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 #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.


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.

Iowa-Hollywood Connection

filmThe Iowa-Hollywood Connection

A number of well-known actors and actresses were born or raised in Iowa, some very famous, some lesser-known. How many of the following have you heard of?

Cloris Leachman, born in Des Moines in 1930, is well-known for her role as downstairs neighbor Phyllis Lindstrom on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  Recently, has taken a role in the comedy tv series Raising Hope.

Donna Reed, born in Denison in 1921, was first recognized for her role in the movie It’s a Wonderful Life. She later starred in The Donna Reed Show from 1958-1966.

John Wayne, born in Winterset in 1907 as Marion Morrison, made
many Westerns and won an Oscar in 1970 for True Grit.

Fred Grandy, born in Sioux City in 1948, is famous for his role as Gopher on The Love Boat. He was later a congressman from Iowa for four terms, 1987-1995.

Jerry Mathers, born in Sioux City in 1948, will always be identified with his role as Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver on the Leave It to Beaver show.

Jean Seberg was born in Marshalltown in 1938. She made her acting debut as Joan of Arc in Otto Preminger’s 1957 movie, Saint Joan.

William Frawley, born in Burlington in 1887, starred as neighbor
Fred Mertz, wife of Ethel, on I Love Lucy, and later played Bub on
My Three Sons.

George Reeves, born in Woolstock in 1914, played Superman on television in The Adventures of Superman from 1951-1958.

Sada Thompson, born in Des Moines in 1929, was a renowned Broadway actress and later played the mother on the TV show Family.

Richard Beymer, born in Avoca in 1939 (some sources say 1938), was best known for his role as Tony in the movie version of West Side Story.

Sue Lyon, born in Davenport in 1946, won fame playing Lolita in the
film of the same name when she was sixteen.

Marcia Wallace, born in Creston in 1942, played Bob’s secretary on
The Bob Newhart Show and is currently the voice of Edna Krabappel on The Simpsons.

Some of the more recent Iowa natives now working in Hollywood are

Tom Arnold, born in Ottumwa in 1959, is a television and movie actor.

Michael Emerson, born in 1954 in Cedar Rapids, played the evil character Ben on the TV series Lost.

Terry Farrell, born in Cedar Rapids in 1963, and had recurring roles on the TV series Becker and Star: Trek Deep Space Nine.

Annabeth Gish was born in Albuquerque, NM in 1971, but grew up in Cedar Falls. She made her debut in the movie Mystic Pizza in 1988, and had recurring roles on The West Wing, The X Files, and Brotherhood and now Pretty Little Liars.

David Anthony Higgins was born in Des Moines in 1961 and graduated from Roosevelt High School. He has appeared on both Ellen and Malcolm in the Middle.

Ashton Kutcher, born in Cedar Rapids in 1978, is well-known for
That ‘70’s Show, Punk’d, and most recently Two and a Half Men.  He has also starred in several films.

Ron Livingston, born in Cedar Rapids in 1967, has acted in movies and on TV, including on The Practice and Sex and the City, as well as the cult classic Office Space.

Michelle Monaghan, born in 1976 in Winthrop,was in Gone Baby Gone and has several films currently in production.

Brandon Routh, born in Des Moines in 1979, followed in George Reeves’ footsteps and played Superman/Clark Kent in the 2006 movie Superman Returns.  He has also apprised roles on the tv series’ Chuck and Partners.

Gregory Alan Williams, born in Des Moines in 1956, has been in movies and tv.  Recently played Coach Parnell on Necessary Roughness and is now working on a few films.

Elijah Wood, born in Cedar Rapids in 1981, has acted in movies and on TV, probably best known for his role as Frodo Baggins in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit directed by Peter Jackson.

Iowa Film Office. Stars from Our Backyard. 1996.
Internet Movie Database.

Des Moines City Hall & Government 1891


Souvenir of Des Moines by the Mail and Times, 1891.

More Historic Des Moines Christmas Ads

December 1907 Midwestern, vol. 2.

FolderView 12142012 23155 PM.bmp

Des Moines Register, December 1903.

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Des Moines Register, December 1903.

Daylight Saving Time in Iowa

Have you recovered from the change in time yet? Ever wonder why we have to reset our clocks twice a year? The merits of Daylight Saving Time (DST) have been argued ever since Benjamin Franklin took a trip to Paris in 1784 and “saw the light,” penning a proposal to economize the use of candles during the daytime.  In 1907, Englishman William Willett wrote a pamphlet entitled ‘The Waste of Daylight’, which led to several European nations adopting his plan for saving daylight. In 1918 the United States officially observed DST but repealed it the next year. According to an article in the Des Moines Tribune on January 14, 1919, the Polk County Farm Improvement Association condemned the law,  stating that quitting at the same hour ”new time” shortened their working day by one hour since they had to get up “before the moon had gone to bed.” A proposal to adopt Daylight Saving Time brought before the Des Moines City Council in 1927 was opposed by such diverse groups as street railway workers, the carpenters union, motion picture operators and post office employees. It didn’t pass. The Iowa House opposed “War Time” in 1943 which the U.S. Congress had passed the year before in order to conserve electricity, but the Iowa Senate refused to go along. By 1962, Iowa communities had 23 distinct combinations of dates for starting and ending DST, leading a September 6, 1964 Des Moines Register headline to state, “Daylight time spreads nightmare of chaos across Iowa.” In Springville (Linn County), for example, city government made the switch to Central Standard Time, while the schools and local merchants stayed with DST. Finally, in 1966, Congress passed and President Johnson signed the Uniform Time Act, standardizing Daylight Saving Time across the country, although it included a provision that a state could exempt itself by passing a state law (which Arizona and Hawaii have done). Folks in the other 48 states, including Iowa, can at least now be fairly sure at what time to line up at Starbucks in the morning.

These books can be found in the Des Moines Public Library:

Spring forward: The annual madness of Daylight Saving Time by Michael Downing.

Seize the daylight: The curious and contentious story of Daylight Saving Time by David Prerau.



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