West Des Moines is a city in
Polk, Dallas, and Warren counties in the U.S.
state of Iowa.
of the 2000 census, the city population was 46,403; a special
census taken in the spring of 2005 counted 51,744 residents and the
United States Census
estimated that 55,426 residents lived there in 2008.
West Des Moines is the second-largest city in the Des Moines metropolitan area
and the ninth-largest city in Iowa. It ranked 94th in Money
magazine's list of the "100 Best
Places to Live and Launch" in 2008.
The West Des Moines area used to be home to the Sac
tribes. Near the stroke of midnight on 11
, 1845 a gunshot was fired by a cattle farmer, James Cunningham Jordan
) and the tribes left. His residence,
the Jordan House, has been restored and is now home to the West Des
Moines Historical Society. In West Des Moines' early years, the
town was a trading and shipping junction. West Des Moines
incorporated as the city of Valley Junction
In its early days Valley Junction was home to the Chicago, Rock Island
and Pacific Railroad
's switching facilities and repair shops
due to its location at the junction of several railroad
lines. The Rock Island's facilities moved
out of Valley Junction and back into Des Moines in 1936.
The speed limit of ten miles (16 km) an hour had existed in
Valley Junction since 1911 for all automobiles. But in 1915 an
Englishman named Jack
built a one-mile (1.6 km) oval race track, designed
to let race cars break that speed limit ten times over. The wooden
track was made of of 2x4's laid on edge. It was one of 24 such
tracks nation-wide; with seating for over 10,000 people. On
, the eyes of the auto world
were on Valley Junction in anticipation of the fastest auto race in
history. Ralph DePalma,
winner of the Indianapolis
500 that year, was one of at least a dozen drivers
vying for the $10,000 purse.
Before a crowd of 7,000 people,
a tire blew, lunging Joe Cooper
over the rail. Later while rounding a curb, a wheel of Billy Chandler
failed, cartwheeling the car into the
infield and fatally injuring his mechanic, Morris Keller
. Chandler was seriously injured.
Smiling Ralph Mulford
won the race
with DePalma a close 2nd. This baptism by blood left a bad taste in
the mouth of the locals, and the track was closed two years later.
The wood was salvaged and then used to construct buildings in
The serious dilemma of school overcrowding was partially addressed
in 1916. The bond issue to build a new high school for $50,000 was
approved by a 2 to 1 vote. The similar new grade school issue was
defeated soundly. Building commenced and by September of the
following year, the doors of the new Valley High School were
opened. As a part of schoolboard policy, only first class
college-educated teachers were hired. By 1919, the rooms of the new
high school were filled. A new junior high school was proposed,
approved, and completed by the fall of 1923.
The new school was the only bright spot in the otherwise uncertain
dreary years of 1922 and 1923. The very foundations of the city
were shaken by a 22-month-machinist strike at the Rock Island
shops. Starting 1922-07-01
, 600 workers
were idled. The railroad company reacted by bringing replacement
workers, scabs, into town to break the strike. The replacements were
mostly Mexican and African-American laborers brought up from
Oklahoma by R. C. Hyde
, the master mechanic at the shops. For their
own protection they lived in boxcars and tiny houses in an area
located south of Railroad Avenue and west of the main rail yards.
The area was dubbed "Hyde Park" by the strikers. The resulting
hardships suffered by the idled workers eventually led the most
desperate to choose between breaking the strike or letting their
family starve. It was a time which pitted neighbor against
neighbor, tearing at the very fabric of the community. Two men shot
themselves in desperation before the strike finally ended.
Although the 1920s was the era of prohibition for the rest of the
country, Valley Junction had officially become a dry town in 1915.
The '20s were not all doom and gloom for Valley Junction. The
businessmen of the community dress in drag for a play called
"The Womenless Wedding
". Simple joys of small town life
were reflected in the faces of the children: having a part in the
school play, flying the first kite, dressing up for the May Day
pageant, or riding in the Fourth of July
Parade. The older kids enjoyed
the chance to take the trolley to Des Moines for an afternoon of shopping and maybe lunch along
The notion of the moble society was embraced by
the youth. A joy ride in a fast jalopy to Greenwood Park for a game
of tennis, or off to the country for a picnic mirrored the
infatuation that America had for the car. By the close of the
decade, however, the picnic was over. The Depression was especially
hard for the workers of Valley Junction because the railroads had
finished pulling out by 1936, and the Keystone Coal Factory had to
close because of flooding in the tunnels.
