Des Moines Historic Tour #5

James Savery image

James Savery from History of Des Moines and Polk County, Iowa by Johnson Brigham. Vol. 1, p. 49. S.J. Clarke: 1911.

James C. Savery, with his brothers Chester and George, purchased their first hotel in 1853 on the south side of Walnut close to the Western Stagecoach Depot on Third Street.

It cost $6 to ride the stagecoach down to Keokuk in the 1860’s.  Early travelers reported that for $6 the passengers were treated to unlimited swearing and were frequently called upon to assist in the passage when the stagecoach became mired in mud.

The Walnut area (3rd to 4th Street) encompassed many Des Moines Landmarks:

Graefe House image

Atlas of the State of Iowa, 1904.

  • Graefe House, above, Michael Kennedy’s “First Livery Stable in the City” (The Civic Center is now here)

Unknown source

  • The busy Exchange Block, above (built in 1850), and housed the city council and offices of doctors, lawyers, and other professionals
  • Green and Weare Banking House of 1855, which was under the supervision of Hoyt Sherman.
  • Carter, Hussey, and Curl, publishers, bookbinders, and stationers.


Hunter, Dan.  Des Moines: Confluence of People and Resources.  1982:  Public Library of Des Moines.

Content also from the Des Moines Architectural and Historical Tour.

Historic Tour #4 – 2nd and Walnut


This block between 2nd and 3rd Streets was the mercantile center of Des Moines in the 1850’s through the 1870’s.  Kuhn Brothers Men’s Clothing and Jacob’s Millinery (later Wolf’s) was here; Julius Mandelbaum was a partner in this firm and in the 1920’s he merged with Younkers.

In the mid 1870’s business activity shifted to Walnut Street.   In this time, Harbach’s furniture store was located on Second Street.  Furniture manufacturers of the 19th century also served the community as undertakers because they were the only ones with the facilities to construct coffins.  In fact, Lots company, an early Des Moines furniture store and coffin maker solemnly announced in their ad, “undertaking performed on short notice.”  Harbach Furniture claimed “one rested in their furniture from the cradle to the grave.”


Building was once Hierb’s Saloon, no longer standing.

On the southwest corner of Second and Walnut was the site of Joseph Hierb’s Saloon.  Hierb and his brother also owned the first brewery in Des Moines at 7th and Center and piled their used mash close to the brewery where the local pigs regularly had a fine feast and then had trouble finding their way home until the city council put a stop to this practice.

Excerpt from:

Hunter, Dan.  Des Moines: Confluence of People and Resources.  1982:  Public Library of Des Moines.

Content also from the Des Moines Architectural and Historical Tour.

Historic Tour #3 – First and Court


100 Court Avenue is now an office building but it was once the Kurtz Wholesale Warehouse.  Previously, it was a grocery warehouse and in the 19th century this was the site of the Dickerson Agricultural Implement Company (owned by William Dickerson, a Prussian immigrant).

Most of early Des Moines’ trade was with farmers.  Farmers traded their surplus harvest for items which they could not manufacture on their own farms, such as farm implements, buttons, and coal oil lamps to name a few.  Pioneer farmers were basically subsistence farmers, using oxen for power, and they were for the most part self-sufficient.  However, the growth of Des Moines from 1845 to 1880  parallels a revolution in agricultural technology.  The shift from ox power, subsistence farming, to horse-powered and the beginnings of commercial farming.  new horse-drawn machines enabled one farmer to complete more work in one day and gradually farm more land.  The Dickerson Agricultural Implement company is an example of an urban business which fostered this shift in technology.

Excerpt from:

Hunter, Dan.  Des Moines: Confluence of People and Resources.  1982:  Public Library of Des Moines.

Reliable Rug Factory, 1904

Advertisement from Fort Des Moines, 1904

Owned by a Mrs. Emma Ferrington.  In 1904.  How awesome is that? She took over the business when her husband passed away in 1890. For more on Emma Ferrington from A Narrative History of the People of Iowa.., click here.  A print edition of this is also available at several DMPL locations.

From the 1904 City Directory:

Harger & Blish Building c.1928

112 11th St.  Now the Mulberry Lofts

from Greater Des Moines: Have a Look at Our City, 1928

The New Wardrobe – 814 Locust – 1912

The Midwestern, vol. 2, 1912

I love old ads, especially ones with photos.  I came across this one while browsing The Midwestern.   By cross referencing the Sanborn maps with the Polk County Assessor page, I was able to determine this building is no longer here.  It is now a parking lot.

The 1910 City Directory lists an EG Christy  at this address as “harness.”  After that, it is vacant for a few years.   I admit, I didn’t dig for hours on this topic (staffing limitations, you know), but I did run through the basics.  If it wasn’t for this advertisement in The Midwestern, there wouldn’t be any immediate information to believe this business even existed.

 If you know anything, please comment.  We would love to hear it.

This is just an example of how much local history is not documented and how you have to dig, just to find a little information.

You may view more of The Midwestern online by clicking on the links found here.

Holidays in Des Moines, 1911

One hundred years ago, holidays in Des Moines apparently involved as much shopping as it does today. Advertisements in the Des Moines Tribune for holiday gifts were plentiful, a couple from stores with names we still recognize.  Younker Brothers had hand bags for $1.29 and wallets for 23 to 69 cents.   At S. Joseph and Sons, “reliable watches can be purchased as low as $10.”  You could buy a “quarter sawed oak finely finished rocker” for $6.45 at Bard & Hammer, and Harger & Blish was your “headquarters for Victrolas and Edisons.”  The Grand was giving “S&H double stamps” all week.  “Children’s Wash Dresses” were as low as 69 cents at J. Mandelbaum & Sons, and at the Iowa Seed Company you could purchase a Christmas tree holder for 25 cents.  And, as if plucked straight from today’s newspaper, one story’s headline read “Slippers will be popular presents.”

There were pictures of the “new municipal building soon to be occupied.” The Knights Templar ball was held at the Shrine Temple and was “a brilliant affair and one of the notable events of the holiday season,” and there was an abundance of Christmas parties on the Society Calendar. At the same time, the Men’s League for Woman Suffrage started a campaign to organize the state efforts to “grant political rights to women.”

Seven inches of snow covered the city the day after Christmas.  Roads were then unpaved, but if you could get to the Rock Island station, you could travel to Chicago on one of five trains leaving daily.  On the way to the station in your motorcar, you would have to adhere, of course, to the ten miles-per-hour speed limit.

And don’t get the idea that after-holiday clearance sales are anything new.

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