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, this town was known as “Pinhook.” We are all thankful that the name was soon changed to Mount Vernon. One of my Kepler cousins, the son of the man who built the building in front of you, donated the land for Palisades-Kepler State Park.
This structure was built in 1892 by attorney Charles Kepler, who leased the lower level to merchants, while maintaining his law office on the second floor. Note the especially large second floor windows which were designed to let lots of natural light into the office where Kepler spent hours reading law books and working on his papers.
The building is made of hard brick that was shipped to Mount Vernon on the railroad. Many of these bricks are molded in different shapes, a form sometimes called terra cotta. Some of the bricks are molded with the popular “egg and dart” pattern, while bricks near the top of the façade have floral patterns and other delicate designs. The mortar lines between the bricks are very narrow and were colored pink with dye.
At ground level, note the cast iron grate in front of the doorway on the right (number 104). Grates like these were very popular with merchants as they served as mud scrapers, removing the mud (and sometimes manure from a barnyard) from the shoes and boots of customers and helping keep the floor inside the store cleaner.
Born in 1841, Charles Kepler, like many other leaders of Mount Vernon in the late 1800s, served with the 13th Iowa Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War, during which he rose to the rank of captain. Kepler’s regiment fought at Shiloh, Vicksburg and Atlanta and participated in Sherman’s March to the Sea. In later life, Kepler was very active in veterans’ organizations and Republican politics. He was also a trustee of Cornell College and mayor of Mount Vernon. Kepler died in 1923.