FORT DES MOINES, IA., c. h. Polk co. At the junction of Racoon and Des Moines. It is a beautiful place at the head of navigation of the Des Moines River, within 30 miles of the geographical centre of the state, of which it will probably be the capital at no distant day. The valley of the Des Moines is unsurpassed in fertility, and Fort Des Moines is already the seat of a large inland trade. 120 miles W. from Iowa City. (Gazetteer of the United States of America, 1854)
DES MOINES, the capital of the State, and the county seat, is located in the southern part of the county, at the confluence of the DesMoines and Raccoon Rivers. The former river divides the city north and south, the latter east and west. The west side of the DesMoines River and north of the Raccoon River, embraces the first settled portion, and contains about two-thirds of the present population of the city. The east side of the river contains nearly the whole of the remaining portion, the south side of the Raccoon having but few residences.
On the 9th of May, 1843, the little steamer Ione arrived at the place where the city now stands, with a detachment of troops on board, who, immediately on their landing, commenced the work of constructing the various buildings, which were denominated the “Fort.” The Ione was the first steamboat that had ever ventured to disturb the clear waters of the DesMoines so far from its mouth. Having disembarked the troops with their accoutrements, baggage, and the military stores, which composed her lading, she departed. Capt. Allen, the commandant of the future Fort, returned with her to make arrangements for bringing on the rest of the troops. In a month or two they arrived to join their comrades, a mere corporal's guard, which Capt. Allen had left, and all immediately engaged heartily in building their barracks.
Their number was nearly one hundred—consisting of two companies, one of infantry, the other of cavalry. All were under the command of Capt. James Allen, an officer experienced and determined; of sound judgment and excellent military talent. Lieutenants Greer, King and Potter, served under him;—the first belonged to the cavalry troop, the others, at separate times, commanded in the infantry.
The buildings which composed the Fort were scattered along the banks of the Des Moines, and at various points through what is now the business part of the town. They consisted of barracks for the men, and stables for the horses, and were some twenty or twenty-five in number.
Among the earliest settlers in the vicinity of DesMoines were John B. Scott, W. A. Scott, Wm. Lamb and Alexander Turner, who contracted with the Government to furnish hay, grain, and various other farm products, for the use of the garrison at the Fort. Charles Weatherford, and a man named Baker, settled as blacksmiths. J. M. Thrift was engaged as a tailor for the soldiers. John Sturdevant and James Drake were employed as gun-smiths for the Indians. Benjamin Bryant, among the very first to arrive, was in the employ of W. G. & G. W. Ewings, authorized Indian traders.
W. G. & G. W. Ewings had an establishment for trading purposes east of the DesMoines River, in what is now Scott & Dean's addition. This company, in 1843, built the first regular dwelling house ever erected in Polk county. It stood near their trading house, and, like the rest, was a rude log-cabin, saw-mills being a symbol of civilization at that time unknown in the country.
Robert A. Kinsay, another trader who supplied the settlers and garrison with various descriptions of merchandise, but was not allowed to sell to the Indians, had a store near the fort buildings. Its locality, as defined according to the present condition of the city, was on Wine street, between Second and Third.
The American Fur Company had established a trading post on the east side of the river, on what is now known as the “Hazen Farm.”
The Indian Agent, Major Beach, and the Interpreter, Joseph Smart, resided east of the Fur Company's buildings, on the hill. Near the Agency House were the smith-shops, where Sturdevant and Drake wrought for the Sacs and Foxes.
Peter Newcomer had permission from Capt. Allen to reside on Agency Prairie, on condition that he would build a bridge across Four Mile Creek.
The foregoing enumeration includes very nearly all the residents who settled near the fort in 1843, except the government troops. Their numbers continued about the same until the Indian title expired, when immigrants poured in like a flood.
In July the County Commissioners proceeded to lay off the town of Fort DesMoines in lots, and to make sale of them at public auction.
The first groceries opened in Fort DesMoines were kept by W. W. Clapp and Addison Michael, who were licensed by the County Commissioners for the term of three months.— The cost of obtaining a license for that length of time was six dollars and twenty-five cents, or twenty-five dollars per annum. Addison Michael built, in 1847, the first frame house ever erected in the limits of the town.
