Then and Now – Court Avenue


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


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.


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 #6 – Jewett Typewriter Company


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)

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 #2 – First and Walnut


DeMoine House from A Picture Album of the Early History of Des Moines, 1917?

The Polk County Office Building currently stands at First and Walnut.  It was constructed in 1910 as a U.S. Post Office.  Prior to the post office, other businesses occupied the same plot of land:  The DeMoine House, a fashionable hotel, stood there in 1850 and in 1886, George Conradi’s Tavern (below).


Younkers: An Iowa Icon Timeline

Younkers Building from Glimpses of Des Moines circa 1900?

1856 – Lytton, Samuel, and Marcus Younker establish the first Younker and Brothers Dry Goods Store in Keokuk, Iowa.

1874 – A younger brother, Herman, opens the Younker Dry Goods Store in Des Moines.

1879 – The Keokuk store closes and the Des Moines store becomes the headquarters for Younker Brothers.

1881 – Younker Brothers hires Mrs. Mary McCann, the first woman to be employed by any store in Des Moines.

1899 – The Des Moines store moves to its long-term location at Seventh and Walnut Streets, opening on November 9.

1912 – Younker Brothers purchases the Grand Department Store.

1913 – The original Tea Room opens.

1927 – The new Tea Room replaces the old.

1927 – The company merges with Harris-Emery Company, and becomes the largest department store chain in Iowa.

1928 – Younkers Brothers buys J. Mandlebaum and Sons.

1936 – Air-conditioning comes to the entire downtown store.

1939 – A modernization program includes the installation of the first “electric stairs” (escalators) in Iowa. Thousands turn out to try the new invention.

1943 – Younkers purchases the seven-story building across the street from the main store and opens the Store for Homes. A tunnel under the street connects the two stores.

1956 – Younkers negotiates to buy the site of St. Gabriel’s monastery on Merle Hay Road. This later becomes the site of Merle Hay Mall.

1959 – Younkers Merle Hay Mall store opens.

1950s-1960s – Younkers opens several more Des Moines stores as well as branches in Sioux City, Iowa City, Oskaloosa, Ottumwa, Omaha, Nebraska, and Austin, Minnesota.

1978 – Tragedy strikes when the Merle Hay store is destroyed by a fire which kills ten employees.

1979 – Equitable of Iowa purchases Younker Brothers for $72.2 million and makes the retailer a subsidiary officially named Younkers.

1985 – The downtown Store for Homes closes.

1986 – Younkers purchases major competitor Brandeis & Sons, which has eleven department stores in Iowa and Nebraska.

1992 – Younkers purchases the department store division of H.C. Prange Co., a privately owned chain with twenty-five stores.

1994 – Milwaukee-based retailer Carson Pirie Scott & Co. makes an unsolicited bid for Younkers, but the Younkers board votes not to sell.

1995 – Younkers accepts a bid for the company of $216 million from Proffitt’s, Inc., a Tennessee chain,

1998 – Proffitt’s buys Saks Fifth Avenue and makes Younkers a division of Saks.

2005 – The flagship downtown store closes on August 12, ending more than 100 years of retailing on the same site. A store-closing sale brings thousands of people downtown to purchase memorabilia ranging from teacups from the fabled Younkers Tea Room to the “Electric Stairs” sign which had hung over the escalators since 1939. It was the end of an era for downtown retailing in Des Moines.

2006- Bon-Ton Stores acquires from Saks all the shares of its Northern Department Stores Group, and becomes the new corporate parent of Younkers.

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