The Todd House
705 Park Street
Completed in the summer of 1853, the home of Reverend John and Martha Todd was the third structure to be built in the village of Tabor. The settlement was started a year earlier when George Gaston, Samuel Adams, and Reverend Todd left the Civil Bend area, near present-day Percival, to escape Missouri River flooding and mosquito infestations which were spreading malaria. Purchasing land at the government rate of $1.25 an acre, they left the bottomland behind and embarked on building their “colony” which would one day become a Christian community and college patterned after Oberlin, Ohio.
Todd house south side, around 1892.
The Todd home around 1905
Todd remembered the terrain they’d chosen as an area of grassland with “timber so scarce . . . that we did not expect to see the prairie between the Missouri and Nishnabotna [River] all settled in our lifetime.” Because of the scarcity of trees the early homes, including Todd’s, were constructed using a combination of adobe brick for foundation, logs, and milled or hand-hewn timber. Cottonwood was used for the home’s siding, processed by Chamber’s Mill, located near present-day Bartlett. The frame of the first upright portion used oak timbers braced with a long roof covering the dining room and bedroom; some floor joists were oak beams with unshaved bark. Reverend Todd’s son Quintus remembered years later that the construction relied on the assistance of several villagers under the supervision of Samuel Adams, a cabinetmaker and carpenter‒Adams himself made the sashes and doors of black walnut. Drinking water was obtained through the use of a rainwater cistern, located in the basement, later augmented by a deep well just south of the house.
John and Martha moved their family into an unfinished but habitable home in mid August of 1853. Keeping her family back east abreast of their progress, Martha wrote an optimistic note to her father, Judge Quintus Atkins: “We have been in our new home nearly four weeks, but no part of it is finished yet. We hope to have it nearly, or quite, completed before very cold weather sets in. After a week or two more we think it will be ready for lathing and plastering.”
The home’s structure was modified and expanded over the years which included replacing the original adobe foundation with quarried stone, around 1858, although mud bricks were left as interior load bearing walls in the basement and can be seen today. The first major structural change occurred in 1868 with an L-shaped structure built on the west and north side which added a kitchen, south porch, storage room and northeast entrance with porch. A front porch, south side parlor, and west side extension were added in 1890. Like his neighbors, Reverend Todd built a barn behind and south of the house, which burned in 1899.
Lumber was scarce and expensive so Todd relied on mud-dried adobe for the foundation and oak beams for floor joists. Quarried stone replaced the adobe foundation around 1858.
Hand hewn lath exposed in the northwest bedroom during the 2016 restoration. Three generations of the Todd family lived in the home and 0ver the years it was modified and expanded, the last work being completed in 1890.
John and Martha raised seven children in the home; an eighth child, David, died there as an infant. The house eventually passed to Reverend Todd’s son Quintus who, with his wife Hattie, raised their eight children there as well. Todd family descendants sold the house in 1955 and local families lived there until it was purchased by Otha D. Wearin, a writer and former U.S. Congressman from Iowa, who recognized its historical significance as one of only four surviving Underground Railroad stations in the state. The property was transferred to the Tabor Historical Society in 1967 and the organization has cared for the house ever since, ensuring required maintenance and upkeep is performed in accordance with State of Iowa historical preservation standards. Beginning in 2016, the society undertook a major renovation project of the structure by raising over $200,000 to restore the north foundation, northwest bedroom and front porch. The society is looking forward to the next phase under the Todd House 2020 Project to restore the south porch and associated foundation and upstairs bedrooms.
The Todd House is on National Register of Historic Places and is listed as the Tabor Anti-Slavery District on the National Park Service Network to Freedom. Tours are available by appointment by calling (712) 313-0102
To learn more about the settlement of Tabor John Todd's book is available for $10.00 (plus $2.00 shipping) from the society. Contact us at P.O. Box 584, Tabor Iowa 51653