Funded in part  by the Iowa  Arts Council, a  division of the  Iowa Department of Cultural  Affairs  and th
National Endowment for  the Arts


American Alliance of Museums


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LAURA MUSSER (1877-1964)

Laura Musser was born November 23, 1877 in Muscatine to Peter C. and Tamson Rhodes Musser. In November of 1903 she married Edwin L. McColm, president and owner of McColm and Company, Muscatine’s leading dry goods store. In 1908 Mr. and Mrs. McColm and her father moved into the mansion at 1314 Mulberry Avenue. Laura always retained ownership of the residence; however in 1938,  five years after Edwin McColm’s death, she married William T. Atkins of Kansas City, Missouri. Except for frequent trips back to Muscatine she resided in Kansas City until her death in 1964 at the age of 87.

The death of Laura Musser began the chain of events that provided Muscatine with an art gallery and museum. Her heirs, Mary Catherine McWhirter, a step-daughter, and Mary Musser Gilmore, a niece, donated the home and grounds to the city in her memory. A $100,000.00 endowment fund was also given by them to assist in the mansion’s maintenance.


The gift of the Musser Mansion in 1965 by the heirs of Laura Musser, to be used as a memorial art gallery and museum was the beginning of an art museum facility in Muscatine.

The Musser Mansion was designed by Muscatine architect Henry W. Zeidler and completed by Peter Musser in 1908 for his daughter Laura and her husband Edwin L. McColm. Built in the Edwardian style, the mansion contains twelve rooms flanking a generous central hall on the first and second floors. Architectural details including mantelpieces, stained glass windows, woodwork, light fixtures and hardware are distinctive examples of the period. An elevator provides access to all levels.

As you enter the mansion you will see a portrait of Laura Musser (oil on canvas) painted c.1907 by Tris Meran, a French artist, after a photograph taken of her at age 29 (1906).


As was common in other interiors of the early 20th century, the Musser dining room expresses a horizontal emphasis through the use of a lower ceiling and wide flat woodwork. The box-beamed ceiling, now returned to its original varnished oak surface, is also reflective of the Craftsman-style. The high wooden wainscots are another characteristic feature of dining rooms of this period. The wallpaper chosen, called "thistle" replicates a design by British theorist and designer William Morris. Visitors will note that the overall effect is much darker, this is because of the once widely held belief that dark interiors in dining rooms aided in digestion.


The library's focal point is the leaded glass bookcases, which are original to the mansion. Many of the books are rare first editions, some signed by the author and given to Laura Musser as gifts.


Laura Musser was an accomplished musician. In 1921 she purchased the Estey Player Pipe Organ (built in 1919) for $10,500 and added the Music Room to accommodate it. A fifteen square foot room screened by a wooden grill behind the organ, houses the 731 pipes, 11 manual ranks, 2 pedal ranks, plus chimes and an unusual glass harp. The organ can be played both manually and automatically. About 200 player rolls in the collection include classics and popular tunes of the 1920s and 30s. The player mechanism is essentially a computer and runs on air pressure (from a bellows) generated in a blower and generator structure, about 5 feet by 8 feet in dimension, which is housed in the basement beneath the organ.


The reception room was traditionally the room of the home to which visitors were first escorted by a maid or butler. Here they would wait to be formally "received" by the lady or the gentleman of the house.


The second floor of the Musser Mansion originally accommodated a master bedroom suite including a wardrobe room, two guest bedrooms, three servants rooms, a sleeping porch in back, and a sun porch over the porte-cochere, plus bathrooms. Some structural changes have been made to facilitate gallery space for museum collections and changing exhibitions, a reference library and conference room.


The furnishings in the Sarah Eaker Hughes Memorial Bedroom (formerly the master bedroom) were given and perpetuated by an endowment bequest from the late Alice Dodge Schaeffer of Davenport. Mrs. Hughes, her aunt, lived at 715 West Third Street in Muscatine. The home had been built in 1852 and torn down in 1937 when the Robert Jackson family built a new house on the location.

The furnishings are of the Empire Period and include a bed, dresser, sofa and drop leaf table of mahogany. Mrs. Schaeffer’s bequest and endowment made possible certain remodeling to suggest a Victorian ambiance of c.1850-60.