SIOUX CITY | A Vinton, Iowa, jeweler named Bert M. Billis was sure he had won the keys to the Peirce Mansion when his winning raffle ticket was drawn on Dec. 24, 1900.
But just a few days later, Billis and the other 40,000 people who had bought a $1 chance to own the 21-room home discovered the real "winner" was millionaire New York threadmaker William Barbour.
The mansion had been sold to Barbour a week before the drawing by John Peirce, owner of the home and a successful Sioux City real estate developer. In order to make up for the fortune he had lost in an 1893 international recession, Peirce had scammed the 40,000 prospective homeowners and skipped town to Seattle.
It’s conceivable that the restored historic Victorian mansion at 2901 Jackson St. could have become something very different if it had fallen into the hands of another owner. People touring the home Sunday during an open house and ice cream social were left to ponder that scenario along with several other tidbits of information on display throughout the 1891 structure.
The Friends of the Peirce Mansion Restoration Committee, which hosted the open house, is a group of volunteers who began stripping wall panels, repairing drywall and painting the home in 2011.
“This is great. Somebody else buys the material and I do the work,” said Don Duzik, a recently retired Sioux City native who has volunteered for the group the past four years. “I’m interested in the history, and I like to see the old things Sioux City has preserved.”
The Peirce Mansion is owned by the city and operated by the Sioux City Public Museum, which supplies some of the funding needed to keep the home open to the public. The Junior League of Sioux City bought the home in 1958 for $10,000 and donated it to the city the next year.
The restoration committee is a completely self-sufficient body of volunteers who cover costs mostly by renting the home for parties, receptions and local business events.
The committee hosts three or four open houses annually, Duzik said Sunday as visitors milled around the mansion’s third-floor ballroom where he sat. The ballroom, where many events are held, is the committee’s largest renovation to date, and three second-floor rooms have been restored as a bride’s room, playroom and nursery.
“We had a tremendous turnout today,” Duzik said. “People are happy to see we’re keeping the place going. But it relies on the good auspices of the citizens of Sioux City to help us keep it open and running.”
David DeRoos, 16, of Sioux City, was among several touring the home they had wondered about many years ago as children. But it wasn’t DeRoos’ first time at the mansion.
He had been there on a fourth-grade field trip, during a Boy Scout outing and to sing Christmas carols with Siouxland Youth Chorus, DeRoos said as he doctored up his cup of ice cream.
“It’s just a neat place and has a neat history,” he said. “It’s all from 1891, and they had all sorts of old artifacts archaeologists found. There’s just a whole bunch of awesome, neat stuff that happens here. It’s really cool.”
The Peirce Mansion is available for weddings, receptions, parties, reunions, meetings, dances and other events.