IHJ Exploring History: Terrace Hill

Terrace Hill, a National Historic Landmark. Photo courtesy of Terrace Hill

Terrace Hill, a National Historic Landmark. Photo courtesy of Terrace Hill

Iowa’s elegant icon welcomes visitors to ‘The People’s House’


By John Busbee


As one of Iowa’s most identifiable landmarks, Terrace Hill is as recognizable as the State Capitol and Iowa City’s Old Capitol. This Victorian home, regally perched atop its nine-acre landscaped lawn, is the crown jewel of Des Moines’ western skyline. Nearing its 2019 sesquicentennial, this elegant example of Second Empire architecture serves multiple purposes. Its primary roles are as the governor’s residence, its official designation, and as a National Historic Landmark. For many volunteers and visitors, Terrace Hill has become “The People’s House,” a sentiment embraced by its First Family, its governing boards and its staff. And its ornate doors are beckoning more than ever before.


The style and scope of Terrace Hill is impressive. Its grand three stories feature a signature north tower, reaching almost 90 feet into the sky, with a foot print of more than 80 feet across at its greatest width and depth. The exterior is highlighted by octagonal and circular elements, capped by the distinctive Mansard roof. It also provides a unique portal into a bygone Victorian era. Situated on the majestic crown on one of the region’s high points, Terrace Hill continues to stand guardian over Iowa’s capital city, and was built by Iowa’s first millionaire, Benjamin Franklin (B.F.) Allen.


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