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The Carriage House at the State Capitol
by Mollie Anderson, Director
Iowa Department of Administrative Services (DAS)
The Capitol Complex in Des Moines is truly one of Iowa’s Great Places and is a destination for thousands of people every year. Located just north of the State Capitol Building and mapped on the Capitol Complex Master Plan, is a circa 1909 building known as the “Carriage House.” It has been rumored that the facility had been used for the storage of legislators’ carriages when they would arrive in Des Moines to engage in their legislative responsibilities. It was this undocumented rumor that spurred the interest in development of this project, as well as the opportunity to restore and use a building that was originally built by the state on the Capitol Complex nearly 100 years ago.
The Capitol tour guides estimate that between 90,000 and 100,000 people visit the Capitol building per year. Of those, between 55,000 and 60,000 are true visitors, coming specifically to see the building with no associated business purpose. About 36,500 of these visitors are school students (including college students). About 420 school groups and about 125 non-school groups (adults, scouts, daycare groups) visit the Capitol each year.
The Carriage House project includes a Visitor Center/Transportation Museum concept that provides a central orientation point for visitors as they arrive on the Capitol Complex, much like visitors to Terrace Hill and the White House might be oriented. The museum portion of the facility would include multiple exhibits built around the theme, “Roads to the Capitol.” These exhibits would inform visitors on the methods of transportation used by legislators to get to the Capitol in the days before the automobile, and how that has changed over the years. The experience would have a visitor center philosophy that would provide an introduction and overview to the experience of touring the Capitol Building itself. There would also be exhibits informing visitors about the election process and what individuals traveling down that “Road to the Capitol” must do to become an elected official.
The “Roads to the Capitol” experience at the Carriage House would offer visitors an educational and engaging look at Iowa history as it relates to transportation, law-making, and the Capitol itself, as well as insight into the political process, historic preservation, and the development and maintenance of the treasure that is the Capitol Complex.
The Department of Administrative Services is exploring ways to begin work on the $4.9 million project by initially stabilizing the structure. Currently, DAS is seeking a grant from the U. S. Department of Transportation, as well as exploring other funding sources to renovate the Carriage House for use as a major focal point of the Capitol Complex. Should individuals or groups be aware of funding opportunities the state should explore, please contact Deb.Madison-Levi@iowa.gov or (515) 281-7056.
Iowa will celebrate its 160th Anniversary into the Union this year — let this give us reason to preserve and capitalize upon one of Iowa’s historic structures that will provide the framework for educating visitors about all that Iowa is and will become.