Tour of Iowa State Capitol


building with 5 domes
Iowa’s Capitol is the only one among the United States with five domes

Visiting each state’s Capitol building as we travel has given us an appreciation for architecture and a greater understanding of the history, people, and culture of a state. Des Moines, the Iowa State Capitol, did not disappoint. Another roadschooling family came along with us for this visit.  Although we had to pass through security to enter the building, the guards were very quick to accommodate the wheelchair used by a member of the other family.  We were directed to the information desk (right below the rotunda, on the ground floor) and had just enough time to check out the gift shop and use the restroom before starting a tour.


Our guide was very knowledgeable and first we learned about the previous capitols, construction of the current building, and a devastating fire that occurred in 1904. I learned that what is now Iowa was first part of the Wisconsin Territory before becoming the Iowa Territory and eventually, the State of Iowa.

We looked at a scale model of the Battleship Iowa and learned about her proud history. The children really enjoyed the model, but my 5-year-old had to be lifted up to see it, as the display case was higher.

Our guide pointed out lots of small details in the art and architecture of the building, things we may not have noticed on our own.  She took us to the Law Library, where we were able to see a book printed by Benjamin Franklin on his hand press. 


A display unlike any we’ve seen at other capitols featured dolls representing the spouses of the governors of Iowa.  The female dolls all have the same face and wear reproductions of the gowns the first ladies wore for their husband’s inauguration.  Since Iowa now has a female governor, a doll modeled on her husband is also displayed in evening dress. It’s fun to see how formalwear has changed over the years!

Dolls representing the governors spouses
This series of dolls represents the First Ladies of Iowa in their inauguration gowns. The gentleman doll is modeled on the husband of Iowa’s first female governor.

We finished up our tour with a trip up to the “Whispering Gallery” which overlooks the rotunda. The minimum age is 6 years old, and some steep stairs are involved, with no elevator access, so some of our party remained below in the care of 16-year-old Curly. During this time, one of the state Senators came across the kids waiting for us to come down, and offered to show them the Senate floor. (We had seen both chambers from the galleries during the tour) Of course, the kids said yes! I did not get this Senator’s  name, but it was exciting for the kids to get a special tour and we really appreciated her giving them her time.

We learned so much as the Iowa State Capitol and I recommend you visit if you ever have the chance. We followed up our Capitol tour with an afternoon at the nearby State Historical Society Museum

3 thoughts on “Free Things to Do in Des Moines: Iowa State Capitol

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