased it after that.
Nearby Main Street is dotted with stone buildings, many of which were part of a geological tour in March.
Hansen’s house features intricately carved stones above the windows.
“With most of the stone cut in the town, the windows were straight,” Hansen said. “This house has angled windows, which were more expensive. Do you know why they were angled?”
The answer: “So you could shoot out of them. In the country, they were all cut at an angle.”
Despite its age, the home is solid, Hansen said.
“There’s been some settling, but it hasn’t settled much,” he said.
The home in which he lives — built almost 100 years later — has settled more, he said.
“The house itself, the core of the house, it seems really, really solid,” Hansen said. “You can tell that there are some stones that had some breaks, and they fixed a couple of those. An addition was put on the back, and there’s a little bit of variation there.”
The stone helps the home stay cool in the summer. When he bought the house, Hansen replaced all the upstairs windows.
Pam Varenhorst and her family owned the house for many years — from 1982 to 2016.
She loved the home but never returned to it after she became unexpectedly sick.
“It was such a beautifully executed house,” she said. “I loved all of it. The man who built the house, Mr. Kellison, owned a quarry. He had excellent men working for him.”
The city library was next door at the time. That ensured the family returned their books on time, Varenhorst joked.
“When we bought the house, it was in fair shape, but there were some problems,” she said. “There was an addition in the back, and there was a leak. We worked on the roof, but we couldn’t ever find the leak. We lost some windows in the back.”
It was a trade-off, owning a stone home of that age, she said.
“It was a good family home,” she said. “It was wonderfully constructed. The windows in every room lined up with the windows in other rooms, so there was always a breeze. The walls were 18 inches thick.”
Varenhorst admitted that she and her husband were “young and ignorant when we moved in.”
When a crack in a stone appeared, her husband would fill it with caulk, she said. She didn’t think that was how to repair stone.
“I finally hid his caulk gun from him,” she said.
Other examples of prominent stone buildings in Marion include:
- 115 N. 3rd St., home to the Historic Elgin Hotel.
- 300 W. Santa Fe St., which is home to Valley United Methodist Church.
- 200 S. 3rd St., the Marion County courthouse.
- 601 E. Main St., Hill School.
- 610 E. Lawrence St., Marion Presbyterian Church.
Several stone structures at Central Park and Marion County Park and Lake also are worth a glance.
Stone buildings aren’t unique to Marion. They’re common across the county.
Two stone homes stand next to each other on W. 8th St. in Florence — one quite ornate, the other simpler. Stone fencing with stairs lines the street in front of the homes.
County records show 343 W. 8th St., the more ornate home, was built in 1878, and 315 W. 8th St. was built in 1900.
Florence’s historic opera house, home to Brandin’ Iron restaurant, also is worth a gaze.
Limestone was a preferred building material because it was available in the area and considered safer for building. Many of Marion’s early wood-frame buildings burned down.
Other stops on a limestone tour:
- 1625 Old Mill Rd., the former Marion County Poor Farm.
- 1305 US-77, the J.K. Williams homestead, recently purchased by Jeremy and Tammy Ensey, who own the Elgin.
- Peabody’s Walnut St., which serves as its main business street. It’s lined on other side with stone buildings from the 1800s.
- 126 N Main St. in Hillsboro’s, Olde Towne.
Last modified June 1, 2023