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Book depicts rowdy history of WDM
By Micholyn Fajen   - 07/17/2009

Des Moines Register

More Info on This Book: West Des Moines and Valley Junction

Test your West Des Moines history with a new book published by a local author.

The book, released last week, features a pictorial record of the city's upbringing. It leaned on community experts and individuals to dig up the truth, and they unveil some surprises.

The book, "West Des Moines and Valley Junction (Images of America)," is a collaboration among author Craig S. McCue of Urbandale and entities such as the West Des Moines Historical Society, the City of West Des Moines, the Iowa Department of Transportation, students from Valley High School and historical archives. The book captures quotes and images from many of the early pioneers of the city.

Penny Schiltz, office coordinator for the Historical Society, said they dug deep into their large photo collection for the book.

"Craig took these and put them in chronological and visual order. This book was a perfect way to show the public how West Des Moines grew and where its roots came from," Schiltz said. The Historical Society purchased a large number of books to sell in the gift shop.

McCue admits he's a history junkie. By day he works in West Des Moines in an information technology position, using his creativity with computer systems instead of the written word. In his free time he writes books, even though he said he earns little on them.

"This is simply my way to give back to my community," McCue said.

McCue relied on city staff, including Todd Osterhout, a part-time employee with the city of West Des Moines. He helped with scanning and photo selection.

West Des Moines communications specialist Amy Larsen provided documentation and support, and city employees Fern Stewart and Maureen Richmond provided photographs from the city's archives.

Students from a Valley High School writing class contributed to the end of the book, which looks to the future of the city.

The city started in 1893 when the Rock Island Railroad built its train and engine shops just south of Railroad Avenue.

The railroad employed migrants, and the area grew to become a central depot and a huge hub. Naturally, the town grew around the railroad depot. McCue called it a rough and tumble town.

"Many were forbidden from going to the 100 block of Valley Junction because that was where all the saloons were located," McCue said of a street that today is peppered with residential homes and automotive and convenience stores. He later learned that some of the early bungalows in the area were transplanted small homes originally built at Camp Dodge during World War I. When the military dismantled the training camp, the government sold the homes for $400. They were transported by truck to Valley Junction.

When the Rock Island Railroad company consolidated its operations at the East Des Moines rail yards, hundreds were without jobs. It forced the area to reinvent and rename itself in 1938.

"They considered calling it Des Moines Heights or West Des Moines at the time," McCue said.

He was surprised to learn the city sat on a 12-square block area until the freeway was developed in 1957.

"When you consider all the commercial building and neighborhood development that has occurred since that time, it's amazing. The city had to make do. Residents had no running water and had to dig all the wells," McCue said.

Pulling sound bites from the chronicles of time, McCue and the city were able to use quotes from a 1993 school project. It was a busy year as the city celebrated Valley Junction's centennial while battling floods. But one school project placed students with elders of the community to record their quotes about growing up in the city - and their personal reflections of the town.

"It was fortunate that these schoolchildren were able to get this done at the time they did. Many of those elders have since passed on," McCue said.

The book is now on sale at Barnes & Noble and Walgreens stores along with Valley Junction's Heart of Iowa Store at 211 Fifth St. Book signings will begin this month at the Valley Junction farmers market.

McCue said he enjoys the new opportunities his published book is bringing, such as speaking engagements.

"I'm happy to share a town's history with its community, so it doesn't get forgotten," he said.


Buy It Now: West Des Moines and Valley Junction $21.99




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