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Three families owned the Brucemore estate between 1884 and 1981 - the Sinclairs, the Douglases, and the Halls. The families of Brucemore each reflected and influenced the community in which they lived. They were business and social leaders in a century that saw an important evolution of the Midwest. The changes they made to their estate, the impact they had on their community, and the stories they left behind shape our understanding of modern Cedar Rapids, eastern Iowa, and the American Midwest. Caroline Soutter Sinclair, the estate's first owner, built the Mansion between 1884 and 1886 as a home for her six children.

Initially called the "Sinclair Mansion" or "Fairhome," the estate symbolized the development of Cedar Rapids as an industrial center. Newlyweds Thomas McElderry (T.M.) Sinclair and Caroline moved to Cedar Rapids in 1871. T.M. ran Sinclair & Company, which became the fourth largest meatpacking facility in the world. During an inspection of the plant in 1881, Thomas fell into an open elevator shaft and died shortly after. In 1884, a widow with six children, Caroline began construction of a three story, 21-room Mansion on ten acres of land. Located two miles from downtown, the home provided the benefits of country living for her children and placed the family home near her brother's estate.

The industrial history of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is linked to the city's close proximity to the river and railway, which made the transportation of goods and supplies more efficient. In November of 1871, Thomas McElderry (T.M.) Sinclair expanded a successful family meatpacking business by opening his own plant in Cedar Rapids, capitalizing on the city's resources. Within a few years, T. M. Sinclair & Co. became the largest meatpacking plant in Iowa and the fourth largest in the world.

Brucemore's Historic Landscape

Brucemore's bucolic landscape - with its rolling yards, soaring trees, timber-lined pond, and stunning gardens - is more than a beautiful setting. It also exhibits over 120 years of history.

Each of the families who lived on the estate left their mark. You can still experience the sweeping front lawn from Caroline Sinclair's era that showcases the Mansion atop a soaring hill; the naturalistic landscape designs of the Douglas era that create charming outdoor rooms; and the subtle, modern additions of the Halls. The Brucemore landscape is a time capsule, preserving evidence of decades past.

1884-1906 - When Caroline Sinclair began building her home in 1884, the property was in the countryside beyond the city limits of Cedar Rapids. Timber, prairie, and farmland surrounded the estate. The Sinclairs were among thousands of wealthy and middle-class families throughout the nation who moved from towns and cities to the countryside.

During the nineteenth century, people idealized the fresh air, scenery, and inherent morality of rural settings in contrast to the increasingly industrialized and crowded cities. Well-tended country farmsteads represented an ideal of bygone days.

1906-1937 - In 1906, Caroline Sinclair traded homes with George and Irene Douglas. Local newspapers called it the largest real estate transaction in the city's history. Caroline moved back into town at 800 Second Avenue, while the Douglases moved with their three daughters to what local newspapers referred to as the "most conspicuous and admired residence in the community." They renamed it "Brucemore" and made it their own.

The Douglases made a series of significant changes that transformed the property into a model country estate. They expanded the acreage from ten to 33 and added many of the physical features still visible today. By hiring landscape architect O.C. Simonds, the Douglases also embraced a philosophy of prairie landscape design that celebrated plantings as they exist in nature through a series of "outdoor rooms" and vistas.

Ossian Cole (O.C.) Simonds was an influential member of the regional prairie landscape movement when the Douglases hired him. He was born near Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1855, and studied architecture and civil engineering at the University of Michigan.

Simonds's work on Graceland Cemetery in Chicago, Illinois, brought him recognition and business from parks, campuses, estates, and other facilities throughout the Midwest. As demand for his services grew, he started his own landscape architecture firm in 1903 and began to write articles on residential and park landscape gardening in professional and popular journals.

1937-1981 - When Irene Douglas died in 1937, her eldest daughter, Margaret Douglas Hall, inherited Brucemore.

The Halls used Brucemore and its grounds in different ways than their predecessors. The landscape served more as a background for their lives and reflected the fact that they were a childless couple who engaged in fewer activities on the grounds of the estate.

They sold off several acres to the north adjacent to the First Avenue driveway and several acres bordering Forest Drive. This reduced the 33-acre estate to its present size of 26 acres.

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Details and Specs

Hours of Operation:
Tue10:00 AM3:00 PM
Wed10:00 AM3:00 PM
Thr10:00 AM3:00 PM
Fri10:00 AM3:00 PM
Sat10:00 AM3:00 PM
Sun12:00 PM3:00 PM
Notes: None Listed


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