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City of Des Moines Municipal Cemeteries
VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES
ADOPT-A-BLOCK
  • ADOPT A BLOCK

    Cemetery stewards take care of the city’s seven municipal cemeteries while enjoying the peace and serenity they provide. Volunteers who become stewards can choose to maintain a specific section of a cemetery of their choice.

    Stewards work on a flexible weekly or monthly basis, whatever works best for them, from April through October. Work could include picking up small branches, cutting back dead flowers, maintaining headstones and reporting disrepair or picking up litter. No experience is necessary, training and supplies are provided.

    For information on Glendale, Laurel Hill, Oak Grove, Elm Grove, Sims, and Woodland/St. Ambrose contact the Des Moines Municipal Cemetery Customer Service and Sales office at 515-248-6320, or email us at cem@dmgov.org.

Volunteer Projects
  • Various projects provided by individuals, scout troops, religious organizations, companies and veterans groups support cemetery operations in many ways. There are short-term and long-term projects for clerical duties as well many outdoor projects on cemetery grounds. Volunteers of any age give time to:

    • Decorate the cemetery with flags
    • Cleanup decorations
    • Clean veterans stones
    • Educate through tours
    • Remove trash and invasive species
    • Clear fence lines
    • Record headstones
    • Scan historical records
    • Plant trees
    • Raise monuments
    • Fundraise
    • Provide clerical support
  • To learn more about how you can support our efforts, email us at ParksVolunteer@dmgov.org or call 515-237-1386.

 

CEMETERY HIGHIGHTS
Elm Grove Cemetery Highlights
  • In October 1853 Henry C. Hargis moved to Bloomfield Township in Polk County, Iowa just south of the City of Des Moines and obtained 500 acres of good productive farm land.  H.C. and Elizabeth donated land for the current Elm Grove Cemetery and school.  Elm Grove Church was the first formed Baptist organization that met the school-house because they were without a church building.  The congregation met every Sunday at 9:30 A.M.  They were regular preaching services every alternate Sabbath with a congregation of about 40 members.  Uriah McKay was the first pastor of Elm Grove Church passed away in 1871 and is buried in the Woodland Cemetery.

    H.C. Hargis was active in politics and a member of the Greenback Party.  His sons, Thomas, John and Zachary are became farmers and when he died in 1904 at the age of 84 and buried in Elm Grove.

    There are some unique fact about Elm Grove Cemetery and the Elm Grove School.  The first burial was Alice E. Brisco who passed on May 24, 1854 at age five months.  A set of 61 unwanted cremated remains are buried in a mass grave on Lot 346, space 6.  The Croatian Center (near the property) at 6575 Indianola Road has occupied the old Elm Grove Elementary School since 1972.  The old school was vacant for seven years before four Croatian organizations in the city raised $10,000 to purchase the building.   The original Elm Grove School was organized on May 14, 1867 and merged with the Des Moines Public School on July 1, 1957. Elm Grove School held classes on in 1897.

Glendale Cemetery Highlights
  • In 1896 the City of Des Moines purchased 190 acres of farm from Ebenezer J. Ingersoll for $200 an acre.  The parcel’s distance from the city was considered too remote for use as a cemetery.  First known as “Woodland,” the land had few trees and many boulders so large that blasting was necessary to remove them.  After the city had made only two payments for the land, there was talk of using the rolling hills of what is not the adjacent Waveland Golf Course as the cemetery instead and terminating the contract.  However, the deal stuck, and the first burial, that of Mrs. T.D. Cubitts, occurred on September 22, 1904 on Lot 1 of what is now identified as Block 14, Section 56 in the cemetery.  During the same time, the City Council changed the name of the cemetery to “Glenndale”, at the request of then-Mayor James M. Brenton who wanted it name after his deceased mother, whose maiden name was “Glenn”.  The renamed Glendale Cemetery now covers 176 acres including over 100,000 burials and enough space remaining to serve the city for another century. 

