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Turner & Linge Mortuaries

The Turner Mortuary was a successful and growing business in Cedar Rapids, and in 1923, the business needed a new and larger location. Because Robert Sinclair was moving his family to Indiana, the former Douglas and Sinclair family residence was available for purchase. In early 1924, John Turner and his son, David Turner, began work on expanding and renovating the mansion.


The Turners hired both artist Grant Wood and architect Bruce McKay to oversee the conversion of the home into a mortuary. Changes to the mansion were extensive. The former dining room on the first floor was expanded to create a large funeral chapel for services. This was highlighted with a three sided bay window consisting of colored glass selected by Wood while on a visit to Germany. The window provided appropriate lighting for deceased’s casket during funeral services.


Presumably under Wood and McKay's direction, an ornamental clerestory window that was part of an exterior wall of the first floor dining room was relocated to the expanded second floor and placed on an exterior wall facing Second Avenue SE.


The expanded second floor included an embalming laboratory and a retail show room for funerary products such caskets. The former bedrooms on the second floor were converted into small visitation rooms. The signature "round room" became an office with an appropriately comfortable setting for David Turner.


Meanwhile, the first floor library of the original 1897 home soon became an art gallery showcasing works by Grant Wood and continued to be so for decades to come. The old music room on the main staircase landing was preserved in its historic state.


In partial payment for his work on the conversion of the home, Wood was offered the opportunity to convert the hayloft in the carriage house along the alley into a studio and home for him, his sister, Nan, and their mother, Hattie. The Turners understood that financial challenges were an ongoing issue for Wood and so became full-fledged patrons of the artist’s work to allow him to focus on his passion and talent. In 1930, Wood would paint “American Gothic,” arguably the most famous painting ever created in the United States, in the studio provided by the Turners. As Wood became more prolific and famous, the Turners continued to purchase many of his paintings and display them in the main entrance vestibule and library of the funeral home. In 1972, 84 original Grant Wood paintings were given to the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art by the Turner family.


The new Turner Mortuary opened to the public in December 1924. In 1925, the Turners recognized many mourners could not hear the words of the ministers or the music during services in the larger chapel space. They determined to develop a sound amplification system that would be effective for a funeral home environment. Thus was born the Turner Microphone Company in Cedar Rapids. The very first Turner Microphone Company "factory" was in a third floor closet of the funeral home. More orders came in for Turner's innovation and soon business boomed. Eventually, a large Turner Microphone factory, which employed over 150 people by 1946, was established in a building at 909 17th Street NE.


In 1934, an organ was installed in the Turner Funeral Home. It was placed near the elevator just off the main chapel. It still exists today and is operational.


Expansion of the facility occurred again in the mid-1950s. John B. Turner II, son of David, was now presiding over the funeral home and oversaw the work. A second floor was added above the rear porte cochere, allowing for new offices to be added as an expansion of the music room of the original house. The second story addition also allowed for a larger and more modern embalming laboratory and expanded retail area for caskets and other funerary products. The entire house was modernized with new paint and mint green carpet. In 1957, an adjacent property was acquired at 820 Second Avenue SE. Structures were removed and a new parking lot was created for the Turners’ business.


In 1978, the Turners made the decision to sell the business to the Linge family, operators of Cedar Memorial Cemetery, Funeral, and Cremation Services in the 4200 block of First Avenue NE since 1928. The Linges invested in a detailed renovation of the property in 1982. An effort was made to recreate the interior look of the mansion from its early days as a home for the Douglas and Sinclair families. Improvements included extensive new carpeting, draperies, paint, and antique furnishings, all under the supervision of David Linge.  


Funeral services at the location ceased in 2004, the same year restoration was complete on 5 Turner Alley, the former carriage house and art studio residence of Grant Wood. The Grant Wood Studio came under the operation and care of the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art at this time and the property was legally separated from the funeral home structure.


The Linge family maintained the facility and it was used for several years as an event space. Following the 2008 flooding of Cedar Rapids, the Linges provided space within the former funeral home for displaced organizations including Theatre Cedar Rapids. The property was put up for sale by the Linges in 2012. The History Center took ownership of this property in late 2014 and moved into the refurbished home in the fall of 2018.


The Douglas Mansion is more than the home of The History Center. It is also an essential artifact in the organization’s collection—one that helps The History Center preserve and share the story of Linn County.

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