After the sale of lots buildings began to be rapidly erected, and the incipient town transferred itself from paper plats to an actual terraqueous existence. The dense growth of hazel-bushes which covered large portions of the town site was attacked on all sides, and soon disappeared. No finer position could have been selected for a town. The DesMoines, navigable to the “Fort" for a large portion of the season, here united with the Raccoon branch, a stream of considerable depth and volume, and on the peninsular plain formed by their junction, nature seemed to have provided special advantages for an accessible and healthy town. The heavy timber lands which skirted the rivers, and the immense supplies of coal and stone, in adjoining hills, which, though then not fully explored, were known to exist, designated it not only as the appropriate locality for the county seat, but inspired bright hopes of its future growth and importance, which the present has not failed to realize.
A Post Office was established at Fort DesMoines in 1846. Joseph Smart, the Indian Interpreter, was appointed Post Master, during the early part of the year, but he soon resigned, and Dr. T. K. Brooks took his place. The office was kept at the Agency House, at first. Afterwards it was removed to the Fur Company's buildings, near the river, and about a mile south of the present town. It is related of the Hon. P. M. Cassady, who was one of the earliest Post Masters, that it was a common occurrence for him to bring up all the “mail" for the “Fort” in his hat, so little correspondence did the pioneers of this region have with the world they had left behind them. Mail facilities were then very limited and hazardous. Mails were generally transported on horseback, and this through an hundred miles of country almost uninhabited, and were subject to peril from storm and stream. As a matter of course delays and losses often occurred. They could not possibly be avoided.
As early as 1850, Fort DesMoines became a place of especial interest, on account of the probability of its being the future capital of the State. It was apparent that Iowa City would, in a few years lose this honor, and the state house be removed nearer to the centre of the State, and, in this event, Fort Des Moines was the only point likely to be selected.
On the 22d of September, 1851, the citizens of Fort DesMoines voted on the subject of incorporating it as a town. Only one vote was recorded in the negative. Hon. P. M. Cassady, Rev. Thompson Bird and L. P. Sherman, Esq., were elected to draft a town charter.
On Saturday, October 18th, the charter prepared by this committee was adopted by a vote of the citizens.
On the ensuing Monday, the following councilmen were chosen: Thompson Bird, M. T. Marvin, C. D. Reinking, L. P. Sherman, Reuben W. Sypher, Jesse S. Dicks, Hoyt Sherman and P. M. Cassady. This Council chose Thompson Bird, President.
A United States Land Office was established here in 1852.
In 1853, Fort DesMoines was incorporated by act of the Legislature. It had increased since 1851 in wealth, inhabitants and commercial importance, to such a degree that it was deemed highly essential that its municipal regulations should be based upon a special and not a general law.
Great hopes were all this time entertained that Fort DesMoines would finally become the capital of Iowa. For this those of its citizens most interested in the advancement of the town continually labored. The views of the people of the whole State, except those on or near the Mississippi River, were strongly in favor of the proposed change. Accordingly, in 1854, a bill was introduced and passed the State legislature, locating the capital at Fort DesMoines. The bill was strongly opposed, by the members from the eastern portion of the State, but, notwithstanding their efforts, it became a law.
It provided, however, for permitting the capital to remain two years longer at Iowa City, this proviso giving the representatives from the eastern portion of the State, and particularly from Johnson county, whose constituents were very desirous of allowing the capital to remain where it had been first located, the forlorn and vain hope of repealing, at the next session a law which, however just and appropriate, was slightly contrary to their interests.
At the session of 1856, two years after, members from Johnson and other counties opposed to the removal of the State capital, arrayed their numbers and vigilantly watched for a favorable opportunity to introduce a bill annulling all previous legislation on the subject. No auspicious moment came, and the session wore away without any changes being made or openly attempted. From that time, the vexed “capital question,” which had caused so much uneasiness, excitement and debate, was considered immutably settled. However, a subsequent feeble attempt was made, in the late Constitutional Convention, to submit the question to popular vote, outside of the Constitution, but was speedily defeated and abandoned.
In the meantime the citizens of DesMoines were not idle. A beautiful and commanding site, on the east side of the river, was selected for the capitol building, and an edifice costing some $65,000 erected, and, with an adjoining tract of ground, donated to the State.
