Terrace Hill was named for its terraced landscape that once included a swimming pool and formal gardens. It sits on one of Des Moines’ highest points, and it’s hard to comprehend that building materials were delivered here by horse and wagon when the home was constructed in the 1860s. Now, the ornate Second Empire-style mansion is a National Historic Landmark, open to the public and serving as the official residence of the Iowa’s governor. Tourists park on the narrow brick streets surrounding the estate or in a small lot at the foot of the hill and stroll up a brick drive to the carriage house to start their tours.
An informative 15-minute video sets the groundwork for a quick history of the mansion and its inhabitants; knowledgeable docents then lead visitors through the grand hall and several first- and second-floor rooms—the third-floor governor’s residence is off-limits. Painstaking restoration makes the most of the many intricate details such as stenciling, woodwork, furnishings and a magnificent stained-glass window above the stair landing.
Special arrangements need to be made for the mobility-impaired, but the carriage house and mansion are both accessible. Tours are offered four times a day, five days a week; admission is a reasonable $5.