One hundred years ago this summer, Joseph W. Bettendorf dispatched employees from his Mississippi River-front factory to help build a magnificent new mansion for himself on the bluffs overlooking downtown Bettendorf.
Joseph Bettendorf succeeded to the presidency of the Bettendorf Axel Co., upon the death of his older brother, William P. Bettendorf, in 1910. Together, the brothers created a company to manufacture cast-steel truck frames for railroad cars. Their invention revolutionized the way wheel assemblies attach to railroad cars by eliminating bolts in the frame that could work lose, causing derailments and delays. They made a fortune from their invention.
Joseph used his newly acquired wealth to build a house to reflect his ambitions and prominent social status. He hired architect Arthur H. Ebling to conceive a 30-room English Manor style mansion. Ebling also is remembered for designing the Carmelite Monastery located at 14th and Central Avenues in Bettendorf. The monastery, known as The Abbey, today serves as a treatment center for individuals with addictions.
The Bettendorf mansion, 1821 Sunset Drive, has three floors with a full basement and 21,000 square feet of finished interior space. The home featured unique amenities, including a grand ballroom on the third floor, a billiards room, stained-glass conservatory, a bowling alley in the basement and hardwood paneling throughout the structure.
The original Bettendorf estate covered 24 acres of ground. In addition to the house, the Bettendorf property also had 17 acres of gardens, a lily pond, pool, tea house, tennis courts and horse stables.
The Bettendorf mansion was not the only structure on the property. A greenhouse, carriage house, a bathhouse and pool and large guest house also had been constructed. The estate required a staff of 15 maids and gardeners.
By 1959 the last member of the Bettendorf family to live in the home moved. The house was sold to the Marist Society and used as a seminary. The Marist, or Society of Mary, is a Roman Catholic institute founded in France in 1816 to evangelize for the Christian faith.
The former St. Katherine-St. Mark School purchased the Bettendorf Mansion and carriage house from the Marist in 1973 to house their academic program. The school later changed its name to Rivermont Collegiate and continues to serve as a private, non-sectarian college preparatory school.
As can be imagined, time has taken a toll on this historic structure. Ron Ossowski, director of development for the school, reports the building eventually might require about close to $400,000 in repairs. Water leakage from the roof has damaged interior walls and ceilings. The Friends of the Joseph Bettendorf House, a 501 c3 organization, has stepped up to solicit funds to make necessary repairs. For additional information, contact Ron Ossowski at the school.
The Bettendorf Mansion has been designated one of three city structures, including the Carmelite Monastery and the now razed Washington Elementary School, to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Richard Pokora is a founder of the Bettendorf Business Network and pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church, Bettendorf.
(See original story on the QC Times website).