Sunday, July 31, 2011

Mallory's Castle: Introduction

By Frank D. Myers, All rights reserved

The date stone once embedded high in the tower of Mallory's Castle, now on the grounds of the Lucas County Historical Society Museum.

When I was 9, the old house known as Mallory’s Castle --- named Ilion by its builder --- was torn down to clear the way for a housing development. It was the most elaborate house ever built in Lucas County, constructed by the most elaborate family ever to live here --- but stood for only 75 years.

Liability was not a major concern during 1955, so the owners felt free to throw open the doors of the old place one last time during April of that year so that everyone interested could tour it. We did, along with my dad’s cousin, Edwin Johnson, his wife, Betty, and their daughter, Martha. So did thousands of others.

Thieves --- also attracted by the publicity --- had made off with a chandelier or two and a few other fixtures beforehand, but that made very little difference, except to the owners.

I remember the tour distinctly, but as it turned out remembered very little else about the building accurately. I’ve been interested in the house and, to a lesser extent the family, ever since.

Smith H. Mallory and his wife, Annie, along with their daughter, Jessie, arrived in Chariton during 1867 with the first trains. He had just begun to build a fortune constructing rail lines and bridges, enriched as all rail entrepreneurs were at that time by vast public subsidies, mostly in land.

Mallory left no stone unturned to earn a buck. Rail revenue poured in until his death in 1903, but he also built one of southern Iowa’s most powerful banks, became the region’s most innovative agriculturalist on his 1,000-acre Brook Farm and had a financial finger in virtually every other county enterprise --- from manufacturing plows to mining elusive gold and silver (in Arizona).

Mallory's Castle as it looked originally.

Mallory’s Castle was built 1879-81 to a probable design by Des Moines architect William Foster. It was not grand in the sense that Terrace Hill, now the Iowa governor’s mansion, is grand --- but it was grand enough. In fact, it became legendary.

The view from the southeast was most pleasing. From the southwest it looked clumsy and slightly out of whack. It’s tower dominated the horizon, as the Mallorys dominated Chariton’s business and, among those with aspirations at least, social life.

Mallory’s legacy seemed assured when he died during 1903 of stomach cancer and was buried in the Chariton Cemetery near a family tombstone that rivaled his house and his church (St. Andrew’s Episcopal) in triumphalist splendor.

But then it all came tumbling down during 1907 when the suicide by morphine of trusted Mallory associate and First National Bank manager Frank Crocker revealed that he had gutted and dissipated bank assets. It was Lucas County’s greatest financial calamity until the Great Depression.

In the aftermath, all Mallory assets in Lucas County were turned over to the government to cover bank losses after a long and bitter court fight involving the widow, Annie, and daughter, Jessie. The women fled to Florida, taking the Ilion’s contents with them --- along with Jessie’s still-substantial fortune, sheltered from creditors. Lucas County and the Mallorys did not part friends.

Part of the shattered "Ilion" name stone originally embedded above the front door of Mallory's Castle, moved to the gable end of the porte-cochere in the 1890s and now on the grounds of the Lucas County Historical Society museum.

No comments:

Post a Comment