Gruwell and Crew General Store

Gruwell and Crew General Store

West Branch, Cedar County

Listed as endangered in 2008

Reason for designation

The wood-frame Gruwell and Crew building is one of the older storefronts remaining along West Main Street. It was built shortly after the land was deeded from the Friends Church in 1894. It was constructed by two prominent West Branch businessmen, Mayor S.C. Gruwell and J.C. Crew. Originally leased as a music store to C.M. Paulsen, it was purchased from Gruwell and Crew in 1910 by Hans Johnson, who ran a harness shop and also sold and repaired shoes. Johnson's daughter and her husband bought the structure after Johnson's death in 1937 and they changed the focus of the business to shoes as the need for harness and related supplies dwindled. In 1960, the building was sold to a local physician, Dr. R.G. Stuelke, who leased it as a variety store. In 1964, Dr. Stuelke donated it to the West Branch Heritage Foundation for use as a museum.

The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in September 1982 and it was the core of what is now the thematic West Branch Commercial District, which was placed on the Register in April 1987. It retains most of its 1894 characteristics including false-front facade, and wooden ceiling, floor and walls, as well as a lack of plumbing. All of the individuals and businesses associated with the building have been integral to the community. Of the three wooden storefronts within the district, this building retains the most integrity both inside and out.

The building is deteriorating and its contents could be compromised. The Museum is now only open by special request as it cannot be safely heated or cooled. The interior is poorly lit, but this cannot be remedied until the electrical system is upgraded. Since the building is closed, membership in the Foundation is low, making it difficult to raise funds for repairs. It is currently difficult to accommodate visitors and a large portion of the collection is dispersed off-site. While some have proposed selling the building, the site lacks plumbing and holds little attraction for commercial development.

2008 Iowa's Most Endangered Properties item 1 of 9

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