Every neighborhood has buildings, streets, parks and other landmarks that are named for people or have funny stories behind their name.
The west side of Des Moines is no exception. We scoured through local history books and talked to west-side residents to uncover interesting tidbits.
Here’s what we found:
Most west-side schools receive names after residents, educators, lawmakers
Many of the schools on the west side received their name from former educators, elected officials and members of the Des Moines community.
Callanan Middle School was named for James Callanan. He was an attorney who moved to Des Moines from New York with his wife in the late 1850s. According to “Bicentennial Reflections: The History of Des Moines Public Schools 1846-1976,” Callanan was “one of the most prominent people in Des Moines.”
Callanan was a land speculator, a railroad builder and one of the state’s first bankers. He donated land to Mercy Hospital, which was later sold to Des Moines’ public schools. His beneficiaries in 1921 sold the land, where Callanan, Ruby Van Meter and Smouse schools are located, to the city for $55,000.
The Des Moines school board decided to build a new junior high school and name it after Callanan. Callanan Junior High School, as it was called at the time, opened in 1927.
Ruby Van Meter School is named for Ruby Van Meter. She began her career teaching primary grades and then was responsible for creating a program in 1959 to teach the district’s special education students. She later became the director of special education for the district.
Hanawalt Elementary School is named for George Hanawalt. He was a medical doctor during the late 1800s. He practiced medicine in Des Moines for 45 years and was a surgeon general of the Iowa National Guard for 25 years.
Merrill Middle School was named for Iowa’s former Gov. Samuel Merrill. He was the seventh governor and was an officer in the Union Army during the Civil War. Merrill was elected governor in 1867 and served two terms. He is buried in Woodland Cemetery.
Couple helps reclaim rose gardens
The rose gardens located within Greenwood Park were not nearly as beautiful as they are today.
“It was at a point that it had to either be abandoned or renewed,” says Miles Mills, who along with his wife, Clare, led revitalization efforts of the gardens in the 1970s. The gardens were later named in honor of the Des Moines couple.
“We were delighted, absolutely delighted and honored,” he recalls about having the gardens named in 2000 in honor of him and Clara, who died in 2002. “It was a great honor. We were very pleased.”
Mills says Clare was very knowledgeable about roses. She became involved with the botanical center downtown and, as a result, met some Des Moines parks officials. She wanted to do something about the abandoned rose gardens and enlisted the support of others and the backing of city officials to revive the gardens.
“She was interested in horticulture matters, in general,” Miles says of his wife. “She had particular interest in roses, and she started a rose garden at our house, which expanded rapidly and is still in existence today.”
Miles became involved through his wife. He had done a lot of care for the rose gardens at the couple’s west-side home — at one time they had 250 rose plants — and the two put together a voluntary committee that oversaw the gardens. Later, the rose garden advisory committee was formed, and it continues today. Miles remains involved.
Park also is home to theater and outdoor classroom
Greenwood and Ashworth Park also is home to the Sylvan Theater, also known as the Greenwood Park Outdoor Theater. It has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1995.
The theater is called a “sylvan theater” because it is a type of outdoor theater that is situated in a wooded or “sylvan” setting. Such theaters also can be referred to as greenery theaters. During the 1910s and 1920s, an outdoor amphitheater was built in Forest Park in St. Louis. The plan for Des Moines’ theater came from the same plans as the one in St. Louis.
Des Moines’ Sylvan Theater opened in 1931 to a standing room only audience. About 1,500 people came to watch “Nights of Romance,” which was a three-act musical. In 1937, the Des Moines Civic Opera Association performed “The Flower of Venice,” which drew 8,000 people.
Also in Greenwood Park is the Mary Miss Greenwood Pond Double Site outdoor classroom. It received its name from Mary Miss, the American artist who created the wooden and screened outlooks, multileveled walkway, pavilion and pathways. The site was the first urban wetland project in the country.
Other parks, homes and businesses receive names after former residents
Witmer Park, located at 1610 34th St., was named after the Witmer family, which was one of Des Moines’ founding families.
The Finkbine Mansion, which still stands at 1915 Grand Ave., was built by Robert S. Finkbine. He came to Iowa from Ohio in 1850 and was elected as a representative to the State Legislature in 1864. Finkbine is best remembered for his role in helping to build the new Iowa Capitol in Des Moines. He later moved to Des Moines in 1880 and served on the Board of Public Works until his retirement.
One house on the west side that rehabbers want to see saved is the Stockdale Double House. The house, located at 4018 Ingersoll Ave., was determined by the Iowa State Historic Preservation Office to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places in 2009 for its Prairie School design.
The house is named for Benjamin and Frances Stockdale, who were the original owners and lived on the west side of the double house.
If you live on the west side, you’ve heard of Bauder’s Pharmacy. The pharmacy still retains the name of its former owner, Carolyn Bauder. She was the first registered female pharmacist in Iowa and started the pharmacy in 1916. Its original location was at 18th and Crocker streets, and it moved to the Ingersoll Avenue location in 1925.
Bauder added partner Charles Graziano to the business in 1947. Then Graziano bought full ownership of the business in 1963. The Graziano family still operates the pharmacy and the soda fountain today. Bauder’s is best known for its homemade ice cream.
Streets named after influential residents
Like most communities, the west side of Des Moines has a numbered street system, but this area of the state capital also has streets with more interesting stories behind their names.
Crocker Street is named for Gen. Marcellus M. Crocker, who went to West Point but had to resign because of illness. He later became colonel of the 13th Iowa Infantry Regiment during the Civil War. After returning to Des Moines, Crocker was an attorney.
Grand Avenue in Des Moines was originally known as Sycamore Street on the east side and Greenwood Avenue west of downtown. The entire stretch was renamed Grand Avenue in 1887, as it was once the grande dame of Des Moines streets and lined with mansions and trees.
Ingersoll Avenue is named for Ebenezer Jared Ingersoll, who came to Des Moines from the East Coast and founded the Hawkeye Insurance Company. He also had extensive farm holdings.
Many businesses have opened throughout the years with the Ingersoll name. One in particular is the Ingersoll Theatre, which opened in 1939. The theater was pegged as a modern movie house with “a full heating and air conditioning system to keep moviegoers comfortable in any weather.” The theater closed in 1977. The building has been used by a variety of other tenants, most famously the Ingersoll Dinner Theater, which has since closed.
Kingman Boulevard is named for Albert S. Kingman. He was a pioneer farm investor who owned 120 acres of land on the west side of Des Moines. He sold about 40 acres of his own land for $1,000 per acre as the city grew farther west.
John Lynde Road is named for one of two John Lyndes, and it’s not certain whether it is the father or the son. According to the Des Moines Public Library, there was once an article in The Des Moines Register that discussed the road and quoted a descendant of the family as saying that the name should be pronounced “John Lined” and not “Lind.”
Waterbury Road is named for Frank C. Waterbury, who was president of Waterbury Chemical in Des Moines. The majority of the company’s income was based on the manufacture and sale of cod liver oil.
The entire Waterbury neighborhood is named for the chemical company executive, as well. Waterbury, along with two other men, developed the neighborhood area in three phases from 1906 to 1940. The Waterbury’s part in the project was to develop Oak Lawn Place, the area north of Ingersoll between 49th and 54th streets. He lived at 607 Country Club Boulevard.
Now you have a few answers at the ready if you hear someone wonder about local names and buildings.