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Inside the Vincent House

Historic home is one of Fort Dodge's gems

-Messenger photos by Kriss Nelson
The Vincent House is believed to be the oldest home in Fort Dodge. It is available for rent for get-togethers such as weddings, showers, funerals, parties and more.

Located in the historical Oak Hill District in Fort Dodge stands a home rich with history that tells a narrative of the very beginnings of the city.

The Vincent House was built in 1872, just three short years after the city of Fort Dodge was incorporated and is considered the oldest structure left in the city.

The Vincent House was bequeathed to the Fort Dodge YWCA in 1969 and is available for rent for all sorts of get-togethers, continuing the home’s reputation of a social center it received in the late 1800s.

Dan Prochaska, caretaker for the Vincent House, said the home has hosted a variety of gatherings such as weddings, bridal and baby showers, funerals and Christmas parties, just to name a few.

“When Ann Vincent and her daughter, Catherine Deardorf, approached the YWCA before Ann passed away, they asked if we were interested in the house. We said we would love to, but funding-wise, we couldn’t,” he said.

There are three floors in the house. This long stairway takes visitors to the second floor.

When Ann Vincent willed the home to the YWCA, she made it known she wanted the house preserved and along with the trust fund, that was set up by her and Deardorf, they made the stipulation the house be formally named the Vincent House and that it was to be used by the public.

“They made their money in Fort Dodge, and they wanted it to stay in Fort Dodge,” he said.

Prochaska said beyond the benefit of enjoying such a historical structure for a gathering, the services provided by him and the hostess are top-notch.

“It is my job and the hostesses’ job to open the house and we set up everything. We are here throughout the party — from the beginning to the end — and we do the dishes and all of the clean up,” he said. “We use the family china for sit-down dinners. It is a nice facility. We are very accommodating.”

Sometimes Prochaska will even provide some entertainment.

“I have played the piano for a lot of people,” he said, adding the piano he plays is the original Steinway piano that was purchased by the Vincent family for their daughter Helen in 1885.

History of the Vincent House

Prochaska said the Vincent House was built by James and Adeline Swain. James Swain was the first pharmacist in Fort Dodge.

When the house was constructed in 1872, it was built with a 9-foot high foundation made of gypsum. The first floor is 13 feet high, the second floor is 12 feet high, and the ballroom is 9 feet high.

Exterior walls are 24 inches thick with interior walls approximately 13 inches thick.

Prochaska said most of the tile in the home was made in Fort Dodge and surrounding communities, with the exception of the Italian tile on the living room fireplace.

The parquet flooring was imported from Europe.

The Victorian-era home was used by Adeline Swain for educating women on such subjects, Prochaska said, on science, painting, French, English, botany and more. Adeline Swain was also the first woman in Iowa to lead the women’s rights movement.

“Susan B. Anthony stayed here, she helped to start the suffrage rally,” said Prochaska.

Prochaska said Adeline Swain was also a member of the movement to find an end to the locust plague that hit in the 1870s.

“She had secret governmental meetings here and she actually found a way to help end that,” he said.

When the spiritualist movement became popular — a movement, according to history on the Vincent House, was a movement that was believed to communicate with the dead and equality across humanity, especially in gender — garnered the attention of the Swains. They formed a small community of followers and held seances in the third floor ballroom.

Adeline Swain was also a member of the Greenback political ticket and was later awarded a lifetime membership. Several government meetings were held in the home.

After James Swain’s death, Adeline Swain was left in financial hardship and was unable to keep the home and she moved from Fort Dodge.

The Vincents

In 1879, Webb and Catherine Vincent purchased the home, moving there in October of that year.

The house had not quite been finished, so theyworked on completing the rest of the construction of the home.

Together, the couple had two children, Helen and Donald Vincent. Helen Vincent passed away as a young child.

Webb Vincent, Prochaska said was very instrumental in the gypsum industry starting up in Fort Dodge.

According to history provided by Prochaska, in an account from Webb Vincent’s journal:

“In 1870 associated with my friend George S. Ringland, I began experimenting with gypsum. We burned gypsum on log piles down in Gypsum Hollow and we cooked gypsum in kitchen utensils on our kitchen stoves. In 1872 our first mill was built and S.T. Meservey was included in the company. The panic of 1873 was not a favorable setting for the new industry. It was uphill work with not a dollar of profit for eight years.”

Webb Vincent, along with Ringland and Meservey were also the inventors of brown coat mortar — using stucco instead of lime for the first coat of plaster.

According to Webb Vincent’s journal, “It was first used in repairing the ceiling of the Merchants National Bank building and on the walls of the third story of my present home. Many prospective customers have been led up those two long flights of stairs to see it.”

To this day, that framed section of the brown coat mortar remains on the wall of the ballroom.

The next generation of Vincents to live in the home was Donald and his wife Ann Vincent. Together, they had three children, one of which died at birth. Their surviving children were Catherine Deardorf and Nancy Vincent Nesbitt.

Several of the paintings and furnishings in the home are original. An artist touring the United States stayed in the home and in exchange for room and board painted portraits for the family.

On Sunday afternoons, the Vincent family would gather after dinner and fill baskets with food. That humanitarian effort eventually grew into the Fort Dodge’s United Way chapter.

Hidden gem

Prochaska fears over time houses like the Vincent House will be forgotten.

“I am trying really hard to keep this place going,” he said. “I don’t think people realize the importance of the founding pioneers of Fort Dodge. This house is a staple of Fort Dodge. There were a lot of things that came to pass within this house that affected the development of Fort Dodge.”

As for the future of the Vincent House, Prochaska said it is in need of some restoration for a leaking roof and the foundation soon.

In the meantime Prochaska encourages people to consider the Vincent House for their next gathering and it is available for tours as well.

“It’s just a great venue. It’s a homey atmosphere,” he said. “I really believe the family wanted it to be used.”

For more information or to book the Vincent House, contact Tina Schroeder at 515-573-3931 at the YWCA. She is available via email at tinas@ywcafd.org.

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