Wednesday, May 23, 2012

History and Art in Des Moines

The title of this posting may sound quite boring, but I must say that John and I had a very interesting day in this town. We knew that the temperature would get even higher today than yesterday (it did get to 89 degrees today). Our plan was just to spend the majority of our day at the Des Moines Art Center. But as it was still cool early in the morning, we took a side trip to the "strikingly modern civic center" (so described in our AAA Tour Book). I do believe that we saw a more impressive building at Madison Wisconsin's convention center. In a plaza near the civic center of Des Moines we were to find waterfalls, a reflecting pool and "Crusoe Umbrella" a sculpture by Chaes Oldenberg. The waterfalls had not been turned on yet, but we did find the umbrella sculpture.
On our way again, to the art center, we saw signs pointing the way to the Governor's Mansion- the signs also indicated that tours were available. We wondered whether that was something we should add to our day- our tour of the Governor's Mansion in Little Rock was very interesting. We stopped, entered the Carriage House were the tours started,  and found out that we could join the last tour of the day. The building of this Victorian Mansion (Terrace Hill)  was completed in 1869. It was built by the richest man in Iowa at that time, B.F.Allen. His goal was to build on the highest hill in the Racoon River Valley, and it was to be the tallest and wealthiest home in the city. He spent $250,000 to $400,000 on it - but soon went bankrupt and had to sell it to Fredrick Hubbell in 1884 for $60,000. It is worth about $30,000,000. today.
Even though there were only John and I for the last tour, a volunteer guide was quite eager to show us the home. Only the first and second floors can be toured, the third floor has been occupied by the families of  Iowa's governors since 1976. The Hubbell family donated it to the state in 1971. All I can say is that the home is quite beautiful with its' massive butternut and oak arched doors between the rooms, 8 marble fireplaces and crystal chandeliers. I think you can get an idea of what I am speaking of in the picture below. Note also the intricate and ornate wall stenciling. It is a most elegant home.
To get to the second floor we went up a attractive grand staircase, and at the top we passed by a massive stained glass window- sunlight coming into the windows made the colors of the glass very vibrant. The interior of Terrace Hill is filled with Victorian furnishings to recreate the early era of the residence. Most interesting to me was a "petticoat table" in the entry hallway where the women could check the hems of their long dresses in a mirror. There is also a Lincoln sewing stand made by Civil War prisoners. A carving of the head of Lincoln is on its lid. Looks like I will need to continue the story of our day in Des Moines in the next posting, we did make it to the art center eventually!

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