In its 150-year history, the future of Terrace Hill has been in serious doubt twice. The first instance was after Allen’s bankruptcy in 1875; initially, it seemed that Allen might lose the home. The second instance was after Grover Hubbell’s death in 1956. With a caretaker living in the basement, the Hubbell Trust managed the property for the next 15 years, paying for insurance, taxes, and maintenance. In 1957, the possibility of the state acquiring Terrace Hill emerged. However, the Hubbell Trust barred selling the house, and, at the time, the state did not have a distinct purpose for Terrace Hill.
Iowa’s History of Providing a Residence for Iowa’s Governors
No official state residence was provided for Iowa’s governors from 1846 to 1947, except from 1917 to 1921 when a home at 1027 Des Moines Street was provided for Governor Harding. In 1947, the Georgian Colonial home at 2900 Grand Avenue was purchased as the governor’s residence for $27,200. Former governors that lived at 2900 Grand Avenue with their families include: Leo Hoegh, Herschel Loveless, Norman Erbe, Harold Hughes, and Robert Ray. By 1970, a more spacious home was required for the governor’s residence, and interest in Terrace Hill reemerged.
The Process of Making Terrace Hill the Governor’s Residence
By modifying the Hubbell Trust, the Hubbell family was able to reach an agreement with the State of Iowa to donate the Terrace Hill property. Once accomplished in 1971, the Iowa Legislature agreed to accept the Hubbell family’s generous gift.
In 1971, Governor Ray appointed the 35-member Terrace Hill Planning Commission, which was tasked with determining Terrace Hill’s future. Several options were considered: establishing Terrace Hill as a “house museum,” or building a new governor’s residence on Terrace Hill’s eight-acre grounds and using the house for state functions.
Eventually, a plan was determined whereby the first family would live on the third floor, which originally housed residential quarters for Terrace Hill’s household servants. The floors in the third floor residence were raised two feet so that plumbing and electrical wiring could be laid beneath.
The first and second floors would be open for tours and would also be used for official functions. Two of the second floor bedrooms would be converted into an office for the first spouse, as well as a home office for the governor. The remaining two bedrooms would be used, as needed, for overnight visits by dignitaries and other guests of the first family. In 1976, Governor Ray and his family moved into Terrace Hill, and the house opened for public tours in 1978.
Terrace Hill Gained National Historic Landmark Status in 2003
Terrace Hill was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 2003. The prominence of its first two owners and its design as an exceptional example of the French Second Empire style, by noted nineteenth century architect William W. Boyington, contributed to this designation.
Today, Terrace Hill is governed by the Terrace Hill Commission, a nine-member board appointed by the governor. Additional support comes from one organization, the Terrace Hill Partnership, a 501(c) 3 non-profit group that raises funds to preserve and enhance the property and programs of Terrace Hill. Fundraising is ongoing for structural and architectural improvements to Terrace Hill. The Terrace Hill Partnership is also active in developing events for the benefit of Terrace Hill.