The President's Current Residence

From Drakeapedia
Jump to: navigation, search

The President's Current Residence (built in 1905)

Originally submitted by Jordan Emrick, Drake University, November 3, 2010

The House, "The Midwestern" Cowles Library

Background Information

The presidential mansion is located at 227 37th Street. Drake University purchased the house 67 years ago, and to this day 5 presidents and their families have lived in the spacious mansion. It was built in 1905, but it remains beautiful today thanks to numerous renovations. When the house was originally built in 1905, it was worth about $26,000, and in 2004, its value had skyrocketed to $818,830 [1]. Drake University came into possession of the home on December 28, 1943. The house was purchased from the Prouty family, for Drake University by an anonymous, with the intent that it would become home to presidents and their families. Currently, President David Maxwell and his wife Maddy reside in the mansion. It has seven bedrooms and five bathrooms. It is on 2 acres of land and has 5500 square feet of living space.

Located off campus, google earth


Nathanial Guernsey built the house in 1905. It was extremely luxurious and grand. Guernsey was an attorney, and he only lived in the house for a short time because he moved to New York. In New York, he went on to become vice president of AT&T. In October of 1908, it was featured in “The Midwestern”. Charles Prouty was the next resident of the mansion when he purchased it from Guersney. He lived there for 28 years. Prouty was a successful businessman as the president of Prouty & Bowler Soap Company. He retired in 1935, but he continued to live in the mansion with his wife until his death in 1940. While living in the mansion, he was known for having lots of parties and benefits. Drake University acquired the house in 1943, and they did a few renovations before the first presidential resident, Henry Harmon moved in. Dr. Harmon was president of Drake University from 1941 to 1964.[1] The house was in kind of bad shape at this time, according to Harmon’s daughter. Henry Harmon served the longest of any Drake President, and the largest building on campus, the Harmon fine arts center, was named after him. During the time that the Harmons lived in the house, many renovations were made. The other presidents that lived in the house were Dr. Paul Frederick Sharp, Dr. Wilbur C. Miller, Dr. Michael Ferrari, and the current president, Dr. Maxwell. Dr. Robert Ray was interim president in 1998, and did not live in the house.

The house in 1914


The basement of the Maxwell’s residence is a casual area that they frequently use to entertain students. The comfy couches and big screen television create a comfortable atmosphere for young adults. A very interesting feature of the basement is the fireplace. It is from the original construction, and still has all of the original fireplace tools. Another interesting feature is a tunnel that connects the basement to the garage. Obviously this underground tunnel is not used anymore, but it used to be used for heating. The coal would be burned in the garage, and it would go through the tunnel to the basement, and the house. The house was heated in this way until 1966, when Paul Sharp was president. The laundry room is interesting because while it has new washing and drying machines, the washing sinks are still the original porcelain. The basement also has many storage areas, some of which are used to hold the house’s extensive catering supplies.

The Ground Floor

Photo courtesy Susan Breakenrige

The ground floor the residence is beautifully decorated. In 1908, mansion was featured in "The Midwestern”. The magazine article raves about the perfect color schemes and the “exquisite harmony” that is present in the interior design. Though the house was featured more than 100 years ago, it still has very much charm and beauty. Most of the furniture that is in the house right now is the Maxwell’s, but there are a few pieces that came with the house and are part of its history. The first floor contains the kitchen, the dining room, a living room, the president’s office, and a sunroom. The kitchen was renovated in 1961, and was featured in “Better Homes & Gardens”.[2] The kitchen features an island and granite countertops. Currently the breakfast room (the back part of the kitchen) is used as an office. The dining room seats up to thirty-two people at a time, and it is a gorgeous room the Maxwell’s (and the residents who came before them) really take advantage of for entertaining. The Maxwells entertain about 1500 guests each year. Off of the dining room is the sunroom. The sunroom was previously only screened it, but when theHarmon’s lived there, they glassed it in. The glassed in sunroom is very comfortable and has always been a place where the families who have lived in the house like to gather and hangout. If you exit out of the sunroom, there is a large porch connected to house. Each May, the Maxwells host Drake students on the large porch. Another interesting room on the ground floor is the living room. The living room has French doors, which are original. The shelves on either side of the French doors, however, Maddy Maxwell designed herself. You can also find the President Maxwell’s office on the first floor. The bathroom by the front door is also a very interesting feature. The bathroom in fact used be an entrance for servants, and was remodeled into a bathroom. In the front of the house, you can still see where the door that was designated for the servants used to be.

The Second and Third Floors

If you walk up the flight of stairs that used to be the servant’s stairs, the first room you will see is the furnace room. The room used to be the servant’s kitchen, but now it holds the updated heating and cooling system. Two of the bathrooms in the house even have heated floors. Also on the second floor there are four guest bedrooms. Each of the bedrooms has a theme. There is the Indian room, the oak room, the safari room, and the Loretta Young room. The oak room and the Loretta room are both very popular with guests, because they have a large television and a connected bathroom, respectively. The safari room is connected by a bathroom to the master bedroom. The extra bathroom door was added when President Harmon lived in the house. Off of the master bedroom there is another sunroom. This room was converted from a sleeping porch to a sunroom. The sleeping porch was made into a sunroom at the same time the as the other sunroom was made (by Harmon.) The themed bedrooms are all very interesting because they have unique built in furniture. In the rooms, there are desks or shelves actually built in the wall. The rooms are also decorated with paintings by Maddy Maxwell’s father. In the hallway there is a very large linen closet, and drawings done by Maddy herself while she was in Russia. There is an additional bedroom on the third floor, and the house does have an attic, which can be accessed through the third floor bedroom. Maddy also has her studio on the 3rd floor. A very unique aspect of the third floor is the ballroom. The ballroom is very and has high ceilings, considering it is on a high floor. The third floor ballroom was used frequently for social events when the Prouty’s lived in the house.

View of house from garage, courtesy Susan Breakenridge

The Garage

At the end of the spacious backyard is the house’s garage. The garage situation is interesting because it shared with their neighbors, the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa. The area of the garage is large enough to serve as small apartment, but currently, it is not used for that. The neighbors at the time when the Harmon’s lived there used it as an apartment however. The garage also still has a slot that used to be used as a stable for a horse.


  • [1] Drake acquired spacious home for $10,000. (2004, January 20). Des Moines Register, 4.
  • [2] Home of Drake presidents took major redecorating. (2004, March 4).Des Moines Register