Then and Now

Then, 2143 Grand Avenue in November 1907.

Now (sort of), 2203 Grand Avenue, Feb, 2004.

From the Polk County Assessor,


People passing by the large brick building at Seventh and Scott streets in Des Moines may not realize its significance in Des Moines history. The structure, listed as one of “Des Moines Seven Most Endangered Buildings” by the Des Moines Rehabbers Club (2008), was the longtime home of the Roadside Settlement House.

Founded in 1896 by the Kings Daughters Union, a group of church women, the settlement house provided services to the poor, at various times including a nursery school and kindergarten, a public laundry and baths, the city’s first branch library, and a gymnasium. In addition, the 1911 Handbook of Settlements lists the following Roadside activities: employment agency, savings bank, classes in cooking and sewing, dramatic clubs, and Sunday afternoon concerts. Roadside also had one of the few telephones in the neighborhood and residents were free to use it.

When the Depression hit in the 1930s, Roadside developed its own relief programs, which included paying women 25-cent credits for each hour in sewing class. Credits could be exchanged for food and clothing. Unemployed men completed renovation of the building in 1938.

In 1949, Roadside Settlement marked the 50th anniversary of its 1899 incorporation and it continued to offer services to the neighborhood until the 1970s. By then, government agencies had taken over many of the programs previously offered by the Settlement. United Way took over funding of the Settlement in 1968, but withdrew this funding in 1973 and the Roadside Settlement House closed. The name of the house was inspired by a poem by Sam Walter Foss which included the lines:

Let me live in a house by the side of the road,
And be a friend to man.

The Des Moines Register, April 11, 1993, page 1C.
The Des Moines Register, June 19, 2002, page 2AT.
Brigham, Johnson. History of Des Moines and Polk County.
Chicago: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1911.

S.S. Brinsmaid House at 36th & Grand

The S.S. Brinsmaid house was the earliest known Prairie style house in Iowa.  It was designed by architect Arthur A. Heun and built in 1901 on the northeast corner of 36th and Grand.  Unfortunately, it was demolished in 1971.  The above images are part of the Library of Congress’s Historic American buildings Survey.

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Sedgwick S. Brinsmaid came to Iowa from Vermont.  He and his wife lived in the house until 1912 when they sold it along with his portion of a local china, glass, and silver store and moved to California.

Leaded glass pieces from the home are housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  They were designed by Heun and manufactured by Giannini and Hilgart Glass Company.

For more Des Moines properties included in  Library of Congress’ Historic American Buildings Survey, click here.

Des Moines Architectural Surveys

The Drake Neighborhood Architectural Survey is now published on the city website.  The report has eight parts and is hundreds of pages long.  It is quite impressive.   Currently, you may view it on the city’s community development page.  It is about halfway down under “Plan.”

What is in this survey?  Well, you will find current house images, a list of “lost houses,” architectural types, who built them, original construction ads, and much more.  So, if you are researching your home or property in Des Moines, you should see if it falls into a completed architectural survey.  You may just hit the jackpot!

Other neighborhood surveys available at DMPL:  Capital East, Cottage Grove, Chautauqua Park,  Sylvan Theater district, and Riverbend.  Riverbend’s survey is a part of “Towards a Greater Des Moines,” which is a 6 volume survey focusing on early suburbanization and development of Des Moines.

Need more help?  Check out this previous post:  Finding Your Home’s History and/or talk to your librarian.

Capital Insurance Company, 1906


Vol. 1, No. 2, October 1906.


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