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River Bend Regal
By Linda Montet | Photography by Tim Abramowitz
home :: home & garden :: featured remodels

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Henry Rollins returned to Des Moines, the city of his boyhood, to start fresh. His dry goods business had burned in the great Chicago fire of 1871. He and his wife, Ellen, were seeking a good place to start another business and raise a family.

Henry soon established the Des Moines Hosiery Mill (later called Rollins Hosiery Mills), which would become the country’s first major manufacturer of nylon stockings. After building a new home on Des Moines’ north side, the couple quickly became one of the city’s most prestigious families.
It was a grand era. North Des Moines had just been annexed into the city, and its residents were shaping the way the city of nearly 50,000 would grow and prosper. The Rollinses’ beautiful home would remain a majestic statement of its time well into the 21st century.

Now Tim Cory and Marie Brown are breathing new life into the stately 1886 home of Henry and Ellen Rollins at 1611 Arlington Avenue.

They purchased the home last September, moved in, and quickly set about restoring its 19th-century grandeur. Few would be better suited for the job. Tim is a successful building contractor and Marie designs kitchens.

They had just finished rehabbing a 100-year-old house when they found this River Bend Neighborhood home online. “The owner had lived in the house for 49 years,” says Marie. “He raised his children here, and some were even married in the home. He just couldn’t keep it up anymore, so it had been on the market for over a year.”

Fortunately the home had been spared the deterioration and decline of some of the other neighborhood homes; much of its original interior was intact. “The home has been gently cared for all these years,” Marie says. “It’s like somebody lived here and never touched it.”

Both Tim and Marie work 50-hour weeks, yet each evening they, along with five of their children—Emily, 16, Connor, 13, Hannah, 11, and twins Dylan and Jake, also 11, tackle the renovation. Another son, Joshua, 25, has a family of his own.

“The home’s architectural style is unique for its time,” says Tim. “It’s an Arts and Crafts meets Four Corners gone crazy.” One of Tim’s favorite features is the spectacular 700-square-foot front porch. “We’re planning to put in recessed lighting and ceiling fans to give it more of a plantation look. We’ll make it a social porch, where we can entertain visitors.”

Upon entering the home, visitors are greeted by white oak floors and original stained- glass windows along the wooden stairway. Off to the right and visible from the foyer, a receiving room features a unique stone fireplace. “We are uncertain if the fireplace is original, but the stonework is identical to that of the front porch,” Marie says.

An oversize built-in storage seat nestles under a large bay window overlooking the expansive backyard and gardens. Another built-in bench graces the base of the stairs.

Many of the couple’s restoration plans focus on the outdated kitchen that was built to be used only by cooks and maids. “They didn’t put much emphasis on kitchens back then because guests would never see them. It was a servants’ work area, generally ignored architecturally,” Marie says. She has already planned a complete kitchen remodel to reflect the character of the home.

Specific changes are underway for each of the home’s four floors. The attic (fourth floor) is quickly
turning into a master bedroom suite. Four second-floor bedrooms are retreats for the kids, and the unfinished basement is transitioning into family space to include a home theater, full bath, and sitting room.

Storage closets are everywhere. Each bathroom has a walk-in closet, and two of the bedrooms even have their own sinks. “We have about ten thousand hooks in the house,” Tim chuckles. “It’s so unusual for a house of this era to have so much storage.”

The house sits on nearly an acre of land. Before businesses dotted Second Avenue, the house overlooked an impressive view of the Des Moines River Valley. Out back, a carriage house turned garage is getting its second wind. “It has a horse stall, a hay loft, and a hay door. It still has the scent of horses, if you know what I mean,” Marie says.

Tim plans to construct a matching building adjacent to the carriage house to use as his shop. “Upstairs will be an art studio, where everyone can go to create,” he says.

“I’m sure the house was on the market so long because everyone could see how much work there was to be done,” Marie says. “But we don’t mind the work. We hope to see significant progress by year’s end.”

This and several more homes in various stages of restoration will be open to the public during the River Bend Tour of Homes September 11 and 12.

Take a Peek

14th Annual River Bend Tour
Now known as the River Bend Neighborhood, this area north and west of the Des Moines River was once one of the most spectacular sections of the city. Majestic homes lined its streets, and streetcars carried prominent residents downtown to work and shop. Many of the River Bend homes date back to the 1870s. Today’s homeowners work hard to restore the beauty and grandeur that once distinguished the area.

Several River Bend homes in various stages of rehabilitation will open to the public for viewing. Tour dates and times are Saturday, September 11, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday, September 12, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Tickets are good for both days to allow leisurely viewing of homes. Advance tickets may be purchased online at or at Dahl’s on Ingersoll. On the day of the tour, ticket booth and vendors will be located at 1623 Sixth Avenue (Asian Foods Market). Adult tickets are $10;
children under 17 are $5; children under 5 are free. Special pricing is available for groups of eight or more by contacting Carolyn Jenison at 515-491-0226.

In partnership with the Des Moines Rehabbers Club, workshops and demonstrations are scheduled during the tour. Realtors with properties in the area, lending providers, and other vendors will be on hand both days of the tour. Presenting sponsor of this year’s tour is Jake Stanton of Prudential First Realty.

Historic Honors
The Sixth Avenue Corridor was recently named a Main Street Urban Neighborhood District by the Iowa Department of Economic Development. Bordered by downtown on the south and Birdland Park to the north, Sixth Avenue is the historic center of North Des Moines and the northern gateway to the city’s central business district.

River Bend Tour organizers acknowledge the support of the Sixth Avenue Corridor, Inc., the organization coordinating the revitalization of the district.




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