By 1937, only two trains stopped daily; the sagging business
climate needed a boost. Members of the commercial club believed
that the only way to attract new industry would be to change the
name of the city. They thought the name "Valley Junction" conveyed
the image of an old-fashioned and backwards town to prospective
employers and residents. The name of "West Des Moines" would give
it the respectibility and prestige that the town desperately
needed. There was a precedent by way of an editorial in the Valley
Junction Express in 1905 that suggested dropping "Junction" from
the name, but nothing came of it. The opposition feared that the change to
West Des Moines would cause property owners to be taxed the same as
It was also declared as a step toward
by Des Moines. A third and
final election was held on December 7, 1937.
On January 1, 1938, the name "Valley Junction" was relegated to the
past, and the new city of West Des Moines
first steps to a new identity. Helping to establish this new
identity, the most identifiable trait was the suspension of all
property taxes between 1936 and 1938. This was due to the profits
of the water department. Today the original business district of
West Des Moines has been preserved as Historic Valley Junction. It
features many locally-owned specialty shops and restaurants as well
as a weekly farmers' market
Though the name was changed, the community's commitment to
education was bolstered by funds from the Public Works
Administration. Despite the Depression
, a new elementary school
and football stadium were
built and then dedicated in 1939. The vulnerable Lincoln School was
razed in 1938 to make way for the new building. Longfellow was
retired in 1939 and then sold in 1940 for $1000. In 1955, West Des
Moines Elementary School was renamed "Nellie Phenix Elementary" in
honor of the former principal. The late 30's were very good years
in the school's athletic teams: names like True, Gavin, Swink, and
Sherbo. Charles Swink
multi-record holder in track and field. His record at the Drake
Relays stood for twenty years.
An overgrown concrete eyesore on Ashworth Road soon became the
musical mecca for the surrounding area on June 6, 1939, when
opened the Val Air
Ballroom. The site was once the location of the stillborn Wilson Rubber
company factory. Intended to
bolster World War I
tire production, the
end of the war in 1918 left only a large concrete slab. Patrons of
the Val Air could dance under a canopy of stars to the melodious
sounds of Guy Lombardo
, Benny Goodman
, and other big bands. The war years brought new vitality
to the comminuty without a cost.
Flooding has constantly dampened, but has not broken the residents'
spirits over the years. The unpredictable waters of the Raccoon River
and Walnut Creek have often
exceeded their banks, filling the streets and damaging homes and
In 1950 West Des Moines had a population of 5,615, but the city
began to grow as many new housing subdivisions were built in the
decades ahead. After annexing the neighboring community of Clover
Hills in 1950, West Des Moines annexed the town of Ashawa, a former
Rock Island railroad stop, in 1957, and Commerce, a town along the
, in 1960. To keep up
with the town's growth, city government grew as well. The
vulnerable city hall lacked the capacity to keep up with the city's
expansion. So in 1954 a new municipal building was opened. With the
inflex of new students, the school district's ever-expanding
borders continually compromised classroom capacity. Children were
attending school in former homes near Phenix, with classes in
hallways and living rooms. Space was even rented from the new
Catholic grade school. In 1959 alone, 150-200 new homes were built,
increasing the population more. The construction of Interstate 35
, Interstate 80
, and Interstate 235
in the 1960s brought
more people and businesses to West Des Moines. Several retail and
office complexes opened along the I-235 corridor after the
freeway's completion, including Valley West Mall, which opened in 1975.
West Des Moines'
population jumped from 11,964 in 1960 to 31,702 in 1990.
Moines expanded into Dallas County during the 1990s and 2000s,
punctuated by the opening of the Jordan Creek
Town Center shopping mall in
Major commercial construction is underway around the
area, including the opening of many additional hotels, shopping
centers, and office buildings, including a new Wells Fargo
corporate campus. In 2007
construction started on the Village
, an urban-inspired and pedestrian friendly
community. In 2005 West Des Moines annexed land in Warren County
for the first time. Seeing the land to the south of Des Moines as
extremely valuable, especially with the completion of a major
"South-Belt Freeway" system, the cities of Norwalk and West Des
Moines are actively competing for land in the northern part of
West Des Moines is the fastest growing city
in Iowa according to land mass.
