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West Des Moines City

West Des Moines City Hall is located at 4000 George M. Mills Civic Parkway, West Des Moines IA 50265; phone: 515-222-3600.

Beginnings [1]

The first permanent settlement in what is now the City of West Des Moines dates from 1846 when James C. Jordan pitched a tent between two bur oak trees in Walnut Township. Later he built a log cabin and house on the same site. The house still stands today at 2001 Fuller Road. Mr. Jordan became one of the most influential people in the founding of Valley Junction, the town that has become today the City of West Des Moines. As more and more people settled in the area a sense of community developed and as the township grew the need for schools also became evident. Mr. Jordan gave the township its first school in 1849.

The 1850's saw the first railroads push into Iowa and the inaugural train arrived in Des Moines in 1866. Others followed and between 1867 and 1869 in the valley of the Raccoon River, the Rock Island and Milwaukee lines created a junction of their lines for shipping livestock and produce. The town was incorporated in October 1893 under the name of Valley Junction, for the junction of the railways. The influential men of the community attracted the railroads to build their shops in the newly incorporated town and began to build housing to accommodate the growth anticipated from the railroad businesses.

Valley Junction was designated as a railroad terminal division station in 1892, as it was the only such station between Rock Island, IL and Council Bluffs, IA. The town boomed between 1892 and 1896. The census of 1895 showed a population of 747. The enumeration taken in the spring of 1896 showed 951 residents. In 1894 an election was held which resulted in a new mayor and a full council. Sidewalks were the order of the day to avoid the muddy streets and were composed of lumber. Personal property taxes were collected on the honor system and upon the assessor's vigilance. These early government years focused on caretaking of the city: sidewalks were paved with concrete, streets were paved, and water and sewer capacities increased. Many railroad companies transferred operations to Valley Junction and turned the town into a very important railroad center. By the turn of the century 26 passenger trains and scores of freight trains passed through town daily.

In Polk County from the early 1900's to about 1920 coal mining became a dominant employment source. Polk County was in the center of the state's largest coal deposits. Many miners lived in Valley Junction and worked in the mines elsewhere in Polk County, especially Des Moines. One large mine was located at about 300 Ashworth Road and extended north and west to Clive. This mine alone employed 300 workers. Mining was an important stepping stone in the transformation of Valley Junction from a railroad town to an important commerce and residential center.

A railroad strike which lasted for about two years, between 1922 and 1923, changed Valley Junction forever. Many men were idle and those days were considered very dark and desperate. Many of the buildings along 5th Street housed bars, billiard halls, and houses of ill repute. The railroads brought in many African-American and Hispanic workers to break the strike. Many of these workers brought their families and established roots in the community, creating a more racially and culturally diverse community. By 1936 when the railroads moved a lot of their shops and operations out of Valley Junction, many residents were not sorry to see them go and looked forward to changing the image of the town. In 1931, the city discussed a possible name change for Valley Junction. Over the next few years, the city held three elections before the residents accepted the new name of West Des Moines on December 7, 1937. The name became effective January 1, 1938.

After World War II about 20 factories located in West Des Moines, bringing in about 600 jobs. The 1950's and 1960's represented a boom in manufacturing and industry in West Des Moines. Industries which based themselves in West Des Moines included sand, gravel, cement and concrete product manufacturers, aircraft engine fuel nozzles, hydraulic pumps and motors, insulation, metal fabrication, steel treating, printing, plastics, cabinets, and tool and dye. Of course, the manufacturers and distributors to support these industries also flourished in West Des Moines. Most of this activity was and still is located in the Valley Junction area within the current City of West Des Moines.

  1. Planning and Zoning Commission, Comprehensive Plan, City of West Des Moines, 2006, West Des Moines, IA
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