Our Story


Since 1884, Brucemore has been a fixture in Iowa history. Learn about the people who lived and work on the estate, the buildings and landscape, and the efforts to build a Midwest community.

1884 – 1906

Sinclair Era


Caroline Soutter Sinclair, the estate’s first owner, built the mansion between 1884 and 1886 as a home for her six children. Initially called the “Sinclair Mansion” or “Fairhome,” the estate symbolized the development of Cedar Rapids as an industrial center.

Caroline’s three-story, 21-room home was built on ten acres of land. Located two miles from downtown, the home provided the benefits of country living for her children.


Thomas McElderry (T.M.) and Caroline Sinclair moved to Cedar Rapids in 1871 as newlyweds. The couple moved so that T.M. could expand a successful family meatpacking business by opening his own plant in Cedar Rapids. The company, T. M. Sinclair & Co. quickly became one of the largest employers in the area, the largest meatpacking plant in Iowa, and the fourth largest in the world.

In 1881, an unfortunate accident at the plant lead to T.M.’s death. While the young widow Caroline took care of their family and oversaw construction on the estate that would become Brucemore, her brother Charles kept T.M.’s business running. T.M. Sinclair & Co. continued in operation until 1930 when operations were assumed by Wilson & Co., and later Farmstead Foods.


Built between 1884 and 1886, Caroline Sinclair’s mansion made quite an impression—and not just because of the $55,000 price tag. The house sat on top of a long slope facing the main route into town, confidently demonstrating, in both size and style, the Sinclair family’s status in the community.

Caroline commissioned an Indianapolis architect, Maximillian Allardt, to design a home for her and her children. However, during construction, Allardt returned to Indianapolis to be with his daughter who had fallen ill.

Local architects Henry Josselyn and Eugene Taylor finished the project, constructing a four-story, 21-room, Queen-Anne style mansion on the ten-acre site—or, as the local newspaper described it, “the grandest house west of Chicago.”


When Caroline Sinclair began building her home in 1884, the property was in the countryside beyond Cedar Rapids’ city limits. Timber, prairie, and farmland surrounded the estate. Positioned on ten acres of land, the new residence provided opportunities to engage with popular ideas about the benefits of outdoor living.

During the 19th century, people idealized the fresh air, scenery, and inherent morality of rural settings in contrast to the increasingly industrialized and crowded cities. The Sinclairs were among many wealthy and middle-class families who moved from cities to the countryside. Well-tended country farmsteads represented an ideal of bygone days.

The Help

Caroline Sinclair’s mansion was designed for a family as well as a team of servants. Approximately one-third of the home is dedicated to service areas. These spaces include the servants’ staircase, kitchen, butler’s pantry, dining room, bedrooms, and bathrooms. With simple and relatively inexpensive décor, these spaces are distinct from the rest of the house.

An 1880 census lists Eliza Brown, Anna Dustal, Mary McCord, and Mary O’Connor as servants working in the Sinclair household. Likely, their jobs involved cleaning the home, preparing and serving food, and caring for the six Sinclair children, among other duties.

1906 – 1937

Douglas Era


In 1906, George and Irene Douglas traded homes with Caroline Sinclair and moved onto the estate with their daughters, Margaret and Ellen. A third daughter, Barbara, was born two years later.

The Douglas family transformed Brucemore and made it a warm and lively home for their young family. They increased the size of the estate from 10 to 33 acres and gave Brucemore its name, drawing on George Bruce Douglas’ middle name and his Scottish heritage.


George Bruce Douglas and his family played significant roles in the industrial development of Cedar Rapids. George’s father, George Douglas Sr. founded the Douglas and Stuart cereal company, which later merged to become The Quaker Oats Company. While George Bruce Douglas got his start in business at his father’s cereal company, he made a name for himself when he started a partnership with his brother, Walter. In 1894, George and Walter formed Douglas & Company, which produced linseed oil.

