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 fiancée 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, famed writers, including Frank Conroy, John Irving, Flannery O’Connor, Phillip Roth, Jane Smiley, and Kurt Vonnegut, have participated in the Writers’ Workshop as both students and faculty. Today, the house represents the core of a writer’s community, making Iowa City an epicenter for top writing talent.
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 though 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 respecting the original house as the front door to the Writers’ Workshop, the 2006 addition nearly doubles 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 expansive glass facing west are anchored by a limestone base that grows from the bluffs of the Iowa River. 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.
The building has limited access to persons with disabilities. This building is an historic former residence that has been modified for purposes of accessibility to the extent possible. Wheelchair access is restricted to the main level of the building.