For more information about Terrace Hill contact: Barbara Filer, administrator;
Terrace Hill, 2300 Grand Ave., Des Moines 50312; 515/242-5841.

In 1947, Iowa purchased the first official residence for Iowa's governors. Until that time most governors were responsible for providing their own housing while in office. There was one exception, however; Governor William L. Harding (1917-1921) lived in a home that was purchased as part of the Capitol expansion plan. The house was located at 1027 Des Moines street. After Harding's administration, the home became the offices of the Health Department. It was later occupied by the Vocational Rehabilitation division of the Department of Public Instruction, until it was torn down in 1969.

Many of Iowa's governors purchased or rented homes in Des Moines, while others made their homes in Des Moines hotels. Governor Joshua Newbold (1877-1878) boarded in a private home. Several plans and pieces of legislation were proposed to build a governor's residence, but none came to fruition.

Because of severe post-war shortage of new housing materials, the legislature finally purchased a large Neo-colonial-style home at 2900 Grand Avenue in 1947. The residence, built in 1903 by Des Moines businessman W.W. Witmer, was occupied by Governor William S. Beardsley (1949-1954) in January, 1949. It served as the official residence until 1976, when it was sold by the state.

Terrace Hill

Terrace Hill, a three-story Second Empire-style mansion, was built in 1869 by Des Moines pioneer, Benjamin Franklin Allen. The mansion's $250,000 construction cost was overseen by Chicago architect William W. Boyington. Terrace Hill was ornately furnished with polished hardwoods, brass chandeliers, and marble fireplaces. Its mechanical features included steam heating, gas lights, and indoor plumbing. It was situated on eight landscaped acres with outbuildings, including a greenhouse and a carriage house.

The Terrace Hill Mansion, built in 1869, has been the
home of Iowa governors since 1972.


Allen's tenure in Terrace Hill was brief. He met financial disaster in 1873 and sold Terrace Hill to Frederick Marion Hubbell in 1884 for $55,000. Hubbell lived there until his death in 1930. He specified that after his death, his home should be occupied by his "eldest lineal male descendents." Should his family line die out, he said, the home was to be conveyed to the State of Iowa to be used as a state "college of learning."

At a ceremony in May, 1971, the descendants of F.M. Hubbell presented the keys to this impressive Iowa home to Governor Robert D. Ray. The 64th General Assembly passed legislation in 1972 authorizing the development of Terrace Hill as the governor's mansion and a historical site open to the public.

The third floor of Terrace Hill was extensively renovated as an apartment for the governor. In the fall of 1976, Governor Robert D. Ray and family moved into the new quarters. Renovation continued and by 1986 the first and second floors were substantially completed. The rooms on these two floors were furnished and decorated in the elaborate nineteenth century styles that were characteristic of Terrace Hill's past. Governor Terry E. Branstad and family occupied the mansion in 1983. Mrs. Branstad remodeled the third floor apartment in 1987, using the Victorian theme and making it more harmonious with the entire mansion.

In July, 1978 Terrace Hill was opened to the public for regular tours. An average of 30,000 visitors have toured the mansion each year since. Visitors have come from every state and from six continents. Official receptions by the governors have honored delegations from several foreign countries including China, Japan, Soviet Union, and Germany, and many distinguished political figures from the United States have been guests in Terrace Hill.

In June, 1988, Terrace Hill became the third governor's mansion in the United States to receive the Natural Backyard Wildlife Habitat designation from the United States Department of Interior.

Carriage House Visitors Center

The public tour program was augmented in 1984 by the renovation of the carriage house as a visitors center. The former stables now contain a receiving area, exhibit room, offices, and a gift shop. The second floor of the mansion was opened for regular public tours the same year. In 1989, restoration of the Victorian gardens began. The multi-phased project was completed in 1995. Tours include the gardens, weather permitting.

Few executive residences in the United States are as accessible to the public as Terrace Hill, yet the home offers comfortable and quiet repose for the first family. Terrace

Hill has always been a family home. Children have played in the yard and on the grand staircase in the mansion. The renovation of Terrace Hill has cost approximately $3.5 million since 1971. Of the total cost, slightly more than half the funds have been raised through private contributions due, for the most part, to the Terrace Hill Foundation and the Terrace Hill Society. Both are not for profit organizations who have pledged their continued support. The legislature appropriates the annual operational budget for the site. The Terrace Hill Commission, a nine-member board appointed by the governor, is responsible for the administration of the property.

Iowa's First Family

Governor Tom Vilsack and wife Christie, with sons Jess, seated, and Doug, standing.