In 1906, newlyweds Laura Caskey Bowsher DeRhodes and Kersey C. DeRhodes built a two-story house in South Bend, Indiana, designed for them in the Oak Park studio of Frank Lloyd Wright.
In plan, the DeRhodes house is a mirror image twin of the 1904 Barton House in Buffalo, New York. The main floor of the house is one large, rectangular space oriented south to north, that is subdivided by piers and low bookcases with light screens into three spaces, a reception area, a large living room with fireplace toward the south (front) of the house and a large dining room with Wright's customary built in china cabinets toward the (north) rear of the house. An entry/foyer to the east and the stairway and kitchen wing to the west extend the plan into a cruciform shape. Terraces protected by low walls at the north and south ends of the house extend the living space into the surrounding landscape.
The exterior of the DeRhodes house exhibits many of the features associated with Wright's Prairie School architecture. The stucco exterior with wood trim, the strong water table, the pronounced horizontal lines of the continuous window sills and terrace parapets, the leaded glass "light screens" of the windows, the grouping of the windows into continuous bands and the low-profile hip roof.
The celebrated rendering of the DeRhodes house by Wright's assistant Marion Mahony Griffin is considered by scholars to be among the best to emerge from the Oak Park Studio, and was thought so by Wright himself, who inscribed it "Drawn by Mahony after FLLW and Hiroshige".
Laura Caskey was born in Ligonier, Indiana, the daughter of Lutheran clergyman Curtis Caskey and his wife Margaret. Before her marriage to Kersey C. DeRhodes, Laura Caskey was the second wife of South Bend industrialist-millionaire Nelson Prentice Bowsher (1845-1898). Bowsher rose from being an inventor and master mechanic at the Oliver Chilled Plow Works to the proprietor of his own manufacturing business, N. P. Bowsher. By his first wife, Clarissa C. Hostetter, Bowsher had two sons, Delavan Denis Bowsher and Jay C. Bowsher. Prior to her marriage to DeRhodes, Laura lived in the Bowsher family mansion at 805 West Washington, South Bend.
Kersey C. DeRhodes was born in Fairfield, Ohio, the son of farmer David and his wife Madi DeRhodes. After coming to South Bend in 1901, DeRhodes served as the cashier of the Merchant's National Bank (later the National Bank). He also served as the treasurer of the Williams-Forrest Machine Company. His residence before his marriage to Laura C. Bowsher was at 329 West Colfax Avenue, now the site of the First Presbyterian Church of South Bend. From a prior marriage, he had one daughter, Hazel M. DeRhodes (July 10, 1888 - January 1975), who lived with Kersey and Laura DeRhodes in their Wright designed home before moving to Detroit, Michigan, as an adult.
In early 1906, Laura C. Bowsher visited with her South Bend friend Isabel Roberts (of the Isabel Roberts House) in Berwyn, Illinois. Isabel was an architectural designer and draughtsman in Wright's Oak Park Studio and through Isabel, Laura met architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who was at the peak of his acclaim with the success of his prairie houses. She commissioned Wright's Oak Park studio to design a house for her to be located at 715 West Washington Avenue, which was to be completed in time to move into it with her new husband. Isabel Roberts stated that she was the designer of this house, although since it came from Wright's studio it has always been attributed to him.
On September 22, 1906, in Berwyn, Illinois, Laura Caskey Bowsher and Kersey C. DeRhodes were married; the officiating minister was Frank Lloyd Wright's uncle, the Rev. Jenkin Lloyd Jones.
Laura and Kersey DeRhodes lived in their Wright-designed house the rest of their lives; they were South Bend social and civic leaders. DeRhodes' later business pursuits included the Vernon Clothing Company, the DeRhodes Motor Company (selling Dodge automobiles and Graham trucks). The DeRhodes were members of the First Methodist Church of South Bend. Laura was a member of the Progress Club.
Laura DeRhodes was still living in the house in 1940 when she was interviewed by Wright researcher Grant Manson, whose notes of the interview are in the Oak Park, Illinois, public library. Laura continued to live in the house until the time of her death. Both are buried in the Highland Cemetery Mausoleum, South Bend.
“Shortly after Laura Bowsher’s death,” the current owner says, “Frank Lloyd Wright visited South Bend to deliver a lecture at the University of Notre Dame. He tried to buy back the original items from the home.” Instead, contents went to Laura’s four principal heirs.
In her will, Laura DeRhodes left the Wright-designed home to the First Methodist Church of South Bend. The household goods were to be divided among First Methodist Church (who selected only the baby grand piano), the Progress Club (who took only the lawn mower and silver), the YWCA and the Camp Fire Girls (who received about half of the home's furnishings including the fire screen and andirons).
The later whereabouts of the furnishings remain unknown.