Discover the History of Des Moines

Are you planning to visit Des Moines? Learn more about the interesting history of Des Moines and what landmarks a history buff shouldn’t miss while staying at our Des Moines hotel.

While human settlement in this area dates back at least 7,000 years, the written history of Des Moines started in May 1843 with the construction of a military fort where the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers merge together. It has been debated where the name Des Moines originates from, and some assume that the French explorers named river after its location. “De Moyen” is French for “middle”, and it is thought to refer to the Des Moines River being located between the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. Others believe that the name refers to the French Trappist monks who lived some 200 miles from the area.

The construction of the fort was supervised by Captain James Allen, who wanted to name it Fort Raccoon, but his suggestion was turned down by the U.S. War Department. Many of the soldiers stationed at the fort started mining coals from the riverbank for the fort’s blacksmith. The main purpose of the fort was to control the Meskwaki and Sauk Indians, who had been forcefully removed from their previous lands in eastern Iowa. When the Indians had been entirely removed from the state in 1846, the fort was abandoned. Archaeological excavations have revealed that parts of the fort foundation have sustained and can be found under what is now Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway and First Street.

When Iowa gained statehood in 1945, the population of Fort Des Moines was 127. One year later, European settlers migrated to the area and occupied the fort and surrounding areas. The settlers were predominantly Germans, Irish, English, and Scandinavians who escaped the economic problems of their home countries for improved life conditions in the New World.

Much of the town was destroyed during the Flood of 1851, where crops, houses, fences, and other materials were ruined. However, the town was quickly rebuilt and was growing more than ever. In 1857, the city charter was adopted and “Fort” was dropped from the name. One year later, when two bobsleds transported the state’s archive into Des Moines from Iowa City, it became the state capital and it has kept on growing and flourishing since then.

Large-scale construction and renovation took place in Des Moines during the late 1800’s. The majestic state capitol building was finished in 1884 and features a gold-gilded Roman-style dome in the center. The building is located on East Grand Avenue and offers guided tours.

Another fascinating point of interest is the Jordan House. It is a restored Victorian mansion of gothic design and it was the home of West Des Moines founder James Jordan. During the 1850’s and 60’s the Jordan House was an Underground Railroad station. It currently serves as a museum for the City of West Des Moines and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Although located in a modern building, the State Historical Museum of Iowa features temporary and permanent exhibits will take you on a journey through Iowa’s rich history, people, and cultures. The museum is also home of a genealogy library and several interactive displays where you can get a taste of what life was like in the 19th Century.

Today Des Moines is the home of over 200,000 people and it keeps on growing. Forbes magazine ranked Des Moines as “The Best Place for Business” in 2010, and many major corporations run large operations in the metro area. Des Moines is truly a spectacular city with much to offer. Come stay with us at Ramada Tropics Resort & Conference Center and see for yourself!

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