There is always something awesome about walking around downtown with the Iowa State Capitol down the street. That view is a bonus of the historic East Village district in Des Moines. Located on the east side of the Des Moines River in Downtown Des Moines, the Historic East Village begins at the Des Moines River and extends east to the beautiful Iowa Capitol building. Many state and municipal buildings exist within the Village including the Capitol complex (including the Supreme Court of Iowa), the State of Iowa Historical Museum, the Des Moines Botanical Gardens and numerous buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.
The East Village has been an active neighborhood since the 19th century. Historical photos from those time periods indicate the roadways were paved with brick or unpaved earth in the area. In 2000, the City of Des Moines slated several buildings in the neighborhood for demolition, however, a group of individuals came together to advocate saving the buildings. Many of the structures stand today as homes to eateries, boutique shops, and loft-style housing. Now, the popular district has culture, character and eclectic charm that comes from a history that extends well over 150 years.
A notable structure is the Northwestern Hotel built in 1915-16, which was specifically designed to lodge railroad employees and others of modest means, and the principal decoration is therefore limited to the lobby area. A restaurant, cigar stand, and drug store flanked this central space. On the second floor was a ballroom with its own skylight, as well as guest rooms. Guest rooms on the second and third floors were arranged around the skylit spaces and were generally small without private bathrooms. Some of the larger suites, generally those with a view of the Capitol, had their own baths. After some years of slow decline, a group of attorneys purchased the building in 1983 and converted it into office spaces. The building contains retail space along the first floor.
The Des Moines Heritage Trust, a nonprofit group, bought the former East Des Moines Union Depot with plans to convert it to a museum showcasing the city's history. The group also plans to build an event center adjacent to the train depot that will be used for weddings, corporate meetings and other public events.
Locals and visitors can spend a day discovering the walkable assortment of small local businesses and merchants. It’s home to the “the greatest store in the universe,” Raygun, a clothing and midwest souvenir company that has unique phrases on items that everyone can enjoy. Enjoy local craft beer, bakeries, restaurants and bars as you experience the East Village from sunrise to late night.
We invite you to choose an exclusive tour of the East Village district to find the best local stories and shops. Iowa Tour Company offers a Walking Food Tour to savor the fresh bites created by local chefs. You can also hear the stories of the past on our Walking History Tour including the historic buildings and the State Capitol.
Find a day and discover the East Village.
compiled by Alan Rust