McHenry House showcases Civil War history

You’ve likely seen it in passing.

But have you really seen it — inside and for the western Iowa historic gem it is.

The W.A. McHenry House in Denison, located just north of the Hy-Vee in the Crawford County seat at the intersection of 15th Street and First Avenue North, is a walk back to earlier — and colorful — times in the Hawkeye State.

McHenry, a Civil War veteran from Illinois who served four years in the Union Army and went on to become a founding American cattleman and early settler of Crawford County, built the ginger-bread style home in 1885 and 1886. He also was elected as one of Denison’s first mayors.

“He was an officer. He had a couple of horses shot out from under him,” said Nancy Bliesman, secretary of the Crawford County Historical Society.

Bliesman said the home is open for tours generally on the first and third weekends of the month from 1 to 4 Saturday and Sunday. Admission is $3. The home is elaborately decorated during the holidays.

The four floors are brimming with local history, which tour guides happily showed to visitors during the recent barbecue festival in Denison.

After being owned for a time by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the Crawford County Historical Society is now in control of the home, which affords an expansive view to the south of downtown Denison and the Boyer Valley.

The restored home contains period furniture and houses historical items from many families in the region.

A 13-star American flag, reportedly made by Besty Ross’s granddaughter, is on display as are a host of military items dating to the Civil War. There are Civil War bayonet guns, old wedding dresses and an extensive American flag collection.

Some other highlights:

— A commemoration of Clarence Chamberlin, a Denison native who was the second person to fly non-stop across the Atlantic, following Charles Lindbergh. Born in 1893 in Denison, and the son of a local jeweler, Chamberlin graduated from Denison High School in 1912 and later served in World War I. He nearly beat Lindbergh to the feat of crossing the Atlantic, but a spate of bad weather kept Chamberlin grounded, giving Lindbergh the jump — and a ticket to international stardom.

Chamberlin is, however, the first pilot to transport a passenger across the Atlantic.

— A display of photos and information on McHenry’s role with developing Angus cattle. According to the Angus Journal and Bliesman, the legendary bull Earl Marshall, bred by McHenry, was born in 1913. Earl Marshall sired six International Grand Champions, and today more than 15 million of his descendants have been registered with the American Angus Association.

“He went to Scotland to get his cows and bulls,” Bliesman said.

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