Housing a family legacy

Levi Lee Northrup and his sons constructed beautiful homes and founded countless projects in the community. Many of the homes remain, including one on the National Register of Historic Places.



May 24, 2021 - 8:59 AM

The Lewis Northrup home graces the National Register of Historic Places. Photo by Trevor Hoag / Iola Register

What makes a house a home is memory.

Whether log cabin, wood frame, brick or native stone, such materials activate and retain an imprint of those who dwell within them.

Historical photo of Levi Northrup.Photo by Trevor Hoag / Iola Register

Those memories may again be called forth, urged from the surrounds, so that the story of a life might manifest in all its glory.

For instance, when Levi Lee Northrup came to Allen County in 1858, perhaps he never would have imagined the mark he’d one day leave behind.

However, between the breathtakingly beautiful homes constructed by Northrup and his sons, and the countless other projects funded by his bank (such as the MoPac line, natural gas fields and Presbyterian Church), it’s not an exaggeration to say that the Northrups built Iola.

They therefore provided myriad spaces for its memory to be housed and grow.

Just west of Lewis Northrup’s house is a home constructed for his mother, Mary.Photo by Trevor Hoag / Iola Register

Levi Lee Northup’s rise, however, was an unlikely one.

Born in New York in 1818, his mother died when he was only two years old. His father also wasn’t in the picture, so he was raised to adulthood by his uncle.

Despite having little money or education, Northrup eventually came into his own, and started wool manufacturing businesses in both New York and Indiana, but in an incredible run of bad luck, both his factories burned down.

Looking to start again, he relocated to Geneva, Allen County, in 1858, bringing with him general store goods and the materials for a saw mill.

According to the Register’s archives, “the mill was brought in according to contract and set upon the banks of Indian Creek. Northrup also started a store in the village.”

However, after it was apparent that Iola rather than Geneva would become a city, Northrup moved south, and at the time when the Civil War had begun ramping up, set up the city’s first bank on the west side of the square (where the Masonic Temple building sits).

The original safe weighed over 6,000 pounds, and had a time lock feature similar to the one that foiled the Dalton Gang when they attempted to simultaneously rob two banks in Coffeyville.

Against all odds, Northrup’s bank was one of the few to survive the financial calamity of 1873, and continued growing until, by 1900, it became a national bank that served all of southeast Kansas.

Just west of Mary Northrup’s house is a home constructed by Frank Northrup.Photo by Trevor Hoag / Iola Register

When in 1896, L.L. eventually died from a nasty flu-like illness, all of Iola suspended business in mourning.