Middle History of the Albright 'Betsy Ross' House: 1920 to 1999


This page gives you an overview of the history of the house in Fort Madison, Iowa, beginning with the purchase of the residence at 716 Ave. F by the Americus L. Gates family in the 1920s, and by the American Legion, Post 82 (the residence at 718 Ave. F), also in the 1920s.

The Gates family owned the 716 side from 1920s until the 1980s, and the American Legion owned the 718 side from 1920s to the 1950s, then sold it to Lee County where it was used for general office purposes until the 1970s. Then the ownership of the entire building went to an heir of the Gates family until it was sold in 1985.

The portion of the building owned by the American Legion was gutted and extensively renovated, so it bears no resemblance to the original floorplan of 1858. However, the residence at 716 Avenue F is still very much as it was originally.

Because we have no pictures of the inside of the house during those years, we can only share some interesting history we have learned of its inhabitants.

The last known residential occupants were Dr. & Mrs. Robert (Aileen Gates) Mustell, who are reported to have lived in the house in the 1960s to early-mid 1970s. Toni Darnay, a daughter of the Mustells, inherited the house but died in 1983.

Members, relatives, and descendants of the Gates family include:

  • Americus L. Gates, and his wife Mercy K. Gates, owners.
  • Daughters Helen and Aileen.
  • Eleanor Gates, cousin and author of the book "Poor Little Rich Girl" (1913), which was made into a movie in 1917 starring Mary Pickford, and again in 1936, starring Shirley Temple.
  • Toni Darnay (real name, Mercy Mustell Hoffman Morrison, daughter of Aileen), actress who starred in the soap operas "As The World Turns" from 1963-1965, "The Edge of Night" from 1965 to 1966, was featured in the 1977 movie "Eleanor and Franklin: the White House Years," and nominated in 1976 for a Tony award (Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play) for her role in "The Heiress." (See the Internet Broadway Database).
  • James Ringling, Jr. (related to the famous circus founders), who was married to the sister of Toni Darnay, Aileen Gates Mustell, and lived high up in the bluffs above Fort Madison until his death in 2005.
  • Darnay Robert Hoffman, son of Toni Darnay, who was a well known NY attorney, previously involved with the "NY Subway Vigilante" case and the Jon Benet Ramsey murder case. Mr. Darnay Hoffman provided helpful family background information, and was married to Sydney Biddle Barrows, formerly the notorious "Mayflower Madame."
So, history of the house goes from Betsy Ross to the Ringling Brothers circus to the Mayflower Madame!