111 Church Street
In Fall 2010, the Obermann Center moved from its longtime home on the Oakdale campus north of Iowa City to an English Tudor-style house at 111 Church Street. The University purchased the house in 2002, using it first as the home of the Provost and later as a center for postdoctoral writing students. Built in 1926, the house is most associated with its longtime owners, Georgia and Baldwin Maxwell. (It was never the home of the Center's founders, Esco and Avalon Obermann.)
For information about the house's accessibility, gender-inclusive restrooms, and medical resources, please visit our Contact Us page.
Craft Coast (1816–1864) and his wife Nancy Regan purchase the plot of land after arriving from Ohio in 1854. They build a house at 530 N. Clinton (corner of Clinton and Church Streets) and a carriage house at what later becomes 111 Church St. Their daughter, Mary Elizabeth, would go on to marry the famous portraitist George Henry Yewell, whose papers are held by the UI Libraries.
Bird Thomas Baldwin (left) commissions Cedar Rapids architect Mark Anthony to build a home for himself, his children, and his then-fiancée on the site of the Coasts’ carriage house. Baldwin (1875–1928) was Research Professor of Educational Psychology at the UI from 1917 to 1928 and Founding Director of the University of Iowa Child Welfare Research Station, the first research institute in its field in the world. As an occupational therapist, he was devoted to holistic patient care. He was a major in the sanitary corps of the army in 1918–19 and was director of the rehabilitation of disabled soldiers in the Walter Reed General Hospital. As director of the ICWRS, Baldwin won a series a of grants, including from the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial, with which he led the Station to national eminence, integrating the science of child study and the applied social technology of parent education. His wife Claudia died of illness in 1925, leaving their three children in his care.
Baldwin himself died on May 12, 1928 at age 53—a few days before he was to be remarried. (He’d cut himself while shaving on a train and died of a bacterial infection.) The house was still under construction. Bird and his children had been living at 124 E. Church St. Beth Wellman (1895–1952), Baldwin’s fiancée and an ICWRS researcher, author, and UI professor, settled Baldwin’s estate, foreclosed on the property, and raised his three children as her own.
Mark Anthony (the architect) was a strong proponent of period revival-style architecture, hence the half-timbered, half-stone exterior and steeply pitched gable roof of the house at 111 Church St. Originally from Chicago, Anthony was sent to Cedar Rapids in 1918 to work on engineering projects for Douglas Starch Works and Quaker Oats and went on to become a prominent church and home architect. According to the Iowa State Historical Department’s Iowa Site Inventory, the house at 111 Church St. is one of only a few homes in the district with an identified architect.
Pi Mu purchases and completes the house. We are unsure if this reference is to Pi Mu Epsilon, Alpha Pi Mu, or a different organization.
Baldwin and Georgia Maxwell purchase the house and convert it to a private residence. Baldwin Maxwell (1893–1988) was the chair of the UI English Department from 1926 to 1961—a remarkable 35 years. He was a scholar of Renaissance drama and oversaw the English department through a period of major growth that included the founding of the Writers’ Workshop. He was also a longtime editor of Philological Quarterly and a WWI veteran.
Georgiana ("Georgia") Smith Maxwell (1896–2000), a native of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, was considered one of the most influential hostesses in Iowa City. She was a founding member of the Pan-American League of Iowa City, whose mission was "to broaden the mutual appreciation of the peoples of the Western Hemisphere," and was a longtime member of Iowa City’s Raphael Club, serving as both vice president and historian. The Raphael Club was founded in 1884 as an all-female social/literary/artistic club that studied copies of Raphael's drawings and other works of art owned by founder Mrs. Mark Ranney. The members would each research and prepare papers on the different subjects, then present them to each other.
The Maxwells were also active in a number of social organizations, including Hiking Club and Dancing Club, and threw numerous memorable parties in their home, propitiously situated across the street from the University President’s house.
The Maxwells’ heirs sell the property to the University of Iowa. Renovations begin.
The house serves as the home of former UI Provost and historian Michael J. Hogan until he accepts a position elsewhere in 2006.
The Office of the Provost makes house available to visiting writers, graduate students across all writing disciplines, and creative writing undergraduates as a mixed-use living, working, socializing, and learning space called “The Writers’ House.” Four postgraduate writing fellows move in.
The Obermann Center for Advanced Studies moves from its longtime home on the Oakdale Campus to 111 Church St.
The Obermann Center today
Today, the building includes many of the charms that the Maxwells surely enjoyed, including two fireplaces, sloped ceilings, a screened porch, and a library with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. More recent amenities include a full kitchen, complete with dishwasher and microwave, rain garden, a backyard patio, and house-wide Wi-Fi. There is a wheelchair accessible entrance on the west side of the building and three single-user, gender-inclusive restrooms in the house—one on the first floor and two on the second.
In addition to the offices available each semester to seven Fellows-in-Residence, the Center has a library and conference room where other Obermann Scholars, including members of our Working Groups and the Cmiel Semester, meet. These rooms can be reserved by Obermann-related groups and friends of the Center. To reserve these rooms, please contact Erin Hackathorn.