Editor’s note: This is the first part of a three-part series
EDDYVILLE — Sitting on the corner of Strawberry and Third Street in Eddyville, Iowa, stands a beautiful two-story house.
While a common bystander might take a quick glimpse and move on, there’s more to the home than meets the eye. Inside the home resides a guest from the 1800s, who doesn’t plan on leaving anytime soon.
This house began construction in 1844, two years before Iowa became the 29th state. The house was built by Hiram Berdan, who was an engineer, inventor, and a Brigadier General during the Civil War. Berdan was noted to be the top sharpshooter in the country for fifteen years and was in command of the SharpShooters Regiment. It should also be noted that Berdan was an unscrupulous man.
Berdan was from New York State, and inside the home stands a well-crafted staircase that leads to the upstairs. The banister attached to the staircase was brought in by train from New York. This would lead many to believe why the house took four years to complete, as travel from New York to Eddyville would have taken many days.
Berdan was married to a young lady named Mary. Mary was known as a drinker and had a horrific experience inside the home.
The story goes that Mary was consuming alcohol one day inside the house. Mary then decided to ascend down the stairs, but was too intoxicated and fell down the flight of stairs. The incident resulted in Mary’s death.
Before we continue with Mary, let’s talk about the house after its completion in 1848.
Berdan built the house on 131 acres of land. The original layout included a maid’s house that was located near the backside of the house. It is not present today. On the south side of the house was an entrance for Mary.
The inside wall that goes all the way through the house consists of four layers of brick. This is unique because a home would usually have four layers on the outside, but this house has six layers of brick on the outside. The amount of money this would have cost shows how rich Berdan was.
As time went on Berdan began slowly selling bits and pieces of the property off.
The upstairs has two bedrooms, one on the north side and one on the south side. Mary’s bedroom was on the north side of the house.
The house consisted of many crawl spaces. There is a very small area inside the house (roughly 10x10 or 10x12) with walls that only go so far before it becomes a crawl space. This crawl space spans the whole perimeter of the house. What’s unique about these spaces is that runaway slaves would be kept hidden here.
On the outside perimeter of the house is a coal room with a chute. Upstairs in the rooms are small doors that were too small to be closets and consisted of no floors. The owners weren’t 100 percent sure what they were for but figured a thin person would have fit in there.
Sheryl and Rick Leydens are the current owners of the home. They decided to buy the house last May.
“The house has more character than you can imagine,” Sheryl said. “When I walked in through the front door and I saw that staircase it was automatic. I didn’t have to go through the rest of the house. I knew this was it.”
Sheryl and Rick were living in Altoona at the time when Rick found the home on the internet. It had been on the market for quite some time and Sheryl wanted to leave the moment she saw the pictures.
The house was bought for $30,000, but the last appraisal shows the house is estimated to be in the six-digit range. The house was not in the best of shape when bought.
“It was a total disaster when we walked through the door,” Sheryl said. “It had not been taken care of for many many years. It had seven layers of wallpaper in some of the rooms, and some of those wallpapers I remember seeing in my great-grandma’s kitchen.”
Since moving into the home, the Leydens have made many renovations. Some renovations include opening up a doorway to the kitchen that was blocked off with paneling and cupboards, making the downstairs bathroom bigger by moving the north wall 12–15 inches, removing a bathroom and remodeling it into a laundry and pantry room, adding a bathroom upstairs in one of the bedrooms, removed all plaster and large boards and put foam on the exterior walls, hanging drywall, and putting new flooring throughout the house.
The Leydens mentioned the amount of money they have spent on the home is substantial but also private.
In the future, the Leydens hope to put trim inside the house, build up the mudroom, fix up the outside of the house, landscaping needs, and fix the deck and pergola on the back of the house (northwest side).
“I’m not sure if our work will ever end,” Sheryl said.
Now that we know more about the house, let’s go back to Mary.
Sheryl believes that Mary is trapped inside the house and cannot leave. Sheryl wants everyone to know this isn’t just a regular home, but should be known as “Mary’s House.”
Part two of this story will continue with experiences with Mary that the Leydens, neighbors and handymen have faced.