History of Museum

History of Museum

One of Iowa's finest examples of Italianate architecture.

The Rensselaer Russell House gracefully overlooks the Grout Museum District. This lovely brick structure, inhabited by three generations of the Russell family, is one of the oldest homes in Black Hawk County.

Rensselaer Russell, the son of an immigrant carpenter, traveled to Waterloo from New York with his wife and daughter in 1857. He worked in banking and real estate. At age 33, he purchased the block, which later became known as Russell Square, for $750.

Rensselaer and Caroline Russell built the house in 1861 for $5,878.83. As the Grout Museum District's largest artifact, it has been restored to the 1890s — the period when electricity was added to the home. In an era of gracious living, the Rensselaer Russell house was the showplace of the community. An 1889 Steinway grand piano, one of the first grand pianos in the area, was the center of many gatherings, and is the jewel of the Russell family collection.

Highlights in the home include: a classic Victorian interior, original family belongings and the 1889 Steinway Grand Piano. The piano was one of the first grand pianos in the area. Lillian Russell loved music. As an adult, she studied piano in Chicago and later gave piano lessons to others. In 1993, the piano was sent to Steinway and Company in New York City for restoration.