Knoll place like home

Sara Purvis

Editor’s note: The following story is the first in a series of articles which highlight Iowa State’s most interesting buildings and structures.

One of the most beautiful buildings on campus is the one building that few students get the opportunity to see.

The timeless beauty of The Knoll speaks for the tradition and history of Iowa State and welcomes the universities most prestigious guests.

Since it was built in 1900, at a cost of $12,000, The Knoll has been called home by the highest-ranking family at ISU.

The Knoll, a late-Victorian period picturesque residential, was designed by the architectural firm of Liebbe, Nouse and Rasmussen. It was built by contractor C.R. Cushman after the Gables, the home that the university had rented for President Beardshear’s family, was sold.

Liebbe, Nouse and Rasmussen modeled the home after a Des Moines Mansion. Wesley Shank, professor of historical architecture and local architect, said one of the most important things about the home is the firm that designed it.

“Liebbe, Nouse and Rasmussen were an important early architectural firm who designed a lot of buildings in Iowa, including the early City Hall in Ames, the Boone Public Library and the Boone National Bank,” Shank said.

Shank said the house is not only beautiful but solidly built and a landmark of Iowa State.

The original name for the home, given by President Storm’s wife in 1903, was “The Knole,” after one of the finest Baronial Castles in England.

The name was later changed to “The Knoll” by President Pearson and his wife. It is rumored that they thought the original name was a misspelling and changed it.

Ground breaking began in 1900, and the home was officially dedicated in March of 1901, but the Beardshear family members were the first residences of the home when they moved in February of that year.

In the early years of The Knoll, the home was strictly a residence for the university’s top official. The president wasn’t as involved in politics or fundraising, so the home wasn’t used for entertaining other than the private dinners of the family.

This meant the family moved in their own furnishings and moved them back out again, leaving little behind. Now, the most original piece of furniture is a 1929 Steinway grand piano which the Jischke’s restored a few years ago.

In 1965 the state Board of Regents wanted to demolish the house in favor of an off-campus presidential home.

President Robert Parks, feeling The Knoll was one of the remaining natural beauty spots on campus, he rallied for the preservation of The Knoll, believing that the president should live on campus. The home soon underwent a major renovation and remained the president’s home.

Since 1991, the building has been the residence for the family of President Martin Jischke. His wife Patty, children Charles and Mary, and family dog Rocky are the current residents of this historical home.

“It is an honor to be here. I feel we have a responsibility to maintain this front door of the university,” Patty said.

The Jischke family lives on the second and third floors of the house, having eight rooms. They use the kitchen downstairs, which creates an interesting situation during events.

“The kitchen really needs to be redone, it just isn’t set up for anything but a family to use, which doesn’t really work when we are having an event here,” Patty said.

The Knoll is described by Patty as an activity center serving many purposes. It is often the location for meetings, concerts, receptions and both informal and formal dinners.

“It really is a center for activity; we get a chance to meet so many interesting people. I really have warm feelings about [living at] The Knoll. It is really a backdrop for all we do here,” she said.

The Knoll has even been used as classrooms. In January of 1912, South Hall burned, Edgar Stanton, acting president, had the rugs and fine furnishings removed from The Knoll so it could be used for classrooms. It became the temporary location for the Department of Music until September of that year.

Patty said the landscaping is a unique feature of the home.

“We have a variety of birds. Wood ducks, finches and sparrows often are visitors to the yard. Also, the small creek that runs along side the grounds is really beautiful,” Patty said.

The Knoll is decorated mostly by student art. Every six months a new art exhibit from the Department of Art and Design is brought to the home.

The Knoll is staffed by a part-time secretary, who serves as a link to the President’s office in Beardshear Hall, a half-time house keeper for the formal first floor of the home and an events coordinator.

“We don’t have any butlers or maids, we are just an ordinary family,” Patty said.