History of Hoyt Sherman Place

1827-1904: Major Hoyt Sherman

Born in 1827, Hoyt Sherman was the youngest son of eleven children. His family included older brothers, John Sherman, the writer of Sherman Anti-Trust Act, and Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman.

Hoyt Sherman arrived in Des Moines in 1848, and shortly thereafter, he was appointed Postmaster. He built the first post office and bank, he served on the town council, and he was very involved in local and state politics. In 1850, Hoyt purchased five acres of land for $105. President Abraham Lincoln appointed him the Army Paymaster at the start of the Civil War, with the rank of Major.

Upon his return, Hoyt teamed up with others and created Equitable of Iowa Insurance Company. During this time, he also gave his counsel, his time, and his money to ensure Des Moines had schools, including a college, a waterworks system, and many more facilities.

In 1877, Hoyt Sherman Place, the family home, was completed with the help of architect William Foster. Almost immediately, it is noted in writings to be, "a society showplace of the grandest scale." Among its distinguished guests in history are General Sherman, General Grant, General Sheridan, and Major McKinley.

In 1893, Hoyt Sherman rented his home out to The Sisters of Mercy from Davenport, Iowa. Within the walls of the home, the Sisters created the first Mercy Hospital. It held 52 beds and operated for nearly two years.

Sherman and his wife, Sara, raised five children, Frank, Addie, Charles, Arthur, and Helen, in the home. Major Hoyt Sherman passed away in January 1904.    

1907-Present: The Des Moines Women's Club

Hoyt Sherman Place stood empty after Hoyt's death until 1907 when members of Des Moines Women's Club  (DMWC) began using it as their clubhouse. DMWC added a gallery to display their art collection and thus, Hoyt Sherman Place became the first public art museum in Des Moines.

Des Moines Women's Club, always active in the community, invited many guest speakers to Hoyt Sherman Place to entertain and to educate. Speakers included Amelia Earhart, Helen Keller, and Grant Wood. Eventually, they needed more room for their speakers and activities, and in 1923, the theater was completed to accommodate their membership.

Hoyt Sherman Place is still home for Des Moines Women's Club. They meet every Wednesday, October through May. For more information, visit their website.

Hoyt Sherman Place Today

Hoyt Sherman Place is a vibrant cultural destination where people can connect with art, music, history, and one another. The venue offers an intimate theater experience with extraordinary acoustics, a beautiful historic mansion, and a majestic art gallery.

In 2003, the facility underwent a large renovation project to restore the spaces to their original grandeur and also to add present-day amenities. Several updates have also been made to the mansion and art gallery over the years – refinishing the original hardwood floors, hand-stenciling finishes on the mansion walls, and completing an art restoration campaign.

In 2015, Hoyt Sherman Place was inducted into the Iowa Rock 'n' Roll Music Association Hall of Fame for its continued excellence in providing a beautiful venue in which musicians can perform and for its rich history of presenting music to the masses.

In 2020, the Center for Artists and Education was constructed on the north side of the theater, while preserving all historic integrity. The three-floor expansion includes backstage amenities, meeting spaces, administrative offices, and spectacular views.

In 2021, the mansion’s second floor was restored, including Hoyt and Sara’s bedroom and a room dedicated to the memory of their daughter, Helen Sherman Griffith. The rooms include period-appropriate lighting fixtures, original paint colors, flooring and décor. Many of the pieces were donated by generous donors who are interested in the history and preservation of Hoyt Sherman Place. In addition to the second floor restoration, a mobility-impaired lift has been added to allow all visitors access to the second floor. A Research and Archive Library was also created to view special documents.

Des Moines Women's Club and Hoyt Sherman Place Foundation work together to keep this historic landmark alive with concerts, art exhibits, tours, weddings, and other events. For more than 100 years, Hoyt Sherman Place has been part of the community and will be for the next 100.