Des Moines, which became Iowa’s capital city in 1857, exploded in size and importance after the Civil War. As the capital city grew, its first millionaire, Benjamin Franklin Allen, began working on his dream home. In 1866 he hired renowned Chicago-based architect William W. Boyington to shape his vision into a reality. Lavish praise for the architect’s plans appeared in the April 28, 1867, Daily State Register, claiming the residence and its grounds would be “equal to anything west of New York”. When Terrace Hill was finished in 1869, the final cost of the buildings and grounds were up to $400,000.
Not long after he built his “Castle among Cornrows," Allen lost his fortune and sold the mansion to Frederick Marion Hubbell, a prominent Des Moines real estate, railroad, and insurance magnate, for only $60,000. Hubbell loved Terrace Hill as he loved his own family, and added many of its most well-known features, the stained glass window and stunning chandelier. A Hubbell lived in Terrace Hill until the family’s youngest son Grover’s death in 1956. For fifteen years, B.F. Allen’s dream and F.M. Hubbell’s proud symbol stood empty.
Although the search to find the mansion a suitable occupant was unsuccessful, Terrace Hill’s charisma, beauty, and rich past touched many people that all agreed it should be preserved. Therefore in 1971, the Hubbell family graciously donated the home to the State of Iowa to be used as the official residence of Iowa’s first family.
Des Moines’ bestselling author, Bill Bryson noted, “It was a miracle that it didn’t burn down or get torn down- and what a loss that would have been. Its restoration is one of the best things to happen in Des Moines in decades, if you ask me.”