During the 1990s a new city/school campus emerged near the
intersection of South 35th Street and Mills Civic Parkway. West Des
Moines' new police station
April 1992. This was followed by the opening of a new public library
in 1996; the library served as
temporary home for West Des Moines' city
until a new building was dedicated in late 2002.
also features a new stadium for Valley High
School that also opened in 2002.
On the same
property, the West Des Moines School district operates Valley
Southwoods, a freshman high school with over 600 students that
opened in 1996. Major renovation and additions were completed at
Valley High in 2007.
West Des Moines uses the mayor-council
form of government
with a city manager
appointed by the
city council. The council consists of the mayor, two at-large
members, and three members from each of the city's three wards. The
mayor and all council members serve four-year terms. Rick
Messerschmidt served as the interim mayor of the city following
former mayor Eugene Meyer's resignation in January 2007; On April
17th Steve Gaer was elected mayor during a special election.
Jeffrey Pomeranz is the city manager of West Des Moines.
West Des Moines is located at (41.573739, -93.750359) . According
to the United States Census
, the city has a total area of 27.6 square miles
(71.4 km²), of which, 26.8 square miles (69.4 km²)
of it is land and 0.8 square miles (2.0 km²) of it
(2.87%) is water. West Des Moines' location in the Raccoon River
valley has left parts of the city, particularly the Valley Junction
area, prone to flooding
. After the Great Flood of 1993
, a floodwall was
constructed along Walnut Creek (near the boundary with Des Moines)
to protect that area.
West Des Moines has a humid
nearby Clive, Urbandale, and Windsor Heights use the same street numbers for north-south streets
that Des Moines uses, West Des Moines uses its own street numbering
Thus, 86th Street in Clive and Urbandale becomes
22nd Street in West Des Moines. Iowa
, which forms most of the boundary between Des Moines
and West Des Moines, is 63rd Street in Des Moines but 1st Street in
West Des Moines. Many of the east-west streets share the same name
with Des Moines, although the numbering of these east-west streets
starts over in West Des Moines.
As of the census
of 2000, there were 46,403
people, 19,826 households, and 11,915 families residing in the
city. The population density
1,732.5 people per square mile (669.0/km²). There were 20,815
housing units at an average density of 777.1/sq mi
(300.1/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 92.66% White
, 1.87% African American
, 0.03% Pacific Islander
, 1.26% from
, and 1.29%
from two or more races. Hispanic
of any race were 3.03% of the
There were 19,826 households out of which 30.3% had children under
the age of 18 living with them, 50.0% were married couples
living together, 7.7% had a female
householder with no husband present, and 39.9% were non-families.
30.5% of all households were made up of individuals and 7.1% had
someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average
household size was 2.33 and the average family size was 2.98.
In the city the population was spread out with 24.7% under the age
of 18, 9.7% from 18 to 24, 35.5% from 25 to 44, 20.3% from 45 to
64, and 9.8% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was
33 years. For every 100 females there were 92.0 males. For every
100 females age 18 and over, there were 87.9 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $54,139, and the
median income for a family was $70,600 (these figures had risen to
$61,256 and $82,901 respectively as of a 2007 estimate). Males had
a median income of $45,185 versus $31,555 for females. The per capita income
for the city was
$31,405. 2.8% of families and 4.5% of the population were below the
, including 4.7% of those
under the age of 18 and 3.0% of those 65 and older.
Financial Services, Hy-Vee
, Iowa Foundation for Medical
, and the Kum & Go convenience store
chain are headquartered
in West Des Moines. Other large employers include Wells Fargo
's Card Services and Home Mortgage
divisions. Wells Fargo has recently completed its corporate campus
south of Jordan Creek Town Center that is the home of their Home
Mortgage and Consumer Finance divisions.
Des Moines School District has nine elementary schools, two junior high schools, and one high school (Valley), with a second high school for freshmen only
(Valley Southwoods) and an alternative high school (Walnut Creek
Parts of Clive, Urbandale, and Windsor Heights are
also in the West Des Moines School District. The Dallas County
portion of West Des Moines is part of the Waukee School
District; one of that district's four elementary schools is located
in West Des Moines. Private
schools in West Des Moines include Dowling
Catholic High School and Iowa Christian Academy.
