Every time John Ruckauf walks up the oak staircase of his Rock Island home, he imagines all the people who put their feet on the same steps before him.
The house he shares with his wife, Kathy Wahlgren Ruckauf, turned 125 years old this year, so its stairs have felt a lot of footfalls.
In celebration of the home's history, the couple threw a 125th birthday celebration in September, encouraging family, friends and neighbors to dress in costume "as a good way to bring in the community," Ruckauf said.
Winning first place was a friend who dressed in the "steampunk" genre that combines the Victorian look of the Industrial Revolution (hence "steam") with a futuristic twist (hence "punk.") Features included a vest, cowboy hat with s feather and several belts.
The fact that the couple drew such an interesting character from the neighborhood is a main reason they moved from Davenport to Rock Island.
"My experience with this part of the Quad-Cities compared with Davenport is that this definitely has a more eclectic character," said Ruckauf, who is a lieutenant colonel with the First Army, headquartered on Arsenal Island.
Other draws included the age and history of the home and its walkable distance to the downtown with restaurants, breweries and other attractions.
The home is located in the Broadway Historic District, built in 1892 and used — quite uncommonly — for most of its life as a rental property, beginning with the upper-crust Samuel S. Davis, a founder of a power company, and Apollonia Weyerhauser, daughter of lumber baron Frederick Weyerehauser.
By the 1920s, the home had become a boarding house for Rock Island Arsenal employees and, through the years, multiple families lived in the home simultaneously. Ruckauf points to a remnant of that time — a round Yale keyhole in one of the downstairs pocket doors that apparently separated one apartment from another.
As with many homes that experienced heavy use, the home eventually became rundown and by the 1980s, it was on the city's demolition list. It was saved by a couple who bought it for $1,000 and, in 1990, started restoration, including a new roof.
In the years since then, other sets of owners have made their considerable marks. New mechanicals were installed. The front porch was rebuilt and the entire exterior was repainted in a multi-color scheme of gray-blue, trimmed in black and white and accented with burgundy red.
The kitchen and butler's pantry in back were rebuilt. New oak floors were installed. A first floor bathroom was added. A fifth (yes, fifth) bedroom on the second floor was turned into a giant laundry. A two-story garage was built in the back.
The third floor attic was completely finished with painted drywall and carpet, and a bathroom and wet bar area including a sink, refrigerator and coffeemaker were installed, making this space its own suite for visitors. Ruckauf and his wife also use the area as "a place to watch football," Ruckauf said.
Standing at the back of the attic, Ruckauf can look through the entire depth of the home to the front. "You really get a sense (standing here) of the Victorians with their pitches and angles," Ruckauf said of the roofline.
The Ruckaufs bought the home in April, and so far their main job has been to furnish it. At just over 3,000 square feet, the home consumes furniture.
New purchases have included a black table with chairs for the dining room. They also have a black bookshelf and writing desk in the front parlor.
And throughout, they have placed numerous paintings, photos and accessories that speak to their travels. Ruckauf's last assignment was in South Korea, so there are several pieces with an Asian flavor, including a tea set from Vietnam, his family's homeland.
They do have a couple of exterior projects in their list. They already have replicated replacement corbels (brackets) for the front porch and a decorative metal rail called cresting for the roof.
Coming up next, they want to create a decorative wood header for one of the front windows and rebuild, using an old photo as their guide, a side porch.