Hot times at Beaver Tap

The next time you visit Beaver Tap, at the corner of Beaver and Urbandale, look at the outside north wall and you’ll see the outlines of doors and windows that have since been bricked over. As you’re standing there, imagine a fire truck roaring from that vestigial garage doorway, rushing to extinguish a fire somewhere in the Beaverdale neighborhood.  Due in part to the demands of PTA mothers from Riley and Rice elementary schools concerned for their families’ safety, Station No. 17 was added to the Des Moines Fire Department at that location in the fall of 1928. A 1919 350-gallon pumper truck was the largest vehicle that would fit through the door. In 1952, a new and larger Station No.17 was built at the southeast corner of Beaver and Hickman (now a State Farm Insurance agency) which was in service for around 25 years.  After short stints as an auto repair business and a wholesale bakery, the building at 4050 Urbandale was home for almost 30 years to the Bon Ton Tavern. A K O’Connors took over in 1985, and earlier this year the Beaver Tap opened its doors.

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 Open Air Schools

Open air schools in the United States started in 1908 but closed down by 1941.   Children who attended usually suffered from tuberculosis (TB).  Most people with TB were treated in sanitariums, but this made it difficult for children to acquire an education.   Des Moines began an open air school in 1914 for underweight and those physically unhealthy.   This first school was not open to children who had TB, though.  Wallace Elementary (1404 E. 13th) and Casady School (16th St & Jefferson) were both open air schools.

The above picture ran with an article in the March 7, 1921 Des Moines Tribune.  The student, Margaret Hall, states that her school is located at Eighth and College Avenue (Open Air School, 1521 8th St.- old North High) and consists of three rooms.  “The middle one is kept warm so when we get chilly we can go in there.  We have wool suits and overshoes which we wear in the colder rooms.”  A separate article also ran that day.   Below you will find an excerpt.

History of the Open Air School  (excerpt)

by Irene Welsh, Des Moines Tribune, 3/7/1921

“In 1914 a plan was made by the superintendent to have an open air school for children who were underweight or physically subnormal, but no children who had tuberculosis were allowed to come, as there were other schools for tubercular children and also sanitariums.

“The first school was a small building with canvas curtains all around it so it would not be so cold and to keep out the rain and snow.  There were twenty children at first and only one teacher. . . She also had to make the woolen suits that we wear instead of our coats and caps.

“Now we have a little building of three rooms.  It looks like a little bungalow from the outside.  Two of the rooms are all windows on three sides, which can be opened and closed according to the wind and so a draft would be through the room.  They also could be pushed out in a way that the rain and snow could be left out and yet get plenty of fresh air.”

The Des Moines Tribune image at top of page is not very clear.  Below is an image from the Indiana Potter Fresh Air School (1913).

I don’t know about you, but that looks awfully cold.  I’m not sure how the students were able to concentrate in that environment.  America’s History says that Indiana students’ health improved, but the schools closed down due to academic concerns.

If you know more information about the open air schools in Des Moines, please add your comments!

Fresh Iowa Collection Books!


Capital Insurance Company, 1906


Vol. 1, No. 2, October 1906.

New This Month!



Des Moines Self-Tour

There are a bunch of historic places worth visiting in Des Moines and with the weather cooling off a little, you can actually enjoy being outdoors.   To see a little history of Des Moines visit the Historic Places page of our Local History Wiki.  There are two historic tour maps, a map and list of places on the National Register of Historic Places, and a number of links to other historic places websites that focus on Des Moines and Polk County (Drake’s Historic Des Moines collection is very nice).

The great thing about this tour is that you can access it on your phone or computer anywhere with an Internet connection.

Historic Tour 1

Historic Tour 2 (images soon to come)

Print version of the Historic Tour.

So go ahead and enjoy a digital tour of historic places in Des Moines.

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