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Redstone History

After years as a private residence and then as a tavern, the Redstone was saved from possible demolition by a huge renovation and has become an elegant Victorian inn. The fifteen-room Redstone Inn opened in 1984 to a reception of over 2000 visitors for the grand opening, but its history goes back to its construction in 1894 and even further back, to the man who constructed it, Augustine A. Cooper.

Born in Pennsylvania, A. A. Cooper and his family moved to southeast Iowa when he was twelve years old. After five years of hard farm life, young Augustine ventured up the Mississippi in search of fortune in St. Paul. A stray bullet from a drunkards' fight caught seventeen-year-old Cooper on his big toe, and in need of a doctor, he was forced to quit the steamship in Dubuque. Cooper's misfortune, however, served him well. He soon found employment as an apprentice blacksmith, and one year later his hard work and exceptional skill helped him achieve the position of journeyman, with an unusually high salary of $26 per month. A few months later he bought out one of the two owners and by 1862, at the age of 33, Cooper was the sole owner of the Cooper Wagon Works.

Cooper's wagons were immensely successful, and while not very well known in the surrounding area, the wagons were widely used in distant places. Large shipments went to St. Paul, New Orleans, Utah, and even South Africa. One wagon, nicknamed "Jerry", even showed up thirty-six years later in Denver's "Festival of Mountain and Plain". Cooper's wagons were so popular and lasted so long due not only to Cooper's craftsmanship and dedication to quality but also to his use of aged wood. Lumber was usually kiln-dried for ninety days, but Cooper kept his wood in special warehouses for at least five years. This "bone dry" stock did not suffer from warping and shrinking as kiln-dried lumber often did. At its peak, Cooper's land covered 27 downtown acres and employed as much as one third of the city's population. Cooper still remembered each employee by name and gave each a turkey for the holidays. This honorable businessman was also a prominent citizen: he served as vice president of the German Bank and as a city alderman at various points in his career.

A. A. Cooper's success allowed him to preside over three mansions between the bluff and Locust Street. Cooper lived in the magnificent four-story Greystone on the northwest corner of Bluff and Fifth streets. His daughter Mary and her husband John Waller lived in the York House on the southeast corner of Bluff and Sixth streets. The Redstone, the third house build and the last remaining, was a ten-year-late wedding gift from Cooper to his daughter Elizabeth and her husband Dan Sullivan - although the deed never left the Cooper name. Interestingly, the Redstone was originally built as a duplex so that the back half could be rented out for extra income. The three-house complex was centrally heated, with a smokestack between the York House and the Redstone. A large carriage house coincided with a flurry of new buildings at the time, but both the Greystone and the Redstone were found newsworthy when they were completed. While not as large as the Greystone, the Redstone is nevertheless a beautiful example of the lush Queen Anne ornamentation. Stained glass, a Romanesque tower, and carved sandstone add to the building's beauty.

The Cooper empire , however, did not last. While usually open to progress, Cooper chose not to pursue the development of the automobile, despite an approach from the Studebakers and - rumor has it - Henry Ford as well. As Cooper aged, none of his children rose up to succeed his might in the wagon industry. This decline in the prominence of the wagon works, coupled with a series of devastating fires, finally broke Cooper's wagons. He died in 1919, and was given a front-page obituary - not the first time the paper had featured articles on this leading citizen. All of his children eventually passed away or left Dubuque, the Greystone was torn down to make room for a parking lot and the York House was destroyed and replaced by the post office. The old wagon works building still stands at the corner of 2nd and Locust streets and furniture from the Greystone has found residence in several private homes, but the Redstone is the last significant memory of Cooper's bygone era with its salvaged Greystone doors, original hybrid light fixtures, Italian marble fireplaces, and family portraits.

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