December 09, 2023

J.C. Woodruff remembered for Bluegrass Palaces

The construction J.C. Woodruff is most famous for was the three Bluegrass Palaces on the north edge of town where our present Creston High School is located.

The first design was a joint production by Woodruff, as contractor and builder, and with Louis Syberkrop, artist and decorator. The first palace was built in the summer of 1889 for an exposition in August. Woodruff also planned the Bluegrass Palaces for the expositions in August 1890 and 1891. The Sioux City Herald published in Sioux City on Aug. 29, 1889, reported, “Architect J.C. Woodruff received many compliments as the designer and builder of so unique a structure. No one ever before attempted to build of material the qualities of which were so new and untried.”

Following the popularity of the Bluegrass Palace in 1889, Woodruff bid on an important project in downtown Creston. He was offered the contract to construct the Hotel Ewing in 1890. Woodruff who was both the designer and builder employed a large force of men to build the hotel in just seven months. It was located on the corner of Pine and Adams streets. Completion of the building was in February 1891. The History of Union County, Iowa, written by George Ide, described J.C. Woodruff’s construction of Hotel Ewing. The description was the hotel had an interior space of 35,000 square feet. On the first floor there was an office with a large vault and a dining room that seated 100 people along with a large kitchen. The second floor sleeping apartments were attached to parlors.

On Aug. 24,1893, Woodruff’s wife, Mary, died and was buried in Graceland Cemetery in Creston. On Sept. 20, 1894, Woodruff married Henrietta Zollars Fahlsing. Woodruff and Henrietta were living at 116 SW Poplar according to the City Directory of Creston and Towns in Union County, 1895. In the late 1890s, Woodruff built two houses on a corner lot at 803 West Jefferson St. in Creston. The Directory of Creston and Union County, Iowa, 1903, lists J.C. and Henrietta living in the house at 803 West Jefferson, John having retired in 1907.

By 1910, upon their retirement Woodruff and Henrietta moved to Washington, Allen County, Indiana, the home of his step-daughter and son-in-law. Woodruff had been wintering in Lakeland, Florida, and during the warming weather would take the train back to Allen County to live be near their family. On the trip home in 1812, Woodruff had returned home on the train and became ill. Before they could carry him into the depot, he died. John Cooper Woodruff was 83 years old at his death and was buried in Graceland Cemetery in Creston.

Woodruff had achieved great notoriety while working in the Creston area. His obituary in the Fort Wayne Sentinel, Fort Wayne, Indiana, states, “after learning the contracting business located at Creston, Ia., where he lived for many years and was known as one of the best stone contractors in the Midwest.” He was an active community member while living in the Cromwell and Creston area.

Woodruff was appointed by the United States government to serve as the postmaster of Cromwell an honorable appointment in 1869, the year that Creston officially started as a town. John was a 60-year member of the Masonic Lodge, A.F & A.M. in which he joined as a young man in 1852, while living in New York City. He continued his membership in the Crest City Lodge in Creston and in his final years joined the Summit City

Lodge in Fort Wayne. John Cooper Woodruff will forever be remembered for his contributions to Creston’s history.