Could This Be Farewell
To the Grand Old Lady?
Emma and Frank G. Ray
One of the grandest homes in its day was the Ray House, a three-story Queen Anne mansion build by Frank G. Ray. Mr. Ray wore many hats in the community, among them were as proprietor of a farm implement store as well as an association with the Iowa Canning Company. The building for his implement business still stands today in the downtown district, directly five blocks north of his home on First Avenue, and can easily be identified from the street by his name still perched above the building's crown molding.
The land for Mr. Ray’s future home was purchased in June of 1882, however the basement and foundation, made from Anamosa stone, were not laid until eleven years later, in 1893. Once the foundation was in place and had properly "cured" for a year, construction on the Queen Anne mansion began. An architectural firm by the name of Murphy and Wallace were chosen to design the home. Construction was completed in 1894.
The front of the house faces west and a veranda extends across the front and curves around to the south side door. Directly in front of the first-story ornamental parlor windows, the veranda assumes a turret shape with a tower roof. The roof of the veranda is supported by turned columns and between these extends a railing. On the northwest corner of the house is a tower 10 feet in diameter and three stories high with a cone roof. There are three windows in each story all of curved glass. The roof is made of slate.
The Ray House, located at 912 1st Avenue in Vinton, is handicap accessible and available for rental, year round, or tours by appointment. The grandeur of the home makes an ideal location for hosting family gatherings and offers several picturesque areas for photos. For more information and availability please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Group of ladies enjoying the sunshine on the south porch.
Dining room set for dinner featuring a roasted turkey.
The Ray House
Written by Melody Snow
(Article from Vinton Today)
At the turn of the last century Vinton was booming with expansion. Businesses were growing, money was flowing, the train was carrying people hither and yon, and high society was putting its roots down. Although many of those roots can still be seen throughout Vinton today, a particular one of those “Grand Old Ladies” of the Victorian Age still remains at the top of the hill on First Avenue.
From the top of that hill, this Queen Anne Victorian mansion, known as The Ray House, could cast its watchful eye over the town for which its owner, Frank G. Ray, had fallen in love. To the north the bustling downtown area; to the west the peaks of the roof above the Iowa College for the Blind (as it was known in the early 1900s); to the south the now defunct prestigious Tilford Academy; and to the east, the busy rails coming into town. A fitting location for the man who had his hand in so much of the development of the community.
Within this community Mr. Ray proved himself as an endeavourous soul. Before arriving in Vinton he did a short stint teaching school in his hometown in Illinois, but once coming to Vinton in 1874 he began dabbling in other business ventures. After working a brief time in an implement store he quickly worked his way up and became a partner in 1875. His entrepreneurial characteristics also led him to involvement with the State Bank of Vinton, the Iowa Canning Company, Vinton Telephone Company, Virginia Gay Memorial Hospital, Northwestern Portland Cement Company, and even helping develop the Vinton Country Club.
Just as successful as Mr. Ray had been with his business life, he wanted his personal life to follow suit. So after finding the perfect plot of land on First Avenue, Mr. Ray broke ground for his Grand Old Lady in 1893...and then waited. And waited. He waited a full year as the basement properly cured before beginning construction. Then in the years that followed, Frank and his wife Emma transformed this elegant house into a home. Many experienced this grand home through social soirees, the planning of business adventures, and probably even through a few well charged political discussions. Oh, the stories those walls could tell!
And what walls they are! Walls adorned with rich wood wrapped around them like stoles and windows worn like decorative jewels. Almost every room boasting a beveled, leaded, or stained glass gem. Various woods precisionly handcrafted form elegant details that are tucked in every room. The focal point of several of those grand rooms are the fireplaces. There are six completely different fireplaces located within key rooms of the Queen Anne mansion, each with their own personality and style. Do yourself a favor and come meet this Grand Old Lady of First Avenue and experience the stories she has to tell.
There are many more details to be discovered, stories to be told, and stories to be made at the mansion. The Ray House is available for private and public events, along with tours. If you would like more in-depth detail regarding the information in this article, visiting, or planning your next event at The Ray House, or becoming a member of the Benton County Historical Society please email or follow us on Facebook.
Could This Be Farewell
To the Grand Old Lady?
