Post Office Property Has Colorful History

Post Office Property Has Colorful History

From the site where a church cornerstone was laid but the church never built, to the site of an unfinished house built for an unfaithful bride, to the site of an elegant residence that served as a home away from home for dozens of young teachers and other young folks who came to work in Burlington, to the site of the current Burlington post office - the property on the southeast corner of State and Pine Streets has had an interesting and colorful history.

When Mrs. Edith Brook Newell sold the property to the city of Burlington in 1947, the Standard Democrat recounted the history of the property in the following article.

To the many young people who had found a home and happiness at Newell's boarding house on Pine Street, the recent announcement that Mrs. Edith Newell was selling her property to the city of Burlington came somewhat as a surprise.

For over thirty years young people have come and gone from town, carrying with them pleasant memories of their stay at the big house, where upon entrance, they had become a part of the family. Boarding house rules were never a part of life at the Newells, and residents can't remember when the front door was locked.

This week Edith Newell recalled how, before her marriage as Edith Brook, she had been asked by two of her young friends if they might live at her home. These two girls, the first to board in the house, were both teachers, and since then the majority of the Newell "girls" have been teachers.
From that day forward young people from nearby towns and many states who have come to work in Burlington have shared love, problems, money worries, and job troubles as well as the happy moments of their lives over the friendly dining room table.
Because the food was excellent and the companionship splendid, in time, many young people staying in other homes in the city began to take meals at Newells, and no matter how large the number, there always seemed to be room for one or two more at the big, oblong table.
"It was much more fun though, in the beginning," according to Edith Newell, "when I was the same age as many of the young folks staying here, but in recent years the place has become more and more crowded, and I guess I'm just getting on in years."
Since the automobile accident in June in which Mrs. Newell and her sister, Mrs. Ida Spencer, were seriously injured, the task of keeping up the big house has become more and more of a strain. So this year plans were made to abandon the boarding-house business which has brought Edith Newell a wealth of payment in love and happiness.

But the Newell house and property carries with it a history as colorful as that of its thirty years as a boarding house.

Maurice Ayers, a prominent farmer and businessman who owned Ayers Feed Mill, which stood on the site of the present Standard Press building, and who, with J. I Case and others, founded what became the Bank of Burlington, once owned the Newell property. In March 1880, Mr. Ayers gave the property to the Episcopal congregation with the provision that, if the site were not used for the building of a church, the property would revert to the ownership of the Ayers family.

Although a cornerstone marked "St. John's" was laid in November 1880, the church was not completed, and the property reverted to the Ayers family. After Maurice Ayers' death in June 1884, his son, Frank, and other family members inherited the property.

Following his wedding to Ada Carpenter in 1886, Frank began construction of a home on the property for his bride, and the church cornerstone previously laid was removed to the back of the plot where, in 1947, it could still be seen. (Note: The cornerstone was later returned to St. John the Divine Episcopal Church, which was built on Edward Street in 1893, and erected as a permanent marker near the church.)

Within a year after his wedding, Frank Ayers' wife proved unfaithful to him, and the house, with only its bare frame completed, was boarded up. The completely disillusioned Frank Ayers wanted nothing more to do with the property.

On May 3, 1890, banker and businessman Edward Brook, Mrs. Newell's father, completed negotiations for buying the property and house frame from the Ayers family. According to the ancient deed, owners were listed as Frank J. Ayers, Edward Ayers, H. W. Ayers, Stella A. Ayers and Althea Ayers Slade.

Edward Brook began completing construction of the house immediately upon transaction of the sale and soon after, with his wife moved into the house where their four children, Ernest, Elmer, Ida and Edith, all grew up. Before the house was completed, however, Edward Brook was forced to fill in a huge gully to the right of the building, the land which is now covered by State Street.

Since before her marriage to Howard Newell almost thirty years ago, Edith Brook Newell has been friend and mother to many hundreds of young people who have found happiness in her home. Everything from turning up seams at the last minute to planning wedding receptions has been supervised by kindly Mrs. Newell, and her boarders are very sure another home such as Newells can just never be found.

The accident in June 1947 that seriously injured Mrs. Newell and her sister and led to the sale of the property to the city occurred in Evanston, Illinois, as several family members were on their way to a shower for the Newell's daughter, Mary. The wedding was held the next weekend, as scheduled, but the reception, which was to have been held at the Newell house, was cancelled.

When the city bought the property in September 1947, it agreed to give Mrs. Newell and her family 18 months possession. In 1949 the city rented the property to Bertram and Frances Martin for two years.

In January 1951 the city council advertised the house for sale and removal after determining that the house was in poor condition and in a state of disrepair that would make it inadvisable and impractical to expend the money necessary for renovation.

Two bids were received, and in February 1951 the house was sold to Erwin Jante. In reporting on the razing of the house in September 1951, the Free Press noted that the tower was to be salvaged and used as a chicken coop.

When federal officials surveyed the city in June 1960 for the best place for a new post office, the city offered the former Newell property as the most logical site. Work on the building started in the spring of 1961, and the new post office was dedicated in October of that year.

Two other events related to the Brook-Newell property also contribute to its colorful history. The first is that, in 1930, a miniature golf course was constructed on the lawn. Newell's Wee-Tee golf course was open for play every afternoon and evening.
The second is that the barn, which stood to the rear of the residence near the corner of State and Dodge Streets and which was used by Mr. Newell as a stable for his race horses, had a loft which was offered as a meeting place to a little theater group that had come into existence in the fall of 1931. The group, which used the loft to review scripts, plan productions, and do some rehearsing, honored the place by adopting the name "Haylofters."