School moved to its present location in 1967. Before that it was
located in a three story brick building at 8th and Hillside. It was
built in 1917 and torn down in 1979. Valley High school in known
throughout Iowa for its athletic achievements. Its football team,
the Valley Tigers has won four state Class 4-A championships in the
past seven years. The girls swim team, coached by Mark Lapham was
undefeated for two years straight.
History of West Des Moines education
- 1893: Valley Junction School District formed.
- October 1895: First school opens at 415 7th Street.
- 1900: Longfellow Grade School was built, and the school at 415
7th st. becomes high school.
- May 31, 1901: first graduating class of Valley Junction High
- January 13, 1917: cornerstone of Valley Junction High School on
8th and Hillside laid.
- September 10, 1917: Valley Junction High School opens on 8th
and Hillside, while the old high school becomes Lincoln Grade
- 1923: Valley Junction Junior High is opened next to the high
school, and Longfellow and Lincoln become grade schools.
- 1938: Valley Junction renamed West Des Moines. The high school
and junior high dropped to "Valley".
- Fall 1938: Lincoln Elementary demolished.
- September 16, 1938: first football game played at Valley
Stadium. Valley loses to DM Dowling 13-0.
- 1939: West Des Moines Elementary School was built and opened at
the site of the Lincoln Elementary. Longfellow Grade School is
- 1940: Longfellow is sold for $1,000.
- 1951: Clover Hills Elementary School opens.
- 1956: West Des Moines Elementary was renamed Phenix Elementary
- 1958: Fairmeadows and Clegg Park open.
- 1960: Stilwell Junior High School opens.
- 1962: the West Des Moines school district merges with Clive
School district, acquiring Clive and Crestview schools.
- September 12, 1962: it is announced that land is purchased for
a new high school at 35th and Ashworth.
- May 27, 1963: bond issue passed for the first phase of
construction for Valley High School.
- March 1964: construction begins on the new Valley High
- September 1965: the first phase of construction at the new
Valley is completed with the freshman moving in
- September 1967: the 10, 11, and 12th graders move into the new
Valley High School while the freshman move out to the old high
- October 1967: Western Hills Elementary opens.
- 1969: 336 graduate from Valley.
- 1970: 374 graduate from Valley.
- 1970: Clover Hills Elementary renamed Rex Mathes
- 1971: 391 graduate from Valley.
- Fall 1971: freshman move into the new Valley. Enrollment is
1,905. The old high school campus is renamed Hillside Junior High
and will hold the 8th graders. Stilwell becomes a school solely for
- 1973: 451 graduate from Valley.
- Mid-1970s: enrollment at Valley peaks at 2,300 students.
- 1975-1982 enrollment decreased by nearly 800 students in the
West Des Moines school district.
- 1977: 485 graduate from Valley.
- 1977: the Longfellow School is demolished.
- November 1977: Crossroads Elementary and Indian Hills Junior
High open. Stilwell becomes a 7-8 school. The old Hillside Junior
High is abandoned.
- 1979: the Hillside Junior High demolished.
- 1979: 520 graduate from Valley. It will be a record for over 22
- Fall 1988: enrollment reaches an all-time high.
- Fall 1990: Westridge Elementary opens.
- Fall 1992: Jordan Creek Elementary opens.
- Fall 1997: Valley Southwoods Freshman High School opens.
- 2001: Des Moines
Area Community College opened its West Campus in West Des
Moines. Upper Iowa University, Simpson
College, and William Penn University also operate classroom facilities
- September 13, 2002: first football game played at the new VHS
stadium with a 21-10 victory over Indianola.
- November 2002: old Valley Stadium is demolished to make way for
a new elementary school (Hillside)
- August 2004: Hillside Elementary School opens
- 2005: 582 graduate from Valley
- West Des Moines, Iowa US Census
- Frederickson, T. L., and A. D. Post (eds.), West Des
Moines: From Railroads to Crossroads, 1893-1993, West Des
Moines: West Des Moines Centennial, Inc., 1993.