This isn’t going to be one of the usual articles that I write on behalf of the Benton County Historical Society (BCHS). It’s not an article trying to spark an interest within your soul. Nothing to pique your curiosity. This is going to be an “in your face”, forget the niceties, and “tell it like it is” article.
After hosting numerous events, offering informational booths, seeking new members, requesting for input, and participation in fundraisers, there appears to be minimal to limited interest in our community’s historical value. I’m not sure if it’s truly a lack of interest, a lackadaisical attitude, a sense of taking it for granted, or the thought that “someone else will do it”. Well, that no longer seems to be enough, and because of this, the BCHS is faced with making some very real, and very drastic decisions.
In case you’re not aware, over the years the Historical Society has been endowed with three properties within the Vinton city limits. The Depot, nestled along the tracks between Second and Third Avenues; The Horridge House, one block west of the Depot on the same tracks, at 612 First Avenue; and the Ray House, which I fondly refer to as “The Grand Old Lady of First Avenue”, resting at 912 First Avenue. The Historical Society wants nothing more than to have every historic property in town be a showcase for visitors, including their three properties. But reality is, that’s not going to happen. And reality is also that even BCHS’s own three properties are in need of transformation. But the other reality, that’s hidden behind the facade, is without participation the viability of maintaining these three properties comes into question.
After facing the “wrinkles” that come with aging, fending off vandalism, and enduring wind storms, all three properties are in need of repairs. Repairs on long-standing, geriatric structures are not quick and easy fixes, and because of such, they tend to be costly. A lack of interest, the unwillingness of a community to step forward to become involved by means of time, energy, and/or fiscally, has caused the BCHS to become disheartened.
As thankful as BCHS is for the opportunity of being caretakers for such grand properties, with it comes the burden of financial responsibility. If you own your home, you can relate. The worries of “will the furnace turn on this winter?” “Is the roof going to leak?” “Will the basement flood with all this rain?” And worse yet, if those things do happen -- “How are we ever going to pay for them?” Well, the same holds true for the Benton County Historical Society -- times three!
If the level of public involvement with the BCHS remains the status quo then there is only one viable solution. The BCHS must consider relinquishing ownership of one or more of the properties. Doing so would free up finances to then be focused on the remaining property.
If this is something that does happen, the best-case scenario is the new owner will hold as much passion for the properties as all of us who have come to love them. The properties will be restored and, if nothing else, the public can enjoy them from a distance. They will no longer be available for you to experience the life and stories that reside within them. They will be closed off and their secrets forever silenced to the public. But there is no guarantee the new owners will be restorators -- or even that the structures will remain standing. Razing historical sites sadly has been something that does occur when forward-thinking individuals simply want to “make a buck” in the here and now, not considering where we’ve been.
Since this is a serious and drastic consideration, BCHS is placing the idea before the public, seeking their opinions and input. So consider this just a public service announcement. Without fellow Vintonians stepping up, taking an interest in the history we all share, the BCHS will begin to pursue options available to them for relinquishing ownership of one or two of the current properties. Properties in question and up for discussion include the Ray House (the “Grand Old Lady of First Avenue”), and the Horridge House. At this time, BCHS believes the Depot is safe from the chopping block and eagerly awaits it’s slow and steady refurbishment.
Next year is Vinton’s Sesquicentennial, 150 years of community history culminated into a moment in time where we honor all that has come before us and made us who we are today. We’ve lost many other buildings that were apart of who we are. Gone is the Opera House that once sat on A Avenue. The Pearl Button Factory ~ gone. Tilford Academy ~ gone. East School is nearly a memory and even the brick streets have begun to fade away. It would be a shame to have Vinton’s 150th year earmarked as the year we also lost another historic landmark.
Has this left a lump within the pit of your stomach as it has mine? Then ask yourself “What can I do?” If you would like more in-depth detail regarding the information in this article or becoming a member of the Benton County Historical Society please email or follow us on Facebook.
~ Melody Snow
There will be an OPEN HOUSE at the Ray House (912 First Avenue, Vinton, Iowa), Tuesday, June 18, 2019, from 4:00 - 7:00 pm.
This will be the last appeal for public input on ideas to save the Ray House. Come and see our concerns close up. If you are unable to attend, please call Sharon at 319-533-4524 or Phil at 319-472-3918 with your suggestions. You may also email us at: