Legacy in brick and stone

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a monthly series on the history of Webster City, written by local historian, Nancy Kayser.

W. J. Zitterell was a building contractor who came to Webster City in 1896. He spent the rest of his life here, leaving a legacy of brick and stone for the generations that followed.

William J. “Zitt” Zitterell was born 1860 in Jackson County, Iowa, the son of a recent German immigrant. He spent his childhood in Maquoketa, leaving school in his mid-teens to learn the bricklaying trade.

By the early 1890’s he had moved his family to Lake View in Sac County, Iowa and quickly established his reputation as a quality building contractor.

His first big contract in Webster City was to erect the Hamilton County State Bank, an imposing three story structure built on the northwest corner of Second and Des Moines. He began construction the first week of July 1896, hiring local men and teams to dig the basement. Zitterell contracted with the Webster City Brick and Tile plant for 525,000 brick needed for the building. Expected completion date was November 1st.

When construction was stopped in August of 1896 due to delay in receiving iron and stone materials, Zitterell took his workmen to New Hartford, Iowa to finish four store buildings already under contract. It wasn’t until early September the materials arrived and work resumed.

It is unknown if the Webster City brick company fulfilled their contract as later reports point out the building was built of St. Louis red pressed brick.

It was ready for occupancy in late December of 1896. The bank occupied the first floor, seven business firms had offices on the second floor and the Elks Lodge rented the entire third floor for their lodge. The Webster City Tribune newspaper moved its offices to the basement of the new building.

Zitterell took one of the second floor offices. The quiet, unpretentious man, newly widowed, began his life in Webster City.

In September of 1898, W. J. Zitterell married Hattie Olmstead Childs in New Hartford, Iowa. The couple, and his 14-year-old daughter Wynnie, lived at 717 First Street until their new Division Street home was completed in 1901. The couple had traveled to Chicago to select the parquetry flooring and fixtures.

While the Zitterell company built all around the Midwest, W. J. Zitterell always put Webster City in the front.

He encouraged the growth of the city as a benefactor for many fledgling businesses. One news report in August of 1930 stated that “Zitt” never turned down financial support of a local venture. Some became prosperous, some lost money. During the early Depression years, his support enabled many businesses to remain open.

A few of his local buildings projects include the 1898 Louis Frank building, 1900-1971 City Hall, 1901-02 Illinois Central Railroad Depot now used as a community museum, the 1909 E. H. Martin building, and the 1916 Hanson and Tyler garage at the corner of First and Des Moines.

The year 1912 kept the firm busy in Webster City constructing Lincoln High School, the Fire Station on Des Moines Street, and street paving on Bank, Water, Elm, Walnut and Boone which needed 70 workers at the start.

Also in 1912 the firm took on building the National Sewer Pipe factory, a local concern. To begin the project, Zitterell ordered 100,000 pounds of steel bands from Illinois Steel Company for the kilns, 540,000 feet of dimensional lumber, 16 carloads of firebrick for the kilns from St. Louis and 3.25 ton of nails from local merchant Augie Mueller.

To help expand the growing livestock industry in the county, Zitterell was called upon to construct several new buildings on the Hamilton County Fairgrounds. Among those buildings was the 1919 Sales Pavilion and Stock Barn which had seating for 600 people, a sales ring and two furnaces for comfort during winter sales. The building is currently under rehabilitation by the Hamilton County Fair Foundation.

In 1921 Zitterell was the contractor on the remodel of the Wilson Hotel. In 1923 he erected the $45,000 Illinois Central water treating plant near the river in the northeast part of town which included a 100,000 gallon steel stank.

The new Isis Theater building, now a part of the Second Street Emporium, was built in 1927. Also in 1927, he bought the E. H. Martin Orpheum Theater building for $50,000.

Zitterell’s company also undertook the building of the Hamilton County Hospital in 1930. The plans called for the newest technology available at the time for the 30-bed hospital.

But, W. J. Zitterell’s most magnificent legacy to the city was the 1904-1905 Kendall Young Library on Willson Avenue.

On May 6, 1904 the Trustees of the Library awarded the building contract to Zitterell in the amount of $32,237. It was to be completed by Feb. 1, 1905. The contract called for four granite columns, 12-feet high and 23-inches in diameter, for the front entrance. The exterior was to be of Bedford stone with Indiana Roman brick facings and marble wainscotings. The interior was to have marble steps and wainscoting along with 12 marble columns.

Zitterell brought in his finest workmen. The stone carvers from Chicago started work on the exterior of the building in January of 1905. The Jan. 22, 1905 issue of the Evening Journal reported the stone carvers “are transforming the rough capstones over the doors and windows into objects of beauty. There has not been a day this winter that work has been suspended.although the thermometer has been many degrees below zero.”

Marble setters from the Drake Marble and Tile Company of St. Paul, Minn. arrived in May 1905 to work on the interior.

When the Library was dedicated on Sept. 20, 1905, Zitterell presented the keys to the dignitaries. There is no report that he spoke of his endeavor during the ceremonies. However, the next day, the Library trustees issued this statement in the Evening Journal, “he (Zitterell) appeared to put his whole heart and soul into the task before him, with a view of giving Webster City the magnificent structure she now has He took the contract, not for the purpose of making money out of it, but to demonstrate in a practical way his exceptional ability as a builder”.

Kendall Young Library and his home on Division Street are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Many others, including the 1919 Sales Pavilion and Stock Barn, are eligible for inclusion.

The W. J. Zitterell construction firm had projects all over Iowa ranging from homes to governmental buildings. The company also expanded to neighboring states, especially with its work with the Illinois Central railroad. There was even a Chicago office for the firm. By the early 1910s the Mills and Bateman families had been longtime members of the firm and in 1927 the company became known as the Zitterell-Mills Company.

W. J. Zitterell died in 1932, but the company was well positioned to continue Midwest construction projects, including many in Webster City. The firm closed in 1979 when there were no more family members to carry on.

William J. Zitterell’s building skills will forever remind us of his fondness of his new home. He left his legacy in Webster City in brick and stone.