On the 3d of February, Fort DesMoines was incorporated by the legislature as a city. Its name was changed to the more euphonious one of DESMOINES. Its boundaries were much enlarged, and now embrace the following limits: Beginning at the northeast corner of section two, (2,) township seventy-eight, (78,) range twenty-four, (24,) west of fifth P. M., thence west to the northwest corner of section five, (5) township and range aforesaid: thence south to the southwest corner of section eight, (8,) in said township; thence east to the southeast corner of section eleven, (11,) in said township: thence north to the place of beginning.
That part of the city east of the Des Moines, and formerly called East Fort DesMoines, was not, under the town charter, included within the corporation, but the city charter comprises both sides of the river. The eastern side is not so favorable, by nature, for a town site as the western. The space between the river and the adjacent hills is narrower, and a considerable portion of the valley is low and subject, in time of high water, to be partly overflowed. There is a level stretch of ground near the bluffs that is higher, and, were it sufficiently extensive would constitute an admirable site for a town. Still, buildings are being erected throughout the whole bottom, on the slope of the hill where the capitol is located, and even beyond it. The whole hillside and valley, from present appearances, will, in a few years, be entirely covered with houses. Some of those now erected are very fine and costly.
On the brow of the surrounding eminences are many very beautiful situations for suburban residences, commanding a view of the entire city, and the DesMoines and its tributary, winding around it, like belts of glistening silver. The western side of the DesMoines is the natural site of the town, and a finer locality can scarcely be found anywhere. The table land, so narrow on the east side, here expands into a beautiful and elevated plain, extending to the very verge of the river, and affording ample space for a city of fifty thousand inhabitants.
DesMoines has all the elements necessary to make it a great manufacturing place, having coal and other fuel in abundance, and good water power on the DesMoines River, in addition to the rich country which surrounds it, where food can be raised as abundantly and as cheap as in any other part of the world. It is to be a great railroad centre, also, and will have, in the course of a year or two, two, if not three, railroads, from the south and southeast. Its present railroad facilities are by the DesMoines Valley and the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad, to reach which there are about forty-five miles of wagoning or staging; the Mississippi & Missouri River Railroad, which can be reached by a little over this distance: and the Cedar Rapids Railroad, which is within about thirty-two miles. One of these roads, the first named, will probably be completed to DesMoines in a short time, as every few months the distance is shortened. Already she is adopting some of those useful metropolitan fashions which shrewd eastern capitalists, snuff.g the great profits in her early future, are willing to indulge her in, at their expense—among them gas and water, which are to be conveyed in pipes long or short, into every man's dwelling, workshop or store.
There are now eight churches in DesMoines, viz: one Baptist, one Congregational, one Episcopal, one M. Episcopal, one N. S. Presbyterian, one O. S. Presbyterian, one Roman Catholic and one United Presbyterian. The Baptist Association having purchased the unfinished college edifice on one of the western hills of the city, propose to make it what it was originally intended to be, one of the first educational institutions in the country.
The Iowa Star, the first newspaper printed in DesMoines, was commenced in 1849, by Barlow Granger & Co., and advocated Democratic principles. There are at present four newspapers published in the city, viz: the Iowa Homestead, agricultural, weekly, H. W. Pettit, proprietor; Iowa Instructor and School Journal, Orin Faville, editor, Mills & Co., publishers; Iowa State Register, daily and weekly, Republican, F. W. Palmer, proprietor; Iowa Statesman, weekly, Democratic, W. H. Merritt, proprietor.
DesMoines contains four hotels. The Savery House is one of the finest hotels west of the Mississippi River, and north of St. Louis. Its dimensions are one hundred and thirty-two feet square. It is four stories in height, of brick, and cost $60,000. It also contains two publishing houses, Mills & Co. and Iowa State Register; two bookstores, two binderies, three banks, two woolen factories, two flour mills, one plow manufactory, two foundries, one planing mill, one paper mill, two pork-packing establishments, three breweries, one distillery, two agricultural implement warehouses, six dry goods stores, eight drug stores, ten general stores, fourteen groceries, eight clothing stores, six boot and shoe stores, two hardware stores, two hat and cap stores, three leather stores, six jewelers, three stove and tin stores, four furniture stores, three liquor stores, one grain merchant, beside a great variety of other business. Population about 7,000. (Hair's Iowa State Gazetteer..., 1865)