Look Up, Des Moines! A Walking Tour of Des Moines, Iowa
There is no better way to see America than on foot. And there is no better way to appreciate what you are looking at than with a walking tour. This walking tour of Des Moines, Iowa is ready to explore when you are. Each walking tour describes historical, architectural landmarks, cultural sites and ecclesiastic touchstones and provides step-by-step directions. More
There is no better way to see America than on foot. And there is no better way to appreciate what you are looking at than with a walking tour. Whether you are preparing for a road trip or just out to look at your own town in a new way, a downloadable walking tour is ready to explore when you are.
Each walking tour describes historical and architectural landmarks and provides pictures to help out when those pesky street addresses are missing. Every tour also includes a quick primer on identifying architectural styles seen on American streets.
The land around where the Raccoon River flows into the Des Moines River has lured human settlement to its banks for some 7,000 years. There is archeological evidence of at least three American Indian villages having existed where downtown Des Moines stands today. it was the removal of those Indians by the United States government that spurred the development of the town in the 1840s. After the Sauk and Meskwaki Indians had been displaced to this area from their ancestral lands in eastern Iowa the U.S. Army was dispatched to the confluence of the Raccoon and Des Moines rivers to construct a fort from which it could control the Indian tribes.
The fort was completed in 1843 and named after the Des Moines River which translates from the French to "from the monks," for the Trappist monks who once spent time here. Or maybe not. Whatever the derivation of the name, Fort Des Moines was short-lived. By 1846 the Indians had officially been removed and the area was thrown open to American settlement. The town was chosen as the seat of Polk County, the word "Fort" was dropped after the city charter was drawn up in the 1850s and Des Moines assumed its role as state capital in 1858. So within about a decade of its founding the course for Des Moines was pretty well set for the next 150 years and on.
Unlike towns that boomed with mineral wealth or the coming of the railroads, Des Moines expanded at a fairly normal rate with a little bit of this and a little bit of that to move the economy forward. There was the rivers for distribution of goods, there was the government, there was mining in ancient bituminous coal beds outside of town, there was processing of crops from the surrounding farmland, there was industry in the manufacture of fur and leather goods and clay and cement and there were professional jobs in insurance and publishing. A balance that befits its location near the center of the country.
Similarly the streetscape of Des Moines has evolved with no earthshaking upheavals. Buildings have been lost but there have been no mass demolitions through a swath of downtown like an Omaha initiated, for instance. We will still encounter souvenirs from the 19th century as we explore the town, as well as historic skyscrapers from the early age of high-rises. The city adopted the Des Moines Plan in 1907 as part of a countrywide push to beautify American cities and re-invented the waterfront with parks, ornamental fountains, a river wall topped with a balustrade and classically flavored government buildings. And that is where we will start our walking tour, on the oldest bridge in the city spanning the Des Moines River...