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West Des Moines, Iowa

West Des Moines is a city in Polk, Dallas, and Warren counties in the U.S. state of Iowa. As of the 2000 census, the city population was 46,403; a special census taken in the spring of 2005 counted 51,744 residents. 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.

West Des Moines is home to four-time Olympic medalist Shawn Johnson, a member of the 2008 United States Women's Gymnastics team.

History

The West Des Moines area used to be home to the Sac and Fox tribes. Near the stroke of midnight on 11 October, 1845 a gunshot was fired by a cattle farmer, James Cunningham Jordan (born 1813; died 1893) 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 on October 9, 1893.

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 Prince 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 1915-08-07, 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's car over the rail. Later while rounding a curb, a wheel of Billy Chandler's Duesenberg 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 Valley Junction.

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 river. 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 Des Moines. It was also declared as a step toward annexation by Des Moines. A third and final election was held on 1937-12-07.

On January 1, 1938, the name "Valley Junction" was relegated to the past, and the new city of West Des Moines took the 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 was a 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 Tom Archer 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, Glenn Miller, 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 businesses.

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 Raccoon River, 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.

West Des Moines expanded into Dallas County during the 1990s and 2000s, punctuated by the opening of the Jordan Creek Town Center shopping mall in 2004. 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 of Ponderosa, 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 Warren County. 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 opened in 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 hall until a new building was dedicated in late 2002. The campus 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.

Government

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.

Geography

West Des Moines is located at (41.573739, -93.750359).

According to the United States Census Bureau, 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.

Street numbering

While 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 system. Thus, 86th Street in Clive and Urbandale becomes 22nd Street in West Des Moines. Iowa Highway 28, 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.

Demographics

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 was 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, 0.13% Native American, 2.76% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 1.26% from other races, and 1.29% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 3.03% of the population.

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. Males had a median income of $45,185 versus $31,555 for females. The per capita income for the city was $31,405. 4.5% of the population and 2.8% of families were below the poverty line. These families are mostly concentrated in recently annexed parts of rural Warren county and along the border of the city and Des Moines, near the historic Valley Junction area. Out of the total population, 4.7% of those under the age of 18 and 3.0% of those 65 and older were living below the poverty line.

Economy

Farm Bureau Financial Services, Hy-Vee, Iowa Foundation for Medical Care, 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.

Education

The West 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 Campus). 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. Valley High 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 nine championships out of ten. The girls swim team, coached by Mark Lapham was undefeated for two years straight. Jame Bradley of Valley went to the 2000 summer Olympics for swimming and won a bronze for men's 200 backstroke. Shawn Johnson of Valley is a world and Olympic champion in women's gymnastics, with an Olympic gold medal in the beam exercise and silver medals in the women's team, floor exercise, and individual all-around competition at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

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 School.
  • 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 School.
  • 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 retired.
  • 1940: Longfellow is sold for $1,000.
  • 1951: Clover Hills Elementary School opens.
  • 1956: West Des Moines Elementary was renamed Phenix Elementary School.
  • 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 School

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 school.
  • October 1967: Western Hills Elementary opens.
  • 1969: 336 graduate from Valley.
  • 1970: 374 graduate from Valley.
  • 1970: Clover Hills Elementary renamed Rex Mathes Elementary.
  • 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 7th graders.
  • 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 years.
  • 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 there.
  • September 13, 2002: first football game played at the new VHS stadium with a 21-10 victory over Indianola.
  • November 2002: old Valley Stadium demolished
  • 2005: 582 graduate from Valley

References

  • 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.

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