Unless you spend an inordinately large amount of time along Des Moines’ southern riverfront or happen have the same running route as I do, you’ve probably never noticed the tiny log cabin just off the parking lot of Principal Park. I first happened upon it a few years back while taking advantage of the downtown trail systems training for a half marathon, and since then it’s been one of my favorite hidden gems.
A bit of history about the birthplace of Des Moines
Always a bit of a local history nerd, I turned to the State Historical Society to try to find out more about Fort Des Moines No. 2. Luckily, there’s a trove of information, both in print and online, about the founding of Des Moines and the excavation of the original Fort Des Moines site. In 1843 the military post of Fort Des Moines No. 2 was established at the joining of the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers. If you want you can read a lot about Des Moines’ early settlers via Two Rivers Flowing.
In the 1980s when the Court Avenue district was being developed, historians led a major architectural excavation of the area. They found artifacts of daily life—like coins and bottles—as well as the foundations of former Fort Des Moines buildings. While the original Fort buildings have long since disappeared, the log cabin that marks its site today was moved from Washington County in 1964 by the Polk County Historical Society. In 1989, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Hilde DeBruyne’s Birthplace of Des Moines Mural
Along one side of the low brick wall that runs along Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway near Principal Park you’ll find a more than 30-foot porcelain mural. Artist Hilde DeBruyne’s mural depicts the history of Des Moines and its first non-Native American settlement in 1843.
You can read more about the mural on the Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation’s website.