July 19, 2017
DEFINITION: dauntless: not easily intimidated; brave.
Ever wanted to scrape paint off the interior woodwork of a 9,000-square-foot mansion? Nobody else wanted to either…except for Isobel McGowan. With grit and determination, she is inspiring St. Joseph to roll up its sleeves and dust off its many architectural treasures.
Athena has been labeled the leader of all intellectual pursuits such as literature and poetry, and doubles as the protectress of those going to war. She is known to have fought only for just and purposeful reasons.
Glimpses of Athena’s character shine through the Chateau’s Innkeeper and Historian, Isobel McGowan, as she studiously guides a tour through the 9,000 square foot mansion. Isobel not only educates her guests about the marvels of the Edmond Jacques Eckel architectural design, but implores them to join the fight to preserve the history of St. Joseph as well.
“We have treasures and treasures in this city…. We have been given this legacy from the past and it’s our job to take care of it.”
For years, Isobel had been a frequent visitor to St. Joseph and fell in love with the city’s opulent architecture. In May of 2012, she took a leap of faith and moved away from her home in Denver, Colorado, to pursue the restoration project of a lifetime.
“It’s all about timing in life. The timing was right for me to take retirement from my profession and it was certainly the right timing for this house to have a new owner.”
The result is simply stunning. The woodwork restored to its former glory is the perfect compliment for the Chateau-esque building’s 47 original stained glass windows, grand mantle featuring the bust of Shakespeare, and the grand staircase’s hand carved dragons. Yep, dragons. Isobel says St. Joseph has a lot in common with them.
“This city is like a dragon’s hoard of architectural treasure and it’s all covered with a layer of dust and rust. All you have to do is blow a little bit or rub a little and your eyes are dazzled.”
That’s not an overstatement. During the Gilded Age of the late nineteenth century, St. Joseph had the highest per capita income and more millionaires per capita than anywhere else in the country. A good example of this lavish wealth can be found lining the parlor walls. The prized Zuber wallpaper (also found in the White House) would run you about $61,000 today.
Isobel points out that our city’s history hinges on adaptive reuse and this house in no exception. Over the years it has weathered the changes, from a single-family home, to an apartment building, and now a bed and breakfast, as well as a venue for weddings, dinner parties, and elegant meetings.
It’s hard not to be inspired to follow in Isobel’s footsteps. And if you’re interested in restoring one of St. Joseph’s many historic houses or buildings, she offers the following advice.
“Roll up your sleeves and get to work! If you’re interested in owning a piece of history, don’t be afraid of the dirty work. It is so worth it at the end of the day.”
Local organizations are passionate about coming in at the ground level toward helping residents with the clean-up efforts that go along with living in a historic river town.
For 100 years, the iconic Cherry Mash has been made in St. Joseph. The combination of peanuts, chocolate and cherry fondant is the third-oldest continuously made candy bar in the country.
America’s favorite pastime is alive in St. Joseph…every summer families, friends, and neighbors gather together to enjoy baseball, hot dogs, family fun, fireworks, and more in the heart of St. Joseph to relax and watch the Mustangs play ball at the historic Phil Welch Stadium.
The drive throughout downtown has become more colorful in the last five years, thanks to the creation of larger than life murals that convey the unique spirit of St. Joseph.
No community is separated from homelessness and poverty, regardless of location or size. It’s a complex and universal challenge involving poverty, mental health and numerous community partners. In St. Joseph, residents and leaders are taking a very focused approach to real solutions toward homelessness, with most of these efforts geared toward the Imagine 2040 “invest in people” goal.