The Traveling Toad of Salisbury House

Two of the first things one encounters when entering the Great Hall of Salisbury House is the pair of 18th-century bronze, Japanese toad statues. These oversized garden creatures are guest favorites and have children and adults alike, exclaiming excitement when they see them.

It is unknown when or through whom Carl Week purchased the toads, they are believed to have entered the Salisbury House collection between 1925 and 1929. Traveling from Asia to America, the Weeks installed the toads outside Salisbury House leading up to the South terrace. The toads stood guard outside for several decades….

…That is until one started partaking in nocturnal travels.

Des Moines Register article from August 18th, 1957

In 1954, Carl and Edith Weeks sold Salisbury House and the collection to the Iowa State Education Association. Much remained the same for several years, that was until 1966.

Des Moines Tribune article from March 8th, 1966

On March 8th of 1966, unknown persons stole the toad to the left of the terrace steps from Salisbury House. The Des Moines Tribune reported on the theft.

The Des Moines Register article from March 9th, 1966

March 9th, Jessie Schaeffer found the toad abandoned in his residential driveway. Schaeffer turned the traveling statuary over to local police, who saw it safely back to Salisbury House. No information was available at the time as to why of who took the toad.

Iowa City Press Citizen article from October 31st, 1966

Pranksters stole the same toad on Monday, October 31, just seven months after the first theft. The toad was located later the same day on the steps of the Iowa capitol building.

Quad City Times article from November 1st, 1966

This time the event was reported to be the work of teens making mischief on Halloween. Once again, the toad was returned to Salisbury House and installed on its outdoor pedestal in the South garden.

Des Moines Tribune article from October 31st, 1967

After being taken twice in 1966, thieves again took the Salisbury House toad from the terrace on October 31st, 1967. As this was the third abduction in two years, the Iowa State Education Association moved both toads indoors.

1967 article from unknown paper

As this was the third abduction in two years, the Iowa State Education Association moved both toads indoors. While the toad’s traveling days are over, its many journeys around Des Moines continue to delight. Make sure to stop by soon to see the ‘Traveling Toad of Salisbury House!’

The Kings House: Centuries of Inspiring Architecture

When you walk through the door of Salisbury House, you are immediately transported back in time; this is all thanks to the Kings House in Salisbury, England.

The Kings House, Salisbury, England – 1923

Carl and Edith Weeks happened upon the centuries-old building in the early 1920’s while on a trip to England and knew they wanted the home they were building in Des Moines, Iowa, to have the same timeless presence.

Kings House (Left) – Salisbury House (Right)

Though not an exact replica, the similarities between Salisbury House and the Kings House are striking.

Kings House (Left) – Salisbury House (Right)

While Salisbury House’s story began in the 20th century, the King’s House was constructed throughout hundreds of years. First referenced in 13th-century documents, the King’s House was the residence of the Abbot of Sherborne Abbey and was known as the Court of the Abbott of Sherborne.

The property underwent a restructuring in the 15th century; this construction work can still be seen as the central frontage. In the 16th century, the Dean and Chapter of Salisbury Cathedral let the property to secular tenants, and the north end of the house was extended.

Engraving of the King’s House showing exterior prior to the 1634 addition.
1923 photo of the 1634 addition to the King’s House

During the reign of Henry VIII and the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539, the property became known as Sherborne Palace.

Henry VIII Monk Hunting at the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Illustration by John Leech from Gilbert Abbott A’Beckett’s Comic History of England, Bradbury, Agnew & Co., London, 1880.

The property would earn the name the ‘Kings House’ after visits from King James I in 1610 and 1613.

Portrait of King James I and VI
Royal seal of James I – Located in the collection of Salisbury House & Gardens

Throughout the following centuries, the house would continue to be altered and subdivided, used for tenancy, a school for young ladies, and a college.

King’s House, Salisbury England – 1923 – Classroom in the former common room

In 1981, the King’s House became the new home of the Salisbury Museum. Today the museum offers eight permanent display spaces and three temporary exhibition galleries and is open to visitors Thursday through Sunday.

The Salisbury Museum, Salisbury, England

Though both properties have a distinct look, it is evident which features from the Kings House were reproduced by Carl and Edith across the pond. From the team here at Salisbury House, we hope you enjoy the following photos that illustrate the reverence the Weeks family paid to the King’s House through their imitation.

King’s House – Gothic Portico 1923
Salisbury House – Gothic Portico Reproduction
King’s House – Gothic Portico Ceiling 1923
Salisbury House – Reproduction Gothic Portico Ceiling
King’s House – Porch Room 1923
Salisbury House – Porch Room
King’s House – Great Hall 1923
Salisbury House – Great Hall