Fort Des Moines Site Excavations

Urban Archaeology In Des Moines

Between 2004 and 2011, the OSA excavated large portions of Downtown Des Moines prior to several large projects, including sewer lines and the new Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway.
Downtown Des Moines was always a pivotal location, where the Raccoon River enters the Des Moines River marks the merger of the two largest waterways in central Iowa. A Woodland and Late Prehistoric village dating  the 1650s, stood  in the park just north of Grand Ave, which was excavated by the OSA in 2007.
Fort Des Moines No. 2 was occupied for a short period, 1843-1846, and oversaw the Sauk and Meskwaki as they were being forced out of the state.  Beginning in 2006, the OSA excavated the central headquarters area along Elm Street, now the approach to the MLK bridge. Excavation of an officer’s latrine revealed that these men ate a varied diet that included lots of wild plants and animals. Work on the headquarters building uncovered a wooden box built into the floor that contained floor sweepings, including military buttons and Indian trade beads. Exposure of numerous hearths and foundation remnants allowed for better alignment of the 1840s fort map with the site, so future archaeologists have a better idea where to find fort buildings. 
In addition to prehistoric and fort-era features, numerous significant historic features occurred throughout downtown. OSA archaeologists uncovered two fountains from the city’s Beaux Arts glory days of the early 20th century. 

To Visit:

Signs for Fort Des Moines No. 2 can be found at the foot of the W. Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway bridge.  Raccoon Row, the enlisted men’s quarters, ran along W. Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway from SW Second to SW Fourth. The headquarters was situated just east of the intersection of SW Second and W. Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway. Officers’ quarters once stood along the west side of SW First, from W. Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway north to Vine.   Archaeologists unearthed a large fountain on the east side of the World Food Prize Building, formerly the City Library; the font and much of the excavated stonework has been incorporated into the Food Prize building staircase on the east side. 

Want to Learn More?

Schoen, Christopher M., William E. Whittaker, and Kathryn E. M. Gourley
2009 Fort Des Moines No. 2, 1843–1846. In Frontier Forts of Iowa: Indians, Traders, and Soldiers, 1682–1862, edited by William E. Whittaker, pp. 161–177. University of Iowa Press, Iowa City.
Whittaker, William E.
2008 Prehistoric and Historic Indians in Downtown Des Moines. Newsletter of the Iowa Archeological Society 58(1):8–10. 
2012 Excavating Des Moines’ First Paved Street. Newsletter of the Iowa Archeological Society 62(2):2–3.
Whittaker, William E., and Cindy L. Nagel
2010 Lost Fountains: When Des Moines Aspired to Be the "City Beautiful". Journal of the Iowa Archeological Society 57:1–14.

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