The University of Iowa

Historic home houses one of the UI’s diamonds


Dey House


The Dey House, home to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, is one of several historic homes adapted for reuse as academic or administrative space by the University. Peter A. Dey, who brought the railroad to Iowa City in 1855, had commissioned the house to convince his fiancé to move west from New York City and join him here. The University purchased the house in 1923, but the Writers’ Workshop has only been in the house since 1997. Prior to that, the Workshop occupied many settings, finding its first home in a barracks on the banks of the Iowa River in 1936. Through the years, noted writers, including Frank Conroy, John Irving, Flannery O’Connor, Phillip Roth, Jane Smiley, Kurt Vonnegut, and Marilynne Robinson, have participated in the Writers’ Workshop as both students and faculty. Today, the house represents he core of a writer’s community, making Iowa City an epicenter for top writing talent.

The Dey House has been expanded since its original construction, most notably with the addition of an ornate hall and staircase in the 1870s

Facing Clinton Street, the Italianate design is fronted by a porch with clusters of four colonettes that splinter the light, creating a lively pattern of shade on the building’s eastern face. Above, a hip roof with cast iron fretwork and widow’s walk supports Dey’s contention that, although Iowa City was far west of New York, it was not lacking in civilization. The Dey House has been expanded since its original construction, most notably with the addition of an ornate hall and staircase in the 1870s. While respected the original house as the front door to the Writers’ Workshop, the 2006 addition nearly doubled the programmed square footage.

The Glenn Schaeffer Library wing is pulled back from Clinton Street, creating a backdrop for the original structure. Its quiet street front, however, transitions to an expressive, contemporary Prairie Style Revival that takes maximum advantage of its setting above the Iowa River valley. The use of natural materials and the expensive glass facing west are anchored by a limestone base that grows from the natural bluff. Clerestory windows and shed roofs suggest a visual pun on the literary workshop concept. The main spaces inside the addition are a large, vaulted-ceiling library and public reading room where the more than four thousand volumes written by Workshop graduates and faculty are on display. The room is named in memoriam to Frank Conroy, the Workshop’s director from 1987 to 2005.

Editor's Note:  "Architecture 101" is an introduction to the architecture of the University of Iowa campus and some of the history of a handful of its buildings. New chapters will be added weekly beginning in mid-June and through the fall.  All installments of Architecture 101 are excerpts from the second edition of the book, "The University of Iowa Guide to Campus Architecture," by John Beldon Scott and Rodney P. Lehnertz. The guide was published for the Office of the President by the University of Iowa Press and will be available for purchase in late summer/early fall 2016.