The Armstrong House in Britt, Iowa is a large Victorian house built in 1896 at a cost of $15,000 for Lewis Larson. The builder was John Victoria who built many of Britt’s early large buildings, both residential and commercial. Mr. Larson, a Norwegian immigrant, eventually settled in Britt to become the president of the newly organized First National Bank.
Legend is that Larson told his contractor that he wanted a bigger house than the one built nearby for a Britt merchant in 1892. And so it came to be. While the earlier house featured one tower, the new home would have two.
Several rooms on the first and second floors have gingerbread mill work over the door ways and halls. Other features of the Armstrong House include rooms with ten foot ceilings, double pocket doors between the parlors and a fire place. Eleven stained glass windows are distributed in seven rooms. A grand staircase leads from the entrance foyer to the attic on the third floor. Wrap around porches are found both in the rear and the front of the house, each with two doors opening into the house.
On the second floor are three small outdoor balconies located on three sides of the house. The bedrooms have walk in closets and a cedar lines closet is located in the upstairs hallway.
The full basement has ample space for a large coal cellar to supply fuel for the huge forced air furnace and a large cistern to store rain water collected from the roof. This soft water was pumped to a tank in the attic where it was plumbed to the bathroom on the second floor. The basement also has room for a fruit cellar and laundry. A laundry chute extends from the bathroom on the second floor to the basement laundry area. On rainy days the laundry was hung in the attic to dry.
The Larson family arranged for Norwegian girls to immigrate to Iowa to work in the house. There were always two in service to do the domestic chores. These maids slept in a small bedroom at the back of the house. To facilitate their duties, a second stairway led from the kitchen to the second floor hallway, adjacent to the maids’ room. From the bathroom across the hall the stairs continued on to the attic. In this way, their duties could be performed unnoticed while the Larson’s entertained in the parlors. A butler’s pantry between the kitchen and the dining room eased the serving of the meals.
When H.C. Armstrong bought Mr. Larson’s interest in 1914, he also purchased the residence. The house remained in the Armstrong family until 1969 when it was presented to the Hancock County Historical Society for a museum. It is now furnished as much as possible with furniture and accessories from the late Victorian period. The house is repository for antiques from the citizens of the county and for a collection of early memoirs and local history.
The large attic features a small replica of a rural school and a small country church.
To arrange a tour, contact Darrell Schaper at 641-843-4362.
Hours: Every Saturday and Sunday from Memorial Weekend to Labor Day
1:30 to 4:30 pm
Admission: $5.00 for adults 18 years of age or older