In 1903, the brothers shifted focus, forming the Douglas Starch Works, which produced cooking starch and oil, laundry starch, animal feed, soap stock, and industrial starches. This successful enterprise was a major employer in Cedar Rapids until an accident occurred on May 22, 1919. A small fire caused an explosion, leveling portions of the plant, damaging buildings throughout the city, and taking the lives of 43 people. Incredibly, the plant reopened after it was purchased in 1920 by Penick and Ford. Today, the company continues as Ingredion, Inc.


In 1906, George and Irene Douglas moved into the mansion having traded homes with Caroline Sinclair. The Douglas family undertook the process of upgrading and renovating the property in favor of the newly popular Craftsman style. The Douglas family expanded the property to 33 acres, more than tripling its original 10 acres. The Douglases also moved the entrance of the grounds and added a pond, formal garden, carriage house, servants’ duplex, and greenhouse.


The Douglas family made a series of significant changes that transformed Brucemore into a model country estate. They expanded the acreage to add many of the physical features still visible today.

The Douglas family hired landscape architect O.C. Simonds to enhance the property. Simonds embraced a philosophy of prairie landscape design that celebrated plantings as they exist in nature through a series of “outdoor rooms” and vistas.

The Help

During the Douglas era, Brucemore was a growing estate that required a team of servants. Four or five people worked inside the mansion for most of this period, while other servants tended to the estate’s large grounds.

In the early 20th century, servants tended to move from job to job fairly quickly, rarely staying in the same household for long. Growing industries, like the T.M. Sinclair & Co. and Douglas Starch Works, provided servants with other employment opportunities. Most staff at Brucemore stayed for less than five years. However, a few servants stayed for many years and left behind robust records of their lives on the estate.

1937 – 1981

The Hall Era


Margaret and Howard Hall, the last residents of the mansion at Brucemore, brought a modern sense of style and a whimsical spirit to the estate. A pet lion, the Tahitian Room, and the Grizzly Bar cemented their place in Cedar Rapids folklore.

Their philanthropic nature and influence on the industrial development of the community is evident today. Margaret, with her husband Howard Hall, Howard’s sister and her husband, Irene and Beahl Perrine, and his mother Margaret Lamey Hall, added to their legacy. The Hall and Perrine family’s philanthropic leadership can still be felt today at:

  • The Hall-Perrine Cancer Center at Mercy Medical Center
  • The Hall-Perrine Foundation
  • Brucemore, which Margaret donated to the National Trust for Historic Preservation for the benefit of the community in 1981


Howard Hall began his business career at Commercial National Bank. Moving to Cedar Rapids at age 24, Howard would use this starting point to develop a manufacturing career that would bring industry and world-wide recognition to Cedar Rapids.

In 1919, Howard and his friend and business partner, John Jay, purchased a controlling interest in the Carmody Foundry. They renamed the company Iowa Steel and Iron Works with Howard as president. Three years later, John suggested they purchase several buildings on 16th Street NE. They incorporated the former Bertschey Engineering Company as Iowa Manufacturing Company in 1923. Road modernization was in high demand, and their decision to manufacture paving equipment proved a sound investment.


In 1937, Irene Douglas bequeathed Brucemore to her eldest daughter, Margaret. At the time, Margaret and her husband, Howard Hall, had been living in the guest house on the property. When the two moved into the “big house,” they slowly made changes to update the home and add their whimsical mark to the estate.


The Halls used Brucemore and its grounds in different ways than their predecessors. The landscape served more as a background for their lives and reflected the fact that they were a childless couple who engaged in fewer activities on the grounds of the estate.

They sold off several acres to the north adjacent to the First Avenue driveway and several acres bordering Forest Drive. This reduced the 33-acre estate to its present size of 26 acres.

The Help

When Margaret and Howard Hall moved into the mansion in 1937, live-in domestic servants were becoming increasingly rare. Household staffs shrank as new technologies and changing expectations meant that housewives took on much of the work servants had performed. However, the Halls continued to employ a team to help run Brucemore. The hired help during this time included a head housekeeper, cook, houseman, and chauffeur. Sometimes, the last two positions were combined.

