2022 Spring Newsletter

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Mount Vernon Historic Preservation Commission

Historic District News – Spring 2022

Operation Democracy: Mount Vernon, Iowa to Diekirch, Luxembourg

In March of 2020 archivist and Historic Preservation Commissioner Mary Evans was notified that Diekirch, Luxembourg was planning a commemoration of WWII reconstruction, and wanted to acknowledge Mount Vernon’s participation in Operation Democracy. Mount Vernon adopted Diekirch and sent aid after the war. In thanks for Mount Vernon’s generosity, Diekirch sent a 1949 painting of the town (which now resides at the Visitors Center) by local artist Roger Gerson. Read more at the Mount Vernon Historic Preservation Commission website: Operation Democracy: Mount Vernon, Iowa to Diekirch, Luxembourg – Mount Vernon Historic Preservation Commission (mvhpc.org)

Gretchen Sutherland


In late August 2021 we were finally enjoying our large 1914 Craftsman porch swing with friends seated on the wide railing of the porch. On the sidewalk another friend paused on his long daily walks around town. “Hey!” he asked, “Didn’t I see these same people months or even a year ago on your porch?” “Yes,” we agreed in a single voice. “So nice to see some things have not changed in this pandemic year.” He waved and walked on.

Once again I was glad we had our porch and we used it. On it we stayed connected to our friends and neighbors, passers-by, friendly dogs and their walkers. We breathed fresh air, basked in the sunshine and enjoyed the seasons. I admit we almost froze in midwinter when our friends in masks wanted to stay on the porch to visit without fear of Covid contagion.

Our neighbors recently rebuilt and refurbished their smaller front porch. Their work greatly

improved the welcoming front entrance of their own 1914 home. Just across the street, an older home was moved years earlier and its complete exterior and interior restoration included a newly extended and historically accurate front porch giving room for rocking chairs, Halloween decorations and family gatherings. The whole neighborhood was smiling over that new porch.

Yes, porches require additional maintenance and frequent upkeep. Rotting wood, chipping paint and caulking restorations due to weather exposure might lead to complete rebuilding over time. According to restrictions in historic districts, some upkeep of porches must be accomplished to exacting standards to restore a home to the original design of the builders. Still, if you drive around neighborhoods of new construction, porches are rare, owners opting for privacy over community. Yet each porch you will see makes a statement of welcome in what one might describe as a sea of garage doors.

What might a porch do for you? Make a first impression with curb appeal. Increase the value of your property. It will welcome you home, give a visitor a peek at what to expect inside or even make your home as friendly as you are and will set your home apart from the neighborhood.

Gretchen’s home is a Contributing Structure to the Cornell College Historic District

Guidelines for restoring entrances and porches on historic buildings can be found at:

The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation & Illustrated Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings-entrances/porches (nps.gov)

I Think I Can…A Beginner Grows Into a Winner!

Sarah Hedges Richardson

As a little girl I visited my grandparents in the countryside surrounding Cedar Rapids. Both sets of grandparents had huge gardens, some with vegetables and others with beautiful flowers. I was too young to appreciate the work that goes into creating a garden, but I was fascinated with a garden’s beauty. My father was a self-taught gardener, too. I think it’s those early childhood moments that guided me into wanting to create beauty outside my home(s).

Over the years of creating a landscape in 4 different locations, one piece of advice I learned from both grandmothers and my father became my mantra: “Remember, the outside of your home is what EVERYONE sees.” I have carried that simple knowledge with me for 46 years.

I am NOT a Master gardener but I’m a learner who loves to create, promote, and nurture ideas.

My husband and I moved into our house in Mount Vernon in March of 2008. We had spent the prior 6 months fixing up the inside. A historic brick home with a long list of previous occupants, some being those who helped create Mount Vernon and Cornell College, was both a challenge and a privilege. I wanted to make sure that the outside (as my father taught me!) would be viewed and appreciated by neighbors, friends, and those who just drive by.

I started with a large yard that had NOTHING—not even grass, let alone flowers and shrubs. I began by spray painting a line to mark the edges of the garden plots. Then, I went to a farmer near Independence to see if he had stones/rocks removed from his corn fields that I could take. He did! So, I piled many rocks (with help) into my friend’s truck, drove back to the house, and placed all of them on the sprayed lines, designating where all the plantings would go. Then it was time to start to PLANT.

Another tip from Dad was to fill my gardens with a variety of plants that would show their beauty at different times of the growing season. What is beautiful in May and June won’t last forever; ensure beauty into July, August, and Fall with your plant choices. Plant different species, heights, and colors for the most effect. I fill in spaces in my garden beds, already full of perennials, with blooming annuals, i.e., impatiens, begonias, geraniums, and the list goes on.

Especially in hot, humid Iowa WATER, WATER, WATER!! Further, before buying what looks fabulous and healthy in a nursery, make sure you know how much sun and/or shade that plant needs, how much water it needs, and how much removal of old blooms it needs to keep blooming.

I have been creating colorful landscapes in my yard(s) for 46 years and have loved every minute of it. I have grown from a neophyte gardener into one who knows what I’m doing by learning from my mistakes AND learning from other gardeners. For people like me, working in my gardens keeps me busy and, ultimately, brings me great joy! Stop by any time. All are welcome to visit my gardens.

Sarah’s brick home, also known as Knott House, is one of 11 in Mount Vernon added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2020