DescriptionA military garrison was established here at the fork of the Raccoon and Des Moines rivers in 1843. Fort Raccoon might have kept its name had the War Department not decided it lacked the proper decorum. The new name, Des Moines, was drawn from the vocabulary of the French voyageurs who christened the waterway La Riviere des Moines, River of the Monks.
The rush to the California gold fields brought travelers who decided to stay rather than continue their journey. The settlement's rapid growth brought it prominence, and the state capital was moved here from Iowa City in 1857. Navigating Des Moines is simplified by the fact that north-south streets are numbered and the east-west streets are named.
Agricultural issues direct much of the action within Des Moines' active economic and political arena, where world markets for Iowa's huge grain output are targeted. Though much of its strength is derived from the farmland, the capital city has more than 385 factories, which turn out such goods as farm equipment and food products.
John Deere, whose plant in nearby Ankeny makes grain drills and cotton pickers, offers tours by reservation. The publishing and insurance industries also fuel the economy of Des Moines.
The Iowa State Fair, first held in 1854, has inspired three movies, a Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway musical and a novel, all celebrating its grand Midwest traditions. During the 11-day celebration, nearly 1 million visitors enjoy agricultural exhibitions, grandstand entertainment, rides, food and much more. The fair typically runs in mid-August, ending the Sunday two weeks before Labor Day.
The strikingly modern Des Moines Civic Center, 221 Walnut St., is home to the Des Moines Symphony. Next to the center is Cowles Commons, a park and popular gathering place that features “Crusoe Umbrella,” a sculpture by Claes Oldenberg, and a red granite stone and brick event space with an interactive water feature and a 28-foot steel and light sculpture.
Farther west, Water Works Park has more than 20 miles of drives along the wooded banks of the Raccoon River. Blank Park Zoo on S.W. 9th Street houses more than 100 animal species, including snow leopards, tigers, giraffes, lions and birds; phone (515) 285-4722. A 26-mile paved hiking/biking trail connects Des Moines with the beach at Big Creek State Park in nearby Polk City; snowmobiling and cross-country skiing are winter pursuits in this 3,550-acre park. Gray's Lake on Fleur Drive has paddleboat and canoe rentals, hiking trails and a beach; phone (515) 237-1386.
Visitor InfoGreater Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau 400 Locust St. Suite 265 DES MOINES, IA 50309. Phone:(515)286-4960 or (800)451-2625
ShoppingMore than 150 retail establishments offer such specialty items as antiques and home furnishings in Historic Valley Junction, a renovated railroad district in West Des Moines, 1 mile south of Grand Avenue on Fifth Street. One of Des Moines' original commerce areas, Historic East Village, which extends from the east side of the Des Moines River to E. 14th Street, features nearly 80 shops and restaurants.
Merle Hay Mall, 3 miles south of I-80 on Merle Hay Road at Douglas Avenue, offers Sears and Younkers and more than 90 establishments. Southridge Mall, US 65/69 and Army Post Road, includes Sears and Younkers plus 25 additional places for shopping, eating and entertainment. Valley West Mall, I-235 and 35th Street, has JCPenney, Von Maur and Younkers and more than 100 other establishments.
Jordan Creek Town Center, 101 Jordan Creek Pkwy. in West Des Moines, has more than 160 retailers, including Dillard's, Younkers and Scheels , which features hunting, fishing, golf, ski and fitness shops with apparel and equipment; phone (515) 727-4065. West Glen Town Center, 5465 Mills Civic Pkwy., offers more than 30 shops and eateries.
Things to SeeAdventureland Park
Living History Farms