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Making Thelma Ferrel’s Dream a Reality- Part Two

posted Apr 25, 2018, 1:50 PM by James Nennemann

By Evelyn Birkby

(Editor’s Note: Part One told the story of how Randolph’s Ferrel House became a museum. This article describes remodeling projects and special features of the house.)

The house was built in 1873 by Anson and Clarissa Rood who had arrived in Riverside Township three years earlier.  Anson was a businessman and farmer who laid the plat for Randolph and would later be president of a regional railroad and the town’s bank. His home was built in a grand fashion which befitted his station. At one time there were four large homes in Randolph.   Rude built the first one. Each of the subsequent three houses was one room bigger so it could become the biggest house in Randolph. 

After accepting the house from the Thelma Ferrel estate in 1994, committees were formed to supervise the home’s restoration. Several unique things were discovered, among them storage closets, an unusual architectural feature for the time. Another interesting innovation was found in the master bedroom: a marble sink fed by rain water collected from a storage tank in the attic. We later learned that at one time all upstairs bedrooms had sinks.

A more common design feature for stately homes of the late 1800s was multiple front entrances and the Ferrel House was no exception. Ther

e is a special outside entry at the bottom of the main entrance stairway which some historians believe was used to bring and remove deceased family members, since it was considered bad luck for the living to use the same portal as the dead. In the kitchen there is a second stairway, probably used by servants.  Almost every room downstairs could be blocked off by large sliding “pocket doors” that recessed inside the walls when not in use. All required removal and refinishing.  As well as providing privacy they were used for channeling heat.

Our most personal find is displayed in a glass cupboard in the living room. It holds Thelma Ferrel's tiny blown-glass animal figurines. We found this collection with a note that revealed they had been given to Thelma by a gentleman friend who traveled a great deal. Each time he returned from a trip he brought her an animal.  Sadly, her parents were adamant that she not marry and eventually the gentleman friend did not return. It spoke to us of Thelma’s sadness. The display with this story is there so the friendship will not be forgotten.

Faithful and accurate restoration required careful attention to the smallest detail, including floor color. The curator hired to advise us believed the floors should be painted red and did just that in spite of our contention that red was not used in southwest Iowa in homes of this style. In response, the committee scraped the floors and determined that the original colors were walnut and cream, fired the curator, and refinished them in the correct colors. 

The result of over five years of loving care and labor is a stunning Victorian home which accurately depicts daily life of that time. Today it is used for educational programs and tours that have been enjoyed by many since 2000.