The Iowa Files, an educational history lecture series, returns in 2021/2022. This joint WDMHS-WDM Public Library program is free and open to the public, thanks to the generosity of West Des Moines Historical Society members, the Iowa Arts Council, the EMC Insurance Foundation and the Friends Foundation of the West Des Moines Library.  The Iowa Files is an 8 month series showcasing interesting people and events in Iowa history.

NEW THIS YEAR! Thanks to the generosity of our sponsors, all programs will be live streamed, and videos will be close captioned! 

Each program begins at 2:30 and runs for one hour in the Community Room of the West Des Moines Public Library, 4000 Mills Civic Parkway.

September 19, 2021: Bonnie & Clyde After Dexfield Park
Presenter: Rod Stanley

Former teacher and historian Rod Stanley returns to the Iowa Files with the end of the story for Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. After the 1933 gun battle in Dexter which left every member of the gang either wounded or dying, the two romanticized criminals met their end in Louisiana 10 months later. But they returned to Iowa at least once to rob a bank before that, and the story of their last year is fascinating.
Watch the captioned recording here

October 17, 2021: Off the Map:  Stories of Abandoned & Disappearing Towns
Presenter: Rosa Snyder

Thousands of towns and communities were established during Iowa’s pioneer and railroad era. In some instances, they were small towns built around the time of the height of a coal industry that just could not thrive while others supplemented the needs of the countless farmers, and still others were established for very different reasons. Many existed for a few years, some slowly faded away over time, and a few never existed except as “paper” towns. Presenter Rosa Snyder will introduce us to these lost communities.  Presentation made possible with support of Humanities Iowa.
Watch the captioned recording of Off the Map here


November 21, 2021: Latino Lives in Valley Junction
Presenter: Vince Valdez

Vince Valdez, a lifelong West Des Moines resident, has spent decades researching and recording the history of Latinos in Valley Junction. Many families immigrated to Iowa to work on the railroads and stayed to raise families and contributed to our rich and diverse community! Vince will share photographs and interviews he’s collected from families who’ve been living in Valley Junction for generations.

Watch the captioned program of Latino Lives in Valley Junction here

January 16, 2022: Doors to the Past: The History of Sherman Hill
Presenter: Jack C. Porter

Des Moines’ oldest neighborhood, Sherman Hill was named a historic district in 1979. Original residents, Hoyt Sherman and James Savery were contemporaries of the Jordan family, and the area is home to amazing architecture and a story of the journey from blight to beauty. Jack Porter will share stories and pictures documenting the before and after stories for this unique neighborhood.

Watch the captioned program of Doors to the Past: The History of Sherman Hill here.

February 20, 2022: A Story of Fort Des Moines: Charles Hamilton Houston
Presenter: Jeff Kluever

In May 1917, the United States opened the very first Officers Training Camp for Black men in military history. The location-Fort Des Moines. Over the next 6 months, 1,200 Black men are trained to lead segregated commands in World War I, all the while knowing that their success or failure as leaders will be used by others as evidence of the abilities of their race. In this presentation, participants will learn about the experiences of these men, closely examining one man, perhaps the most famous graduate of Fort Des Moines-Charles Hamilton Houston. By following his story, we see not only how these men shaped the United States military, but the Civil Rights movement as a whole.

Watch the captioned program of A Story of Fort Des Moines here

March 20, 2022: Tombstones & Tales of Woodland and Jordan Cemeteries
Presenter: Kate Levasseur

Local historian Kate Levasseur has researched the lives of some of the famous and not-so-famous residents of two of Central Iowa’s historic cemeteries- Woodland Cemetery in Des Moines, and the Jordan Cemetery in West Des Moines. Kate will tell the stories of Civil War soldiers, groundbreaking female activists and those who were part of the fight for freedom as part of the Underground Railroad.

Watch the captioned recording of Tombstones & Tales here

April 10, 2022: The John Brown Freedom Trail
Presenter: Gale Brubaker

Join WDMHS Executive Director for insights into the Underground Railroad in Iowa, focusing on the John Brown Freedom Trail, the path taken by abolitionist John Brown on his last trip across Iowa, which began on February 4, 1859. The same year on October 16 he led the unsuccessful attack on the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. He was tried, convicted of treason and was hanged on December 2, 1859.

Watch the captioned recording of The John Brown Freedom Trail here

May 15, 2022: Lost Summers-Riverview Park
Presenter: Bill Kooker

The Wild Mouse…crossing the rickety wooden bridge to get to the island…the Riviera Ballroom. If you grew up in Central Iowa in the 1950s-1970s, you probably have memories of Riverview Park. Bill Kooker was the 3rd generation of his family to manage Riverview Amusement Park in Des Moines, Iowa. His grandfather was one of the original owners. Bill, his grandfather, his uncle and his father all ran Riverview for nearly 50 years, maintaining the life and times of this Iowa Institution. Bill will share rare photos, videos and stories of growing up at Riverview!

Watch the captioned recording of Lost Summers-Riverview Park here

To see descriptions and watch the recordings of the 2019/2020 Iowa Files, click here.