First Fire Engine in Des Moines

General Crocker Steamer

General Crocker Steamer

In the summer of 1869 the first fire engine arrived in Des Moines:  It was named the General Crocker Steamer in honor of General Marcellus Crocker, beloved Des Moines lawyer who died at the end of the Civil War.  The steamer was financed by the Hawkeye Insurance Company, which only fought fires carrying the insurance company plaque on the building.  The organization of a paid city fire department didn’t occur until March of 1882.

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.

Content also from the Des Moines Architectural and Historical Tour.

Then and Now – Court Avenue

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

court-ave

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

image

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)
image

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.

The Blizzard of 1973

Blizzard4

 

It may seem like bad weather today, but it could be worse. Lots worse. Forty years ago today Des Moines and Iowa were digging out of a massive snowstorm, remembered by many locals as the “Blizzard of ’73.” The snow started on Monday, April 9, and buried Des Moines in 12 inches of snow. Drifts of 15 feet were common across the metro area. Dubuque had a 19.2-inch snowfall. Streets in Des Moines and state highways were littered with hundreds of stranded cars,  there were several power outages in the area and, unfortunately, at least seven people died of heart attacks in Polk County.  In Indianola, babies were born in doctors’ offices because the roads to the hospitals were impassable. Schools, businesses, and even the Legislature were closed for at least a couple of days. A picture in the Des Moines Tribune that Monday showed golfers in short sleeves enjoying the 70-degree weather at Waveland on the previous Friday. The high on Monday, April 9, 1973? Twenty-nine degrees.

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