The Pianos of Terrace Hill
Terrace Hill is fortunate to have two rare antique pianos in its collection. The Chickering square piano is a prized historic artifact. The 1893 Steinway grand is a great instrument.
From a historical perspective, the Chickering not only gives us a glimpse of the early B. F. Allen years at Terrace Hill, but it also provides insight to the history and development of the piano-manufacturing industry. Terrace Hill’s square piano was built by the Chickering Piano Company around 1859 and was moved to Terrace Hill in 1868 by its owner, B. F. Allen. Chickering was the first great name in American piano making. In the early 1840s, Chickering patented designs for cast-iron frames for both square and grand pianos. These iron-framed pianos were a breakthrough in piano design. As a result, they were the talk of the show at the first International Exhibition held in the Crystal Palace in London in 1851.
In 1853, the Chickering Piano Company was at its zenith, producing pianos in a factory that was the second-largest structure in the United States. Steinway began manufacturing pianos in a modest facility in New York. In 1855, William Steinway hailed Chickering as the father of American pianoforte making.
Author Helen Rice Hollis writes in The Piano (David & Charles, 1975, Vancouver, Canada), “Square and upright pianos were becoming more and more numerous in American homes. Almost every family with the means and any pretensions to culture managed to acquire one. The grand piano, however, remained something of a novelty in the hinterlands.”
In the following decade, several more manufacturers started to successfully build “grands”—as the oversized pianos were dubbed. According to Hollis’ book, “The demand for this model remained limited, however, and even affluent families inexplicably continued to acquire squares rather than emulate European taste for finer and more impressive grands.
“In 1889, Steinway made its last square piano—perhaps the last made in the United States. By 1900, the grand piano had become the accepted model for serious musicians and the concert stage, and by 1904, square pianos had become such an embarrassment to the industry that the manufacturers at their congress in Atlantic City acquired a number of them and ceremoniously set fire to them.”
Meanwhile at Terrace Hill, the Hubbell family moved in and began making many improvements. It is no surprise that they purchased a Steinway grand for their residence, which was the finest home in Iowa.
Nearly 100 years later, the importance of having a quality musical instrument at Terrace Hill was again realized. James McGuire had generously donated the Allen piano to Terrace Hill during its restoration in the 1970s. But while this artifact was important to Terrace Hill history, it was becoming apparent that B. F. Allen’s Chickering square piano would never suffice as an instrument fitting the grandeur of Terrace Hill. The hunt for a new instrument was on, and a Steinway exactly like the one that the Hubbells had owned was eventually found.
This piano, made in 1893, was fully restored in 1985 by the Schmitt Music Company of Minneapolis and was dedicated in February of 1986. John Steinway, great-grandson of the company’s founder, attended the dedication. During the event, he inscribed the plate.
The purchase of Terrace Hill’s Steinway was funded by a grant from the Kinney-Lindstrom Foundation with the understanding that the Terrace Hill Endowment for the Musical Arts would establish a program for the recognition of young pianists in Iowa. The endowment was established under the leadership of Mrs. Berl E. Priebe. That scholarship program, known as the Terrace Hill Endowment for the Musical Arts (THEMA), is now in its 15th year.
Chickering Square Grand Piano
1893 Steinway Grand Piano