Does this house look familiar?
It should, because it is the model for the house in the second most recognized painting in the world!
American Gothic, perhaps the most parodied painting ever, was created by artist Grant Wood in 1930. The subject appears to be a bit sinister (or “Gothic”), but Wood had a sense of humor and the painting was intended to be a satire of rural small-town life. The woman was modeled after his sister, Nan, and the stern looking man was modeled after his dentist, of all people.
The house, yes indeed, was modeled after a real house that Grant Wood came across during his travels in the small town of Eldon, Iowa.
He saw the house only twice in his lifetime; the day he found it and the following day when he returned to make a sketch of it (pictured below)…
He later completed the famous painting at his art studio in Cedar Rapids.
The American Gothic house not only still stands, it is an old house museum so you can go and visit it to take some silly pictures of your own!
The house is a simple, white, board-and-batten-sided Carpenter Gothic style farmhouse with an arched window in the gables of each end of its steeply-pitched roof.
On the backside of the house, there is a covered porch and the second arched Gothic window…
Here’s some historical background on the house…
It was originally built in 1881-82 by Civil War veteran Charles Dribble and his wife Catharine. They lived for many years in the 504 square foot house with their eight children. (The back ell was added later; what you see below is the original part of the house.)
The home remained a private residence until 1991 when it was donated to the State Historical Society of Iowa. The Society then rented out the house to tenants who were the caretakers of the house so it was kept-up for the many visitors seeking a photo op of the iconic façade. The home was rented privately until 2014.
The last tenant-caretaker was famed author/blogger and pie-maker, Beth M. Howard. You can visit her blog here to read some of the adventures she had while living in the American Gothic house for four years.
Since 2014, the house has been uninhabited but the exterior is maintained for tourists as part of the historic site (the home was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974) and includes a separate visitor’s center as well.
The interior of the small house is not often open to the public these days, but House Crazy Sarah was able to find some great pictures of the inside on Beth Howard’s wonderful blog.
The lower floor of the house contains three rooms (kitchen, living room, dining room) and now a bathroom, although that was a modern add-on and not original to the 1880’s house.
It was actually Beth who painted the kitchen cupboards cherry red. She baked thousands of her famous pies right here in this little kitchen and sold them to hungry tourists.
The bathroom is teeny-tiny and barely functional, but Beth made it work for four years!
The upper floor has two conjoined bedrooms and of course, those famous Gothic windows.
Below is the front-facing Gothic window in front of which all the pictures are taken…
The back window folds open so that furniture can be hoisted in (the staircase is too narrow to use for moving furniture).
House Crazy Sarah thinks the Historical Society needs to up their game and put some period furnishings in there and have it open daily for tours!
Today the visitor center welcomes about 15,000 visitors to the site a year. The guests are encouraged to dress up and ham it up in front of the house for some amazing souvenir photos.
Old Mr. and Mrs. Dribble are either turning over in their graves, or ecstatic beyond the heavens that their demure little family home has become an international icon.
This one is definitely on House Crazy Sarah’s bucket list!