I don’t know about you, but I love to tour, stay and see old mansions. When there is a cool agricultural story to go with it, all the better! The Redstone Inn in Dubuque, Iowa is a fifteen-room inn built in 1894. The Inn was built by Augustine Cooper of Cooper Wagon Works for his daughter Elizabeth. The Innis elegant but also economical. We booked a stay and loved the experience. We had no idea that along with the stay came a story of fame, fortune, love and loss.
Who is A.A. Cooper?
A.A. Cooper wasn’t a name I was familiar with in my agricultural writings, however, what I learned is pretty amazing. Augustine Cooper of Cooper Wagon Works was quite a historical figure in Dubuque. At one time, Cooper Wagon Works took up approximately 27 acres in Dubuque. Cooper hired one third of the city’s workforce and produced 10,000 wagons a year.
Robert Chu the owner/innkeeper of the Redstone Inn is a first class storyteller. He tells the story of Cooper and the house. “This house was built by Augustine A. Cooper,” Robert said. “He was born (in 1829) into a migrant family, a poor family from England.”
The family that settled in Pennsylvania eventually moved onto Iowa settling in the Davenport area. “They took advantage of programs like today’s Section 8,” Robert said talking about the Homestead options available back then.
When he became a teenager, A.A.Cooper set out to make his fortune. Traveling north to St. Paul on a steamboat, a fight broke out aboard ship. A.A. Cooper was shot in the toe by a stray bullet and required medical assistance. The Captain stopped in the teeming town of Dubuque which was settled by Irish. Robert said the town was called, “Little Dublin”.
Needing work quickly to pay for expenses, Cooper quickly found a wagon works where he became an apprentice. He did so well that after his apprenticeship was complete he bought the wagon works. The company boomed. By 1875, A.A. Cooper was producing nearly three-thousand wagons annually. Over time, A.A. Cooper built two wagon factories. Robert said, “A.A. Cooper transformed the city to buggy-town USA.”
Cooper wagons lasted because they used aged wood. Lumber was usually kiln-dried for ninety days, but Cooper kept his wood in special warehouses for at least five years.
A.A. Cooper built a 24,000 square foot mansion he called Greystone. Married with nine children out of his children he had three daughters. Elizabeth was his favorite. In 1894, he built Redstone as a wedding gift to Elizabeth and her husband Dan Sullivan. The Redstone website the history section states, “Interestingly, the Redstone was originally built as a duplex so that the back half could be rented out for extra income.”
The website calls the architecture” lush Queen Anne ornamentation.” The house offers stained glass, a Romanesque tower, and carved sandstone and some lovely marble and an astounding wooden staircase. I especially loved the beautiful entryway. The house was built with all the modern bells and whistles. It had the first electricity and plumbing in town.
The son-in-law and the rest of the story.
Around the turn of the century A.A. Cooper could see the changing times. Wagons and buggies were going to be overrun by the automobile. Cooper didn’t want to make this change, he wanted it to be headed by someone from the younger generation. According to Robert, Cooper had planned for the manager of his empire to be his son-in-law. However, when Elizabeth chose Irishman Dan Sullivan, Cooper wasn’t pleased. He didn’t have faith in his abilities.
Encyclopedia Dubuque confirms this. “Cooper did not believe that Daniel Sullivan, the husband, could earn a sufficient living for the family. If Sullivan failed as Cooper presumed, his daughter would have income property from half the building and a place to live in the other half. As things turned out, Sullivan (who was in business with Joseph Frederick Stampfer), died rather young while taking a lunch break walking the railroad tracks.”
Robert said everyone thought this was a suicide on Sullivan’s part. Cooper tried to convince many that it was an accident. While several believed, the one person he couldn’t convince was Elizabeth. Robert added, “She took her five-year old daughter and abandoned the house. She went east and cast off her father.”
Elizabeth’s leaving devastated Cooper. During this time, he was approached by entrepreneurs wanting to expand the wagon business into the auto business. Rumor is that even Henry Ford approached Cooper and that he said no. Without an heir to take over and a number of devastating fires the company closed one year after A.A. Cooper’s death in 1919.
The House becomes a B&B.
There were several owners of the house over the years. The Redstone Inn served as a private residence and was a tavern before it was saved from demolition and opened as an inn in 1984. Today this historic inn is in a great location in Dubuque offering a one of a kind stay.
For more information about the Redstone Inn, log onto http://www.theredstoneinn.com/index.htm.