The history of Des Moines can be traced back when Captain James Allen oversaw the establishment of a fort where the Raccoon Rivers and Des Moines converge in 1843. Captain Allen initially wanted to name it Fort Raccoon, but it was called Fort Des Moines in accordance with the US War Department’s order. Fort Des Moines was constructed to keep the Sauk and Meskwaki Indians under control. In 1846, the fort was uninhabited after the removal of the Sauk and Meskwaki from the state.
New inhabitants settled in the area of the fort. In 1846, Fort Des Moines was designated as the seat of Polk County. A significant part of the fort was ruined after the devastating Flood of 1851. Most of the residential houses and crops were annihilated. The town had no choice but to start from square one.
Des Moines was incorporated as a city in September 1851. After the charter was approved in 1857, “Fort Des Moines” was renamed “Des Moines.” While the town did not grow as much in the Civil War era, it improved in 1866 after a railroad arrived in the city.
Des Moines Coal Company was established to initiate the first organized mining in the area in 1864. The Black Diamond mine employed more than a hundred men in 1876 and transported 20 carloads of coal every day. The mining industry began to flourish, and by 1885, there were several mine shafts within the city’s boundaries. Des Moines’ local coal reserve has mainly been exhausted.
The city reached its peak in terms of the number of settlers in 1880 when it had more than 22,000 inhabitants. Des Moines became the second-largest city in Iowa in the same year. The immigrants in Des Moines are mainly comprised of ethnic Europeans and have remained the most inhabited city in Iowa.
In the 20th century, the city of Des Moines founded the “City Beautiful” initiative. The construction of Beaux Arts public building and several fountains in the site of the Des Moines River were begun. Some of the structures that were built in the first decade of the 20th century include the City Hall, the United States Central Post Office, and the Des Moines Public Library.
In the mid-1930, the federal Civilian Conservation Corps constructed the ornate riverfront along the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers. It aimed to employ the residents of the town as well as improve infrastructures in the city. In the 1950s, the ornamental fountains were ruined following the decline in the city’s industrial field. The city tried to bounce back and became a white-collar city from an industrial town.
Des Moines was heavily flooded in 1993 due to heavy rains throughout June and July. In the early hours of July 1993, the Des Moines Water Works was submerged in flood. Residents of Des Moines were left with no running water for almost two weeks. The city was again engulfed in floodwater in June 2008. Saylorville Reservoir controlled the Des Moines River. However, the heavy rains overtopped the spillway of the reservoir in both great floods.