Like any other city, Grimes has a unique and interesting history waiting for those who show interest to delve into it. While many Grimes residents are relative newcomers to the area, there are those who were living in the city before it was designated as such. Their stories and memories are the core of a community that was founded in 1881 and incorporated as the city of Grimes in 1894. The names of those families and their histories became part of the city. Across Grimes, there are names of famous first settlers as well as other famous Iowans. Read on to learn a little bit about the people these landmarks, roads and buildings were named after.
The first people to settle in Iowa, like in much of the state, were Sac and Meskwaki Native American Indians. Following a treaty with the U.S. government, the tribes ceded their land, making way for the first settlers to move into the area.
One of the first to settle in the Grimes area was Samuel Stewart and his family in 1869. Their farm was bordered on the west by what is now Dallas County, on the south by the Webster Township, section 31 of Jefferson Township. His son, William James Stewart, is considered the grandfather of Grimes. The road that is now Main Street used to be named John Street, and what is now S.E. Second Street used to be named Stewart Street, both after W.J. Stewart
When the railroad arrived in Grimes in 1881, the town started booming. That year, Stewart purchased the land to build his drugstore, the first in Grimes. In 1883, the Grimes Land Improvement Company secured options on additional ground, laid out several small additions, graded the streets and alleys and set the ball rolling on the new town. The first promoters of the town included Stewart who served as secretary of the organization. The group made residence lots that were 66 feet wide and were improved by the building of houses ranging in price from $500 to $1,500.
In 1890, Stewart was elected to the 23rd General Assembly of Iowa. In 1892, he started a creamery and a pill factory. In 1894, he helped to have Grimes incorporated, and he served as the town’s first mayor. In 1900, he helped organize the Grimes Savings Bank and was elected director of the telephone company. In 1902, he was elected to the Grimes school board and started the famous Grimes canning factory. The Stewart home was the first house on the west side of Main Street, south of Highway 44.
In fact, Grimes was originally supposed to be named Stewart. The name was sent to the post office, but they wouldn’t accept it because there was already a Stuart close by. An old historical record quotes John Stewart as saying, “We wrote them, that is the postal authorities, stating that the spelling was not the same but they would not have it, and we needed to change the name, so we changed it to Grimes.” James W. Grimes was Iowa’s third governor. Why Grimes and not another governor or famous Iowan? No one seems to know.
Current business owners and others hope that Grimes will one day be a destination for those who are interested in the history of Iowa’s governors. The Main Street district has been named “Governors District,” and the Governors District Alliance is a non-profit group that is dedicated to promoting development and growth to that area.
“The thought behind the Governors District is to create a destination for all Iowans to come and celebrate the history of our governors since Iowa became a state in 1846,” says alliance president Keith Snow. “There is nothing in the state of Iowa that is dedicated to the history of our 40 governors.”
Organization members believe that, with Grimes’ rich history, Grimes boasts a downtown area that provides historic buildings and open spaces that are the perfect setting to build a community for the new century. As people look toward the future of Grimes in regards to the downtown area, the group hopes to make the area a destination.
Snow says that creating a theme for the downtown area is the best way to accomplish its mission. Since the City of Grimes is named after the third governor of Iowa, James W. Grimes, organizers thought that a theme should be created around this little known fact.
“Not only can we leverage the fact that the city was named after Gov. Grimes, we should come together and create an area dedicated to all the governors,” he says. “We want to give people a reason to come to Grimes from outside of the community. We need to make it a priority to identify a way to drive business to the downtown area from within Grimes as well as from outside of Grimes.”
Organizers hope that one day the district will cover a 15- to 20-square-block area. They hope Main Street will become the Grimes Village, complete with specialty shops.
“People go to the East Village and Valley Junction, and we want this to be a destination as well,” Snow says.
The vision for the project is getting a boost from the city as it has made plans to spend $3 million toward the project. The city will be redoing six city blocks and putting in new streetlights and a cobblestone sidewalk.
The Alliance also plans to buy banners for the streetlights in the area that will depict each governor of Iowa. The design for the sidewalks will also allow for them to drop in etched stones of each governor’s likeness.
“It will be really cool,” Snow says. “As for the future, we’ve gone to State Historical Society and talked about doing a governor’s museum. We’re planting the seed. There’s nothing like it that exists in Iowa, and it makes sense that it’s located in Grimes. Grimes is part of the metro, it’s close, and it’s named after Gov. Grimes, so it’s the long-term vision.”
Highway 141 in Grimes has also recently been renamed Grimes Boulevard in honor of the city’s namesake.
The Lions Club chapter in Grimes has been in existence since 1947. Lions Club is the largest service organization in the world with 1.4 million members and more than 44,000 clubs worldwide. The Grimes chapter has a long history of helping the community with numerous projects.
The Lions Club building was built in 1951 for a cost of $6,625, and the men did a lot of work building it themselves. In 1953, there wasn’t room for kindergarten classes at the school, so the Lions building was available for kindergarten and first grades. A major fundraiser in the 1950s and 1960s was a lunch stand at the state fairgrounds. The organization has made donations to local campfire girls, bought Christmas decorations for city, and put a new roof on elderly woman’s house in town. In recent years, the Lions donated materials and labor to construct a picnic shelter at Lions Park.
The club meets twice a month second and forth Monday nights with exception of July and August when there is only one meeting. Meetings are at the Lions Club building at 222 South Main.
Other notable names:
This street is named after a prominent Des Moines business family that owns Gabus Automotive Group. Gene Gabus is a developer in Grimes, and he has a new development proposal for more than 400 acres of ground his family owns in Grimes.
The IOOF Building
This building was built 100+ years ago, and it was named for the first lodge in Grimes. Although the organization no longer exists, there is a push to completely renovate the building and preserve its historical significance to the community.
This is the name of the new middle-school building, which just opened in 2012. It is named after the Meadows Family, who at one time owned the ground where the school is now located.
A street in southeast Grimes that serves an entire development that came to be because of the Beisser family. The first business along Beisser Drive is none other than Beisser Lumber Company.