The next time you’re driving up Davenport’s Brady Street hill, watching for any Palmer students ducking across the street, take a moment to glance to your left.
In 1912, the eccentric B.J. Palmer, known as the developer of chiropractic care, bought an elegant mansion so he could live near where he was expanding what is now Palmer College of Chiropractic.
Today, only the top of the mansion is visible from the street because Palmer, in 1921-22, wrapped an enclosed, 140-foot-long porch around the entire front to create room for entertaining.
Later, the porch provided a showcase for the treasures and oddities that he and his wife Mabel picked up on three trips around the world. Examples: an umbrella stand made out of elephant’s feet, ancient gongs, Buddha statues and a bison head.
While the porch radically changed the appearance of the house, it also is the reason the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. As built in 1874 and redecorated in 1905 by the William D. Petersen family (owners of what are now the Von Maur department stores), the mansion itself is merely a beautiful house.
What makes the building nationally important is that the porch was added by Palmer, a significant historical figure. He and the chiropractic profession put a stamp on the Quad-Cities that remains to this day, with influence around the world.
Palmer also saw the opportunities of radio and television broadcasting, establishing an empire that began with owning and operating WOC, the first commercial radio station west of the Mississippi River. In its early days, WOC broadcasts originated from the mansion’s porch.
The alterations reflect Palmer’s “peculiar personality, disassociation from the traditional taste of Davenport elite,” according to the nomination for National Register listing. “Viewed in this light, the addition is significant in its own right rather than an alteration.”
In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the home’s purchase, Palmer historians invite the public to come for a visit. The first floor of the house is open for tours at 11:10 a.m. every Friday when college classes are in session, and also by appointment. The cost is $5.