By any measure, Jacob Carroll Switzer had a difficult life. Born in Maryland, he moved to Iowa as a teen in 1860. Shortly after arriving in Iowa, his father died, leaving Jacob the head of house. He was drafted into the Union Army in 1862, were he served for four years. Switzer lost a leg in the battle of Winchester, and it took a long time for him to recover. When he returned to Iowa, he was unsuccessful in school, but did manage to pass a bookkeeping course. He served as the Johnson County Clerk (1871-4), married Mary Evelyn Page, who died after the birth of their second child.
Jacob remarried to Catherine Coover and began a new career in the banks of Iowa City. This career was not very successful; banking in Iowa City was notoriously volatile in the last decades of the 19th century, with several banks closing. When they bought Plum Grove from the Hoyts in 1883, the farm may have provided an economic safety net.
When Jacob died on Memorial Day, 1914, all the banks closed in his honor, and a parade of Civil War veterans marched through town. Catherine and their children converted Plum Grove into a boarding house soon after.
The earliest photo of Plum Grove is from this period. It was probably taken sometime between 1911 and 1913, and was published in a 1914 county history. It is facing south, toward the front of the house. Note the additions and porches, which were removed in the 1940s.
After selling the house in 1923, it was occupied by the Hughes and a number of other families. Catherine and two of her children moved to a house on Iowa Ave. The Switzer children went on to a variety of careers, including railroad brakeman, bookkeeper, traveling salesman, home maker, and landlord.
View a reconstruction of Plum Grove from 1885