Early History of the Albright 'Betsy Ross' House: 1858 to 1920


This page gives you an overview of the history of the house in Fort Madison, Iowa.

Construction of the Albright 'Betsy Ross' House was commissioned in 1857 by William G. and Jacob W. Albright from Reading, PA. The brothers operated the Albright Dry Goods & Notions store at 719 Avenue G for more than 50 years.

Patterned after a high-style design of noted Philadelphia architect, Samuel Sloan (from the 1852 plan book, The Model Architect), the house was completed in 1858 for a reported cost of $14,000 (documented in the legal Abstract of Title). At that time, its size and grandeur were reported to rival the Governor's mansion.

. Samuel Sloan's original house design, 1852

The building is constructed of unfired brick (walls are 3 courses thick) on a sandstone foundation. Missing now, but scheduled to be reapplied when refurbished, are 76 ornate cornice brackets arranged in pairs beneath the massive eaves at the roofline. It has been reported that each residence contained a total of 13 rooms and that both sides of the house were mirror images. The total space of the entire building exceeds 9,000 sq. ft.

Today, the floor plan of the east side residence remains very close to that of the original design.

Click the floorplan below to enlarge.

Original floorplan design

The house is 3 stories tall, although technically, the plan states that it is 2 stories with ceiling heights of 12 feet each for the first 2 floors and 7 feet for the third floor (bedrooms for the children, most likely).

Cooking was originally done in a basement kitchen, and food was transported up to the Butler's Pantry on the first floor via a dumb waiter. The food was then "plated" and served in the formal dining room. There is a somewhat hidden, service staircase that leads from the rear of the Butler's Pantry up to a bedroom on the 2nd floor that was probably a servant's or nanny's quarters.

Originally, two brick stables stood behind the house, and today there are still remnants of a herringbone-patterned brick courtyard that once joined the house and stables.


716 Avenue F

William G. Albright was married to Cynthia White, from Springfield, IL, and occupied the residence at 716 Ave. F. Click here to see pictures of these notable people.

Cynthia's father, Edward White, was one of the first settlers in Hancock County, IL and her grandfather, Peregrine White, was born on the Mayflower. Their children were: Harry A., Caroline, Phoebe, Grace, William Jr., Virginia, and Cynthia. The William Albright family lived at 716 Aveue F until around 1920 when they sold their residence.


718 Avenue F

Jacob W. Albright was married to Rachel Wilson, granddaughter of Betsy Ross. They lived in the residence at 718 Ave. F. Click here to see pictures of these notable people.

Their children were: Daniel K, Katie, and Jacob Jr.

Before locating in Fort Madison, Jacob lived in St. Louis and began production of the St. Louis Evening Herald, the first newspaper published west of the Mississippi River. In keeping with the talent for newspaper publishing, William and Jacob's brother, R. W. Albright, founded the Lee County Democrat in the 1840s.

When Rachel was a child in Philadelphia, she helped her grandmother Betsy Ross sew flags, and later duplicated the design of the original "circle-of-thirteen stars" flag as small replicas for sale and for special occasions. Sometime between 1858 and 1864, Betsy Ross's daughter and Rachel's mother, Clarissa Wilson, came from Philadelphia to live with the Albright's.

In 1905, at almost 93 years old, Rachel Albright sewed her final replica flag and donated it to St. Luke's Episcopal Church at 6th St. and Ave. E. Signed and dated by Rachel Wilson Albright, the flag remains there on display, preserved under glass.

Along with many other members of the Albright family, Rachel, her mother, Clarissa Wilson, and her twin sisters Sophia Wilson Hildebrandt and Elizabeth Wilson Campion, are buried in Fort Madison's oldest cemetery at 15th St. and Ave. H. There, you can find a large, granite marker set by the Jean Espy chapter of the D.A.R. commemorating the daughter and the granddaughters of Betsy Ross.

We would like to thank the following people for giving us access to personal pictures of their relatives:

  • Jane Folwell, great, great, granddaughter of William and Cynthia Albright
  • Kent Buehler, great, great, grandson of Jacob and Rachel Albright