Commercial District

Tour curated by: Mount Vernon-Lisbon Community Development Group

Welcome to the historic city of Mount Vernon! This walking tour highlights some of the historic structures in our Uptown area. Mount Vernon contains three historic districts, including the campus of Cornell College, which is included, in its entirety, on the National Register of Historic Places.

Home to Native Americans for centuries, Linn County was first opened to European settlers in the 1830s, following the Black Hawk War. The first settlers in the area came here to farm the rich rolling Iowa prairie lands, beginning in 1837. The majority of these settlers came from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.

In 1840 the federal government hired Lyman Dillon of Cascade, Iowa, to plow a long furrow from Dubuque on the Mississippi River to the new territorial capitol at Iowa City. The roadway that developed along Dillon’s Furrow became known as the Military Road and, later, Highway 1. At the present site of Mount Vernon the route climbed a steep hill. Because of the strain this climb took on horses and oxen, the top of the hill, approximately where First Street and Highway 1 cross today, became a resting place and, as a result, an ideal location for a new town. At that time, the hill was covered with oaks, elms and linden trees with a spring at the base of the east side from which travelers drank.

During the 1850s Mount Vernon grew into a thriving center of local trade. Stores and businesses lined First Street. In 1853 Mount Vernon citizens, led by Methodist clergyman Elder George Bowman, founded Iowa Conference Male and Female Seminary, which became Cornell College four years later. The arrival of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad in 1859 and the Lincoln Highway in 1913, helped to secure the economic life of Mount Vernon.

The Mount Vernon Uptown that a visitor sees today was built after a series of disastrous fires in the 1890s that destroyed much of the original, wooden, downtown business district. The new business buildings, made of fireproof brick, stone and steel, have proved to be durable landmarks that continue to serve the needs of Mount Vernon residents, Cornell students, and visitors.
The Mount Vernon Uptown walking tour highlights these landmark buildings, drawing attention to their architecture, and the stories of the men and women who have worked, shopped and lived in these structures through the years. Thank you for coming. We’re glad you’re here.

Locations for Tour

Hello. My name is Braden Pospisil Rood. I am a third-generation Pospisil. My grandparents moved to a small farm north of Mount Vernon in 1956, and I have lived in this area on and off since 1979, graduating from Mount Vernon High School in 1993. As a…

Hi, my name is Polly Ann, and my mother, Leota Niederhauser, bought this building in the late 1970s. As a mother to nine children, of which I am the youngest, she ran many family businesses in this building that she affectionately referred to as her…

Hi. My name is Christine Tabak. My husband and I moved to Iowa from Massachusetts in 1989, when my husband took a teaching position at Cornell College. I was delighted to see this building become Big Creek Market in 1998, and later Big Creek Emporium…

Hi there. My name is Sara Gaarde. Except for college, I’ve lived in this area my whole life. I am a Kepler. My great, great, great grandparents left the state of Maryland and headed west for the Iowa territory in 1843. When they arrived here,…

Hello. I’m Dean Borg. Living in this area since 1965, I remember this building as the post office, adjacent to a bakery that was a Saturday morning favorite. Just a few more steps down the sidewalk, a hardware store, meat market and a…

Hi. My name is Joe Jennison. The 2nd Floor of this building became my apartment and home in May of 2010, when I became the director of Main Street and Marketing for the Mount Vernon-Lisbon Community Development Group. Several meetings, receptions and…

Hi. My name is Jake Krob. I have worked across the street as editor/publisher of the Mount Vernon-Lisbon Sun since 2003. I was out delivering papers on a Wednesday in February of 2008 when I bumped into the police chief. He’d just received an…

Hello. My name is Ed Sauter. It has always been my dream to own a building on Main Street in Mount Vernon, and this building is one of the key structures in the District. Former owner Dennis Herrick hired me as an architect for the restoration that…

Hi. My name is Karla Steffens-Moran. I purchased this building from its previous owners in 2003. I have always been interested in the unique quality of this town and know in my heart that this is because of this community’s efforts in historic…

My name is Kim Benesh. I have lived in Mount Vernon on and off since 1967. As a child I remember walking home from the Old Middle School down the street and cutting through the alley next to this building on my way down past the post office and home.…

Hello. My name is Mike Smith. I am a fourth-generation Wolfe, one of the original pioneer families of Mount Vernon. I was born in 1950 and am a life-long resident. I began working at Bauman’s in 1969, for the original Bauman family. I continued…

Hello. My name is Sarah. My parents, Ann and Guy Booth, purchased this building in 1997 to house their various businesses. I have been enamored of its beautiful doors and windows, the sun room and the creaky staircase leading up to the circular maze…

Hello. My name is Bob Wolfe. My family was one of the original pioneer families in the Mount Vernon area, arriving here in 1839.