Then and Now – Court Avenue

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From the Des Moines Historical Tour (DMPL). Date unknown.

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Sherman Block and F.M. Hubbell – Historic Tour #8

Sherman Block image

From Des Moines: The Pioneer of Municipal Progress, vol I, opp. p. 58.

On the northeast corner of 3rd and Court was the Sherman Block, built in 1855 by Hoyt Sherman.  B.F. Allen was a banker here and it was also the first home of Equitable of Iowa.  Equitable was founded by F.M. Hubbell who arrived in Des Moines on May 7, 1855, with $3 in his pocket.  His father demanded he give the money back to him so he could buy land in Dallas County.  Young Hubbell walked the streets until he found a job as a clerk in the land office with Phineas Casady.

Image, F.M. Hubbell

In the ensuing years, Hubbell invested in land, narrow gauge railroads, water companies, and most significantly, insurance.  Sometime in the 1860’s a New York insurance salesman called on Hubbell to sell him a life insurance policy for $25,000.  Hubbell was curious about where the company would invest his premiums. The salesman told him that his premiums would earn a guaranteed  four percent return, but that the company reinvested the money at 10 percent.  They New York based life insurance company was also required by New York law to invest its money within 50 miles of the home office.  Hubbell decided to form his own insurance company with the idea that the premiums would be invested in Iowa, and particularly Iowa farmland.  He and other investors created Equitable Life Insurance Company of Iowa.  By 1920, his family owned the company.  It stayed in the family until 1997 when it was sold to ING.

Sources:

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

William B. Friedricks. “Hubbell, Frederick Marion.”  American National Biography Online. October 2008 Update.

Content also from the Des Moines Architectural and Historical Tour.

Historic Tour #7 – 3rd and Walnut

The following is a sampling of businesses that occupied the west side of 3rd between Walnut and Court in early Des Moines.

Amends image

Amends Meat Market was here.

From The Midwestern, vol I, no. 6, p. 25.

  • Phineas Casady’s Des Moines Savings Bank was  here, also.  It was founded in 1875 by P.M. and Simon Casady and C.H. and E.S. Gatch as Des Moines Bank.  It merged with Union Savings Bank in 1884 and the name was changed to Des Moines Savings Bank.
  • Benjamin Saylor had both his office and a residence here.  He was one of two first commissioners elected when Polk County was organized in 1846.

Additional fact: A fire took down a quarter square block edged by 3rd and Walnut on July 4, 1871, destroying several businesses.  The fire was later proved to be arson.

image of 1871 fire

Unknown source. Taken from historical tour.

Sources:

Brigham, Johnson. Des Moines: The Pioneer of Municipal Progress and Reform of the Middle West Together with the History of Polk County, Iowa. . . vol. 1.  Chicago:  S.J. Clarke, 1911

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 #6 – Jewett Typewriter Company

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Jewett Typewriter Company from The Midwestern, vol. II, no. 10, p. 10, 1908.

At 212 3rd Street, was the Jewett Typewriter Company.  George Jewett financed the company which sold one of the first commercially successful typewriters, the Jewett typewriter.  Jewett typewriters were sold world wide and had their headquarters in a three story building on 3rd Street.  The building was built by the Des Moines Commercial Club, an early version of the Chamber of Commerce.  The Commercial Club raised $200,000 to build the building as an incentive to keep the Jewett Typewriter Company in Des Moines.  In 1912 the Jewett Typewriter company was purchased by the Underwood Typewriter Company and moved to Ohio.

Additional fun fact:  Fred and August Duesenberg, who later became the famous automobile builders and racers, were typewriter repairmen for the Jewett Company.  Have you heard the phrase, “That’s a duesey?”  Well, the Duesenbergs made such fine automobiles that they contributed their name to American slang.

Excerpt from:

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

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)
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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.

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 #4 – 2nd and Walnut

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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.”

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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

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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.

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