Abiel and Prudence Higley were early settlers to the Cedar Rapids area. They came first to Marion in 1841 and then moved to Cedar Rapids in 1842. Abiel died in 1842 leaving the widow Prudence with four sons and two daughters.
Their sons, Henry, Harvey, Mortimer and Wellington were instrumental in the commercial and residential growth of the city. Records show that Prudence Higley purchased the property at 860 17th Street SE as part of 160 acres bounded by 14th and 19th Streets and Bever Avenue and Mount Vernon Road SE. Henry and Harvey operated stage lines that reached Dubuque and Iowa City. Mortimer and Wellington were involved in real estate and hardware. The hardware store was located on 1st Street SE and was advertised as “the leading hardware store in the city”.
Wellington Higley served as treasurer of Oak Hill Cemetery for many years and was greatly interested in it’s beautification. Wellington and Mortimer were among the first stockholders in the Merchants National Bank. Wellington is credited with suggesting the name “Merchants National”. Mortimer served as president of Merchants National Bank for sixteen (16) years from 1883 to 1899. Motrimer also served as president for the Cedar Rapids Board of Education between 1882 and 1884. He was a memeber of the building committee that supervised the construction of the old Washinton High School at Fourth Avenue and Fifth Street SE.
Some of the homes of the Higley children have figured prominently in Cedar Rapids development. Higley daughter Louise married William Greene, brother of Judge George Greene. Their home occupied the entire double block at Fourth Avenue and Eighth Street SE later to be replaced by the Colonial Bakery. The Higley brothers built large homes on the corners of Fifth Avenue and Eighth Street SE. One was later used by the Barta-Hesser Funeral Home. Another was occupied by Dr. Wencil Ruml and his family. Dr Ruml donated it to become the Jane Boyd Community House and it was moved in halves to 1251 Tenth Street SE. Another home was replaced by a bottling plant.
Harvey Higley’s son, Elmer, was a real estate developer. Elmer developed portions of land that were a part of his grandmother Prudence’s original homestead. Harvey built the house at 860 17th Street SE that is known as Higley Mansion in 1908. The home was designed by Minneapolis architect Ernest Kennedy, a cousin of Mrs. Elmer Higley. Other Cedar Rapids homes designed by Kennedy include 2345 Linden Drive SE; 513 Vernon Drive SE; 1608 Mt. Vernon Road and directly across the street at 861 17th Street SE. Elmer also built the Higley Building in downtown Cedar Rapids at Third Avenue and Second Street SE; and the Granby Building across the street. Elmer was also one of the organizers that built the block formerly occupied by Killian’s Department Store and currently occupied by several smaller businesses.
The Higley family owned the property at 860 17th Street SE for nearly 100 years. In 1940 Otto Kohl bought the house. In 1966 the house was purchased and converted to an architects office by Crites and McConnell now known as McConnell-Stevely-Anderson Architects and Planners. The home is now owned by Higley Mansion Inc., an invester group, that has restored the house and added on an addition to form Higley Mansion Care Center.