Monday, July 6, 2015

The Real Gordon-Van Tine "Roberts" House (owned by Edward C. Roberts)

Original Gordon-Van Tine No. 560 house Davenport, Iowa
918 E. Locust St., Davenport, Iowa • The only actual "Roberts" house
(Before 1919, this house's street number was 824)
According to a 1982 survey done by the Iowa Office of Historic Preservation, and according to Davenport Iowa tax records for this address,  this is the original house that Edward C. Roberts, then president of the mail-order homes company,  Gordon-Van Tine, (as well as the U.N. Roberts Lumber Company), built for himself.  According to those two sources, the house was built in 1909, and this is also supported by Davenport City Directory records, which I show a little further down in this blog post ( I know that other sources have given a build date of 1915, but I believe that to be an error ).  

The Gordon-Van Tine company later marketed three variations of this model: the one-porch model, the two-porch model, and the no-porch model (read my earlier blog post, here, to understand the confusing list of model numbers and names assigned to the variations of this model; read about the different floor plans, in this June 28, 2015 blog post of mine).

The marketing campaign appears to have begun with the often-shared 1916 Gordon-Van Tine Ready-Cut Homes catalog (their first catalog of pre-cut homes), the cover of which sports a beautiful color rendition of a similar house.  The house on the cover of the catalog has only one enclosed porch on the left side, just on the first floor. I think it looks much more graceful with just the one porch. The original Edward C. Roberts, 2-story porch version, looks cumbersome to me. You can see a lovely white, one-porch model in State College, Pennsylvania, in my July 2, 2015  blog post.
gordon van tine catalog cover 560 image
From my 1916 catalog.
I shared this catalog cover in an earlier blog post, about a testimonial house of this model, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts (and you can run across it in blog posts by other bloggers, as well, as it is well known). 
gordon van tine no 560 1916 catalog
From my 1916 catalog.
president of gordon van tine
As you can see, Mr. Roberts' home was first marketed as model No. 560.  I wonder whose actual house this photo is of, since it has only one porch? Perhaps they added the second porch later?

Numerous people have mentioned this catalog ad for Mr. Roberts' house, but I'd like to add some information about Mr. Roberts, himself.

Where Did Edward C. Roberts Live?
president of gordon van tine
In 1896, before the building of "The Edward C. Roberts House" on E. Locust Street, Edward C. lived with his widowed mother, Julia, at 308 E. 14th Street, Davenport, Iowa.  He married three years later, and the 1900 census shows that he had been married to (first) wife Ellen, for one year.  I could not find information on what happened to Ellen, but, by 1910, he was remarried, to (much younger) Maxie Roberts (sometimes listed as Marie).
What I've not seen mentioned before, is that Edward C. Roberts only used "The Edward C. Roberts Home" (Gordon-Van Tine Model No. 560 in the 1916 catalog) for his own residence for seven years, from 1910 through 1917.  

Let's track his residences from 1910 through 1940:

1910 - 1917: U.S. Census and Davenport City Directory
824 E. Locust Street,  Davenport, Iowa: Both the U. S. census and the Davenport city directories show Edward C. Roberts living with his second wife, Maxie Roberts, and a servant at 824 E. Locust Street (this census data was collected by the census reporter on April 18 and 19, 1910-- E. C. Roberts is also shown at an address in California for this same census year... see below) . This census data names Maxie as "Maria", and lists Edward C. as "C.C.", but gives his correct age, birthplace, and place of birth of his father (Wales). It surely refers to him.  We see later in this blog post that this house number is changed to number 918, beginning in 1919.
gordon van tine 560
The 1910 census report for Davenport, Iowa. (Source:
The 1910 city directory, shown below, supports that there was no house with a 918 street address, at that time.  It also shows E. C. Roberts to be living at house number 824... this is the "Roberts" house, the one shown at the top of this blog post, which later became the model for the home featured in the 1916 Gordon-Van Tine catalog.
E. C. Roberts house Davenport Iowa 1910
The 1910 Davenport city directory shows no house at number 918 E. Locust, but places Edward C. Roberts at number 824... which, in 1919,  is re-organized as house number 918 E. Locust. (Source:
The 1909 Davenport city directory shows that number 824 is vacant... it must have been under construction at that time:
1909 Davenport Iowa city directory East Locust Street
The 1909 Davenport City Directory (source:
The 1917 Davenport City Directory shows Edward C. Roberts still living at 824 E. Locust, and this is the last year that he is shown here:
Edward C. Roberts residence 1917 Davenport Iowa
We also see here that E. C. Roberts' mother, Julia A. Roberts, is listed at 726 E. Locust.
This later becomes the residence of Edward C. Roberts, as well.

Beginning with the 1918 Davenport City Directory, Edward C. Roberts is shown living at his mother's residence, at 726 E. Locust, and a new resident is shown for the infamous Gordon-Van Tine catalog's "Roberts" house at number 824: G. D. Kelly.
However, the 1919 Davenport City Directory shows the re-structuring of house numbers at that section of East Locust street.  We can see that now, the house where G. D. Kelly lives, is listed as number 918, but 824 is shown in parentheses next to it:

918 E. Locust Street Davenport Iowa 1919 city directory
Not all homes on E. Locust were subject to a re-structuring of their house numbers in 1919. The house at number 726 refers still to the home owned by Julia A. Roberts (E. C. Roberts' mother) in earlier years. 

This is perhaps why Dale Wolicki, of the informative website, lists number 824 E. Locust as the current-day location of the home Edward C. Roberts had built for himself, and marketed in the catalog.  Currently, there is no home at 824 E. Locust... and the Davenport city directory records for 1919 show that re-numbering of the houses had taken place on this section of E. Locust, so the correct address for the Edward C. Roberts house, is now 918 E. Locust Street.