In 1981, Margaret Hall passed away and left her home to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. At the time, three servants still lived and worked at Brucemore. Margaret was careful to ensure that these employees were able to continue living on the property for as long as they chose. After enjoying retirement and living on the estate, the last of Brucemore’s hired help passed away nearly 30 years after Margaret’s final gift.

History FAQ

Why did Caroline Sinclair build her new home so far from the city? Had she and T. M. Sinclair discussed the new residence?

We do not know the reasons behind Caroline’s retreat to the country outside of the Cedar Rapids city limits. We do know that the property was purchased by Caroline herself in 1884 and that her property was next to the home of her brother Robert Soutter.

How many lions were there and when did they live?

Based on the information we have in letters and photographs, there were three lions, all named Leo. The fact that they share the same name makes things a little confusing, and since some letters are not dated and have to be given rough dates by examining context, some details are left to our best interpretation.

  • Leo I (c. 1936): The Halls did have a lion when living in the Garden House, their home prior to the mansion. A letter written by Howard to Margaret while she was traveling mentions that “Leo – Pepper (pet monkey) + Max put on a continuous show whenever I am home.” The cause of Leo I’s death is unknown.
  • Leo II (1937-1950): The Leo buried in the pet cemetery has the birth and death dates of 1937 and 1950, respectively. Since this lion lived to adulthood, he is the one seen in most of the Halls’ photos and home movies.
  • Leo III (1951): In addition to the page of photos Margaret saved of Leo III, a letter to Howard from Billy Richards, Vice President of the World Jungle Compound, dated April 13, 1951, mentions arranging the shipment of a cub.
When were there lions living at Brucemore?
  • Roughly 1936 to 1951. There is no documented arrival date for the first Leo, but the Halls were living in the Garden House when the first lion arrived.
  • There is better documentation of the last lion at Brucemore. A page from one of Margaret’s scrapbooks is dedicated to “Leo III” in which she notes that Leo III arrived in Cedar Rapids on May 9, 1951 (age 7 weeks) and died August 1951.
  • Dr. Anthony, the Halls’ veterinarian, claimed he never worked on a Brucemore lion after he started his practice in 1954. So we can be reasonably sure that there were no lions at Brucemore by 1954.
Where did the lions live?
  • The first lion cub seems to have lived for at least some time in the Garden House basement, according to oral histories.
  • Leo II lived behind the Carriage House in a special run. The lean-to area behind the Visitor Center was part of Leo’s quarters, and there was a cage built in front of the chicken coop. He may have spent the winters in the Carriage House basement.
  • We do not know if Leo spent any time living in the mansion. If he did, he most likely stayed in the basement. To the best of our knowledge, none of the lions ran loose on the grounds without supervision.
How did Brucemore get its name?
  • According to an oral tradition, it is a combination of the middle name of the second owner of the estate, George Bruce Douglas, and an allusion to the moors of Scotland. There were no “Brucemores.” Under the original owner, Caroline Sinclair, the estate was called the “Sinclair Mansion” and “Fairhome.”
What did Ellen and Barbara get after Irene Douglas died? Were they upset that Margaret got Brucemore?
  • Ellen received Irene’s membership in the Chicago Club at Charlevoix, Michigan. This included her mother’s home on the club grounds and all its furnishings. Barbara received other property on Lake Michigan near Charlevoix. This included five cabins and furnishings.
  • When Irene died, Margaret was the only one of the three daughters still living in Cedar Rapids. Ellen lived in Chicago and Barbara lived in California. It is likely that family members long expected Margaret to inherit the property; after all, she was the oldest. In a letter to Margaret written shortly after Irene’s death, Ella McDannel, formerly the family nanny, commented, “will you be moving over to the big house – Of course I knew it was to be yours.”
I remember hearing lions roaring in this part of Cedar Rapids after 1954 – are you sure the Halls didn’t have any after that?
  • A letter written by one of Howard’s friends in 1954 mentions that “Leo is no longer at Brucemore.” Reportedly Howard played some role in helping Bever Park acquire a lion. Margaret made several entries in her 1969 diary that refer to this lion, named “Lou.” Given the proximity of Bever Park to Brucemore, people who heard roars at this time most likely heard “Lou.”