Things were looking good for Harry Lehmer in 1927.A 29-year-old father of three, Harry and wife Jessie had scraped together enough money to buy a home of their own in the country after seven years in a home much too small for their growing family and pinching pennies wherever they could, including Harry’s shuttling back and forth to work on streetcars.
So, in January 1927, the Lehmer family packed up and relocated to an acreage in the Lewis Township area, on a steep bluff about one mile northeast of the Iowa School for the Deaf. This would be a good place to raise their kids – Jack, Agnes and Phyllis – they thought.While young Jack enjoyed romping in the rural setting with his recently acquired collie-German shepherd mix, Shep, the experience left its scars, too.
First came the fire that destroyed a neighbor’s home, leaving the children with recurring nightmares. Then came the accident that saw a neighbor boy chop off half of Jack’s left ring finger. The most jarring experience, though, came from city lawyers.In 1931, they received a foreclosure notice despite dutifully making every required payment on their contract for more than four years. Harry and Jesse were caught totally unaware. This was the second home they had bought on contract from the A.F. Smith Company. Who expected him to go bankrupt?
So, for the second time in four years, the Lehmers packed up and relocated, this time to a rental home in the city. It would be three years before they recovered enough financially to buy another home. In 1934 they moved to 2731 Third Avenue in Council Bluffs which would be their home for the final 25 years of their life together.Harry and Jessie were my grandparents and Jack is my father. I heard nothing of this story while my grandparents were alive but I suspect stories of foreclosure are making a resurgence these days.
Stories of home loss through foreclosure, natural disasters, condemnation and neglect are a sad but necessary part of our family histories. I hope none of you are adding your own chapters.
Writing tip for the day: Do you know the stories behind the homes in your family’s history?
Photo: Jack, Phyllis & Agnes Lehmer sit with their Uncle Warren Lehmer on steps of Harry & Jessie's home in Lewis Township near Council Bluffs, Iowa, in 1928 (W.B. Lehmer collection)