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.