History of Des Moines, Iowa
The history of Des Moines, Iowa can be traced back to 1834. It was in this year that John Dougherty (Indian agent) at Fort Leavenworth, KS suggested the commissioning of a military post at a point where the Raccoon and Des Moines rivers tend to merge. It was nine years later on May 1843, that Captain James Allen and his battalion from Fort Sanford arrived at this site to start a military post.
The captain suggested the name Fort Raccoon for the garrison but was directed to use the name Fort Des Moines by the War Department. Even though the origin of the name remains uncertain most historians agree that the initial name referred to a river. There are some who feel that the name “Des Moines” refers to an Indian word “moingona” which means rivers of the mound. This refers to the burial mounds that are located near the banks of the river.
The other opinion is that the name applies to Trappist Monks who lived near the Des Moines river. The monks used to live in huts on the river banks. La Riviere des Moines was the name that French voyagers used to refer to the river. The consensus that has emerged among historians is that the name is a variation of Moingoun, Moingona, Moingonan, Moningounas or Mohingona. This is what is shown in the early maps.
Settlers began locating near the fort. This is now the site of Sec Taylor Stadium. The new settlers started arriving in 1845. In 1847 the streets were platted and this started the initial development of the city.
September 22,1851 is the date of incorporation. The first town elections were held on October 18th. The town charter was unanimously approved on that day with 25 votes. Eight council men were elected on October 20th and the first meeting was held on October 25th. Reverend Thompson Bird was the first President of the council.
The town continued with the 1851 charter. The charter was finally changed in 1853. The Iowa fourth general assembly was passed on that day. This act that incorporated the town of Fort Des Moines. Fort Des Moines was renamed Des Moines. It was later in that year that Des Moines was chosen as the capital of the state of Iowa.
Des Moines played a major role in Civil War. The women of the city signed a petition in May 1864 to replace the working men, so that it frees them to fight for the Union cause.
It was in 1870 that the first city hall building was built. It was located in the corner of Second and Locust. It is now the site of Civic Center Apartments. At that time, it housed the Court House and Fire Department. That building stood until 1882 and it was later demolished and replaced with another structure which was known as the City Market.
It was on Christmas Eve 1909 that the city council approved the construction of the present City Hall Building. It was initially called the Municipal Building in an effort to give it a more positive connotation. Bids were called for the construction of the building and the lowest bidder was the firm Charles Weitz and Sons. The bid amount was $301,960.
On June 13th, 1910, the cornerstone of the building was laid to the great excitement of the Des Moines community. Newspapers published details of the event and civic leaders from all over the country attended the ceremonies. The dedication of the building was preceded by a large parade. The parade through downtown featured civic groups, platoon of police officers and a unit from the Sixth Cavalry.
The 1900s were dominated with issues pertaining to the development of new roads, women’s suffrage and new health laws. The onset of World War I in August, 1914 slowed down expansion and development of Des Moines as the country braced for war. Camp Dodge was established in 1917 to aid in the nations war effort. More than 100,000 were trained for combat in this camp.
Many young men from Des Moines lost their lives in the war. The ones who were lucky enough to survive the tragedy of war returned back home to unemployment. Hundreds of veterans needed jobs in January 1919. The Mayor urged the local businesses in the city to assist in job creation for the veterans.
The many local construction programs helped ease the unemployment problem to a large extent. The early 1920s saw an increase in building activity in the city. A vast number of schools were constructed in Des Moines.
The construction boom that the city experienced in 1920s came to a virtual standstill with the stock market crash of 1929. The city bounced back and did surprisingly well in 1930s. Projects that were federally funded came to the rescue of the city and they supplied work to the hundreds of workers.
New bridges and streets were built and this vastly improved the city. The population of Des Moines had increased to 160,000 by 1941. The year 1942 again saw unexpected changes as the city braced itself for World War II. Thousands of young men left the workforce and joined service to protect the country from war. Food become scarce as the war started taking its toll on the city.
When the war ended the city started picking up the pieces and started concentrating on improving the quality of life. In the post war climate, many businesses flourished. Des Moines emerged as a major insurance hub. The other businesses that were located in the city also did well and this enabled the city to maintain a healthy economic growth for the next three decades.
The economic growth has continued to attract people and today more than 200,000 people live in Des Moines. The city has gained national recognition for insurance. The insurance sector is the third largest in the world. It is also recognized as a center for business, education and culture. This has made it a popular and thriving city.