Old Des Moines University

The area where Park Fair Mall now stands at Second and Euclid is the site of an interesting piece of Des Moines educational history. Highland Park College, Des Moines University, and the University of Lawsonomy once stood on this spot.

Highland Park College was established here in 1889 and operated under that name until 1918, when the Baptist church bought it and renamed it Des Moines University. The school had some 40,000 students and 1,000 pharmacy graduates in its first twenty-five years. Trouble began when a fundamentalist group known as the Baptist Bible Union of North America took over the school in 1927. The administration required all faculty members to agree to eighteen articles of faith. Many faculty members objected to this, and several of them left the university and joined Carl Weeks (later founder of the Armand Cosmetic Company) in forming Des Moines College of Pharmacy in downtown Des Moines. All but two of the pharmacy students at the university left to enroll in the new school.

At the same time that faculty were being required to agree to the articles of faith, students were also having many restrictions placed upon them. It is reported that three girls were disciplined for doing cartwheels during a vaudeville skit. General unhappiness spread, and things came to a head when board chairman Thomas T. Shields fired the entire faculty on May 11, 1929. A few hours later a riot broke out among the students. Angry students marched on the administration building in the afternoon, and that night 150 students attacked the building where the board of trustees was meeting. They threw eggs and rocks and attempted to break down the door to the room where the board members were hiding. Eventually police drove the students from the building, but not before they had wrecked the front office of the school administration building. The school closed in September 1929, and the buildings remained empty until the third, and even stranger, chapter of the area’s history began.

In 1943, Alfred W. Lawson of Detroit bought the property and founded the Des Moines University of Lawsonomy. Early in his career, Lawson was involved in the aviation industry. By the time he came to Des Moines, he was promoting Lawsonomy, sweepingly billed as “the study of everything.” It was said that students (men only) would be required to study for thirty years to achieve the degree of “Knowledgian.” Lawsonomy was based on forty-seven principles based on books written by Lawson, and the curriculum of the school consisted largely of memorizing Lawson’s books. Enrollment at the school was as much as 100 at one time, but dwindled gradually to fewer than twenty by the time the university closed in 1954. The property was sold to developer Frank A. DePuydt for $250, 000, and Lawson died two weeks later on November 29, 1954. DePuydt built the Park Fair Shopping Mall on the site, and a chapter of Des Moines educational history came to an end.

Sources
The Riot That Closed Des Moines U.,
Des Moines Tribune, May 11, 1979, p. 38.

Highland Park College

The area where Park Fair Mall now stands at Second and Euclid is the site of an interesting piece of Des Moines educational history. Highland Park College, Des Moines University, and the University of Lawsonomy once stood on this spot.

Highland Park College was established here in 1889 and operated under that name until 1918, when the Baptist church bought it and renamed it Des Moines University. The school had some 40,000 students and 1,000 pharmacy graduates in its first twenty-five years. Trouble began when a fundamentalist group known as the Baptist Bible Union of North America took over the school in 1927. The administration required all faculty members to agree to eighteen articles of faith. Many faculty members objected to this, and several of them left the university and joined Carl Weeks (later founder of the Armand Cosmetic Company) in forming Des Moines College of Pharmacy in downtown Des Moines. All but two of the pharmacy students at the university left to enroll in the new school.

At the same time that faculty were being required to agree to the articles of faith, students were also having many restrictions placed upon them. It is reported that three girls were disciplined for doing cartwheels during a vaudeville skit. General unhappiness spread, and things came to a head when board chairman Thomas T. Shields fired the entire faculty on May 11, 1929. A few hours later a riot broke out among the students. Angry students marched on the administration building in the afternoon, and that night 150 students attacked the building where the board of trustees was meeting. They threw eggs and rocks and attempted to break down the door to the room where the board members were hiding. Eventually police drove the students from the building, but not before they had wrecked the front office of the school administration building. The school closed in September 1929, and the buildings remained empty until the third, and even stranger, chapter of the area’s history began.

In 1943, Alfred W. Lawson of Detroit bought the property and founded the Des Moines University of Lawsonomy. Early in his career, Lawson was involved in the aviation industry. By the time he came to Des Moines, he was promoting Lawsonomy, sweepingly billed as “the study of everything.” It was said that students (men only) would be required to study for thirty years to achieve the degree of “Knowledgian.” Lawsonomy was based on forty-seven principles based on books written by Lawson, and the curriculum of the school consisted largely of memorizing Lawson’s books. Enrollment at the school was as much as 100 at one time, but dwindled gradually to fewer than twenty by the time the university closed in 1954. The property was sold to developer Frank A. DePuydt for $250, 000, and Lawson died two weeks later on November 29, 1954. DePuydt built the Park Fair Shopping Mall on the site, and a chapter of Des Moines educational history came to an end.

Sources
The Riot That Closed Des Moines U.,
Des Moines Tribune, May 11, 1979, p. 38.

North Des Moines

In 1887, Des Moines  laid out a plan to increase growth.  At this time, the independent suburb North Des Moines started booming as property lots were auctioned off for development.  During this development, two streetcar lines began running to Prospect Park and the main travel ways were paved with bricks, some of them cedar.

According to the History of Des Moines and Polk County,  North Des Moines had a population of about 1,900 in 1889.  Of the Des Moines suburbs, it was the most independent.  It and Sevastopal had elected officials and their own municipal services, but North Des Moines also had its own water plant and school district.  The Zoological Gardens were established here, which later became Riverview Amusement Park.

On February 6th, 1890, North Des Moines voted 243 to 107 in favor of city annexation and 258 to 48 in favor of school annexation.  On March 11, 1890, North Des Moines officially became a part of the city of Des Moines.   In the years to follow,  the North Des Moines area would gain more street car lines, a sewage system, merge school districts, and continue to grow.

Parts of the following neighborhoods fell into the North Des Moines city limits at time of annexation: River Bend, Union Park, Highland Park, Oak Park, Chautauqua Park (not developed at time of annexation), King Irving, and Mondamin Presidential .  If I’ve missed any or included some that I should not have, please let me know.

I highly recommend the following sources as they hold way more information than I could ever place in a blog post!

Sources:

Jacobsen, James E.  The Historical and Architectural Resources of Highland Park and the Parks, (1888-1946), 1996.

Brigham, Johnson.  History of Des Moines and Polk County, 1911.

Des Moines Neighborhoods, City of Des Moines.  2009.

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