When you want to know about Des Moines’ past, start at the Des Moines Public Library. Not only do we have dozens of books in our collection, but our local history pages are chalk full of great information. Find them by clicking on the Research menu at the top of the page. Here’s part of what we have to offer online.
The library’s website hosts a huge collection of images and histories digitized for easy access. This includes historic publications, programs celebrating historic milestones, photos showing Des Moines at night in the early 20th century, postcards, old street plans, and more.
Our Flickr collections also offer a great look at the past. Colored prints show scenes from the old Riverview Park, the old Central Library, and the way Walnut Street used to look when automobiles just started coming off assembly lines. There are 10 different albums, each with dozens of photos and prints.
An old postcard featuring the historic Riverview Park on Des Moines' north side.
An easy way to get started on local history research is to take a look at our city directories. The directories contain an alphabetically arranged list of businesses, firms, and private citizens, and their historic address when available. Those items are also sorted by street address and number, making it easy to learn what was at an address in the past. The Des Moines Public Library has digitized historic directories from 1860-1922 available online, as well as print directories from 1910-present and phone books from 1957-present available to view at the Central Library.
For an in-depth look at some niche local stories, check out Project Des Moines. Each Project Des Moines story gives information about a special person, place or event in Des Moines’ history and includes great photos. You can quickly discover the history of streetcars and trolleys in Des Moines, including when they spanned the rivers downtown. You can learn why that one apartment building on Martin Luther King, Jr. Parkway has “BREWERY” painted across the front of it. Relive the blizzard of 1973 that dumped a foot of snow on the metro and, find out more about the life of Hoyt Sherman (yes, he is related to the famous Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman).
Project Des Moines is the perfect spot for bite-sized Des Moines history you can use to impress your friends. Check it out at projectdesmoines.dmpl.org.
Take a peak back at your own history by checking out our digital collection of yearbooks from Des Moines high schools. The library has digitized several yearbooks from all the current Des Moines high schools, as well as now defunct high schools, like West High and Technical High! Discover the past at dmpl.org/yearbooks.
Last Modified May 10, 2021