1910 Additional Residence For Edward C. Roberts
The 1910 U. S. census also lists Edward C. Roberts as a lodger at a sort of boarding house in San Francisco It lists him as married -- in his second marriage ("m2") -- but Maxie is not listed among the boarders, who all seem to be men. The same information is given about his age, birthplace, place of birth of father. This one also says that he works in lumber.

gordon van tine e c roberts president
April 22, 1910 census, showing our Edward C. Roberts as a lodger in San Francisco.
Both of the 1910 census lists shown in this blog post,  give the same information about E. C. Roberts: Edward C. Roberts; born in Iowa; father born in Wales; mother  born in New York; same age; works in lumber (well... the Davenport one says something like, "finishing goods").  I don't know how this census data was collected in 1910: was a form mailed to you, for you to fill in and mail back (as it was in the 2000 census)? or was the data collected by a person who knocked on your door, and wrote down the answers you gave as he questioned you?  Clearly, Edward C. must have been away on a business venture in San Francisco when this information was gathered, and Maxie/Marie must have simply listed him as the head of the household, despite his not technically being there at the moment.

UPDATE 2020:
The May edition of the The Timberman, a lumber journal, mentions, on page 32D, that E. C. Roberts has just returned from a month "on the coast".... that coincides with an April census-taker's account of his lodging in San Francisco at that time.

The 1920 Census
The 1920 census lists Roberts, Maxie, and their three children, as residents of Edward's mother's large home, a few doors down on E. Locust Street, at number 726. There was room enough for them to include three servants, as well, and his mother, Julia Roraback Rogers, who is listed as head of household, at age 84. She would die 5 years later. (It is interesting to note, as well, that Julia Roraback Rogers was the guiding force in running U.N. Roberts Lumber, for 30 years, until Edward C. took over. This is according to the data given in the 1982 survey mentioned above, and it also mentions that the U.N. Roberts Planing Mill was "the longest-run, most successful planing mill in the city" during that time.)
iowa office of historic preservation roberts house
Quote from the 1982 Survey done by the Iowa Office of Historic Preservation
As you can see, there is no house listed at 824 E. Locust (their 1910 listed address), and, at 918 E. Locust (the current address of "The Edward C. Roberts House"), is listed 30-year-old Glenn Kelly, the "G. D. Kelly" shown above in the city directories for 1918 and 1919. Glenn Kelly was an attorney, and he and his wife, Edna, are shown as owners of the home in 1920. 
The 1920 census, showing residents at 918 E. Locust (the Kellys), and 726 E. Locust (the extended Roberts family). The house number for 726 E. Locust did not change when re-numbering occurred on this street after 1918.
roberts house gordon van tine
726 E. Locust Street, Davenport, Iowa. This was to be the residence of Edward C. Roberts from 1918 - 1930. It was shown as the residence of his mother, Julia C. Roberts, in Davenport city directories cited above, at least as early as 1909. Edward C. Roberts became "head of household" after his mother died in 1925.
1920 Travels
Apparently, as well, during 1920, Edward C. Roberts had a long journey to numerous Asian countries.  I found his 1920 passport application (on, which lists his expected destinations as: China, Chili (sic), Samoa, Fiji, Japan, and New Zealand! I don't know if he actually did all of this traveling, or if he even did it in 1920, but that is when he applied for the passport. His reason for travel is listed as "pleasure". What about Maxie, and the three children, I wonder?
edward c roberts passport application 1920
1920 passport application

We are treated to a photo of young Mr. Roberts, as well!
president gordon van tine age 48 e c roberts
Edward C. Roberts at about age 48
I also found his passport application from 1908, and find it interesting that, since photos were not commonplace or easy to attain, they required a description of the applicant:
edward c roberts passport application 1908
Our dark-blonde, full-chinned, oval-faced, Edward C. Roberts' passport application from 1908.
1930 Census
The 1930 census shows the Roberts family (Edward, Maxie, and their four children and servants), living still at the large, spacious home he must have inherited from his mother, who had, by then, passed away.  Edward is listed as "head" of the household of 726 E. Locust Street.
davenport iowa 1930 census roberts family
1930 U.S. census for Davenport, Iowas • The Roberts family at 726 E. Locust
(click to enlarge)
1940 Census
But... what happened between 1930 and 1940?  By 1940, the Roberts family had really downsized.  The census shows them living in a small home of the value of only $3,000 (their 726 E. Locust home was valued at $25, 000) in 1940 (and lists this as their same residence in 1935), at 333 W. Oregon,  in Yreka City, California (in Siskiyu County).  Roberts' yearly salary is listed as only about $5,000+, and he is shown to be working as a Real Estate Salesman (well.... those could have been mail-order homes that he was selling, eh?)... yet... they still have a live-in cook!
roberts family davenport iowa 1940
1940 U.S. census for Yreka City, California • The Roberts family at 333 W. Oregon, house valued at $3,000.
(click to enlarge)
Death in 1944
Edward C. Roberts  died in California, on April 12, 1944, at age 68.  According to respected researcher Rebecca L. Hunter, of, the Gordon-Van Tine company was sold in 1946, and closed by its new owner:
gordon van tine company sold 1946
Source: Rebecca L. Hunter's website, 
(NOTE: There is a typo here, and Horace Gordon Roberts is mistakenly referred to with the last name Robinson .)
NOTE: I substantially edited this blog post on December 17, 2016, to show city directory listings that support the re-structuring of house numbers on East Locust, beginning in 1919, and the sale of the Gordon-Van Tine company in 1946.

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