    In July 1909 the Iowa Mausoleum Company purchased three-quarters of an acre of land close to University Avenue and announced the construction of the mausoleum, now known as “The Abbey.”  Completed in 1912, the mausoleum was designed for 600 full crypts and 110 cremation urn niches and was considered large for a city the size of Des Moines.  Iowa Governor and U.S. Senator Clyde L. Herring and Des Moines Mayor Charles F. Iles are interred in the Abbey.  The city purchased the property after the mausoleum company dissolved in 1932. 

    In 1938 and 1939 the Work Progress Administration developed the two-acre lake located near University Avenue and improved the roadways throughout the cemetery.  In the 1940s, the Catholic Church deeded their adjoining cemetery area to the City to become part of Glendale.  The adjoining 29-acre Masonic and six-acre Jewish Cemeteries are privately owned.  Four sections of the cemetery contain graves of military veterans who served in the Civil War, Spanish-American War, and World Wars I and II.  Other specific portions are reserved for burials by the Tai Dam and Islamic faith communities and several other are dedicated to infant interments. 

    Several well-known and political individuals are buried within Glendale Cemetery, including Vice President Henry A. Wallace and Congressional Medal of Honor recipients William Campbell, who served in the Civil War, and Joseph Fitz, who served in the Philippine Insurrection.  Others include Iowa Governor Warrant Garst and U.S. Congressmen Eddard H. Gillette, Solomon F. Prouty, and Hubert Utterbeck; Herman Edward “Ed” Hollis, the U.S. Federal Agent and FBI Hall of Fame member who pursued gangsters John Dillinger and “Pretty Boy” Floyd and killed gangsters “Baby Face” Nelson in the 1934 shootout which took his own life; Major League Baseball player Arthur L. Ewoldt; as well as seven Des Moines’ mayors.

Laurel Hill Cemetery Highlights
  • Laurel Hill Cemetery overlooks the city from atop high knolls situated directly south of the Iowa State Fairgrounds, at 3601 East Court Avenue.  It is one of the highest points in the city and has commanding views of the downtown skyline.  The cemetery is one of three founded by the City of Des Moines.  The “youngest” of the three, it was founded in 1907.

    The first burial at Laurel Hill was that of Emma Springer, who was interred in 1907 in Block C, lot 98.  One of Iowa’s oldest citizens, Nellie Cross, was buried at Laurel Hill after attaining the age of 112.  Although most of the municipal cemeteries’ Civil War veteran interments are at Woodland and Glendale cemeteries, one of prominence at Laurel Hill is that of John Heath, an African-American Union Army Buffalo Soldier.  Laurel Hill proudly boasts an impressive Avenue of Flags each Memorial Day weekend.  The hundreds of flags are donated and placed along the Veterans’ Section roadway by veterans and their families associated with a VFW post.

    The cemetery includes a Veterans’ section, GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) section, infant section, 48-unit cremains columbarium, and sales office as well as maintenance buildings.  The GAR section sits at one of the highest points in the cemetery and showcases a flag pole, donated by cemetery historian Gerald LeBlanc.  It is surrounded by a limestone-edged 4-point star and memorial bench recognizing veterans of all foreign wars.  The bench was recently donated and incorporated into a nearly-completed project organized by a young Eagle Scout candidate; the project includes the limestone star, circular center flower bed, a concrete pad for the bench installation and future gold perennial flowers.  The project was developed and designed for the young man by city staff.  Approximately 25% of the municipal cemeteries’ annual burials are conducted at Laurel Hill.  The same percentage of overall space sales are made at Laurel Hill.

Oak Grove Cemetery Highlights
  • Oak Grove Cemetery (3903 SW 31st Street) – nestled on a 1.9-acre site situated among residences in the heart of the neighborhood.  Oak Grove was established more than 125 years ago by a Methodist-Episcopal Church which was located adjacent to the cemetery property.
    Gravesites date back to the mid-1800s; among those who were buried in the small cemetery is Barlow Grander, who established The Des Moines Star newspaper. The church, along with the cemetery records, was destroyed by fire in the early 1940s therefore the exact number of graves is not known.  However, it is known to be the final resting place of more than the 433 people memorialized on tombstones in the cemetery.  There continue to be occasional new burials at the historic site.
     
    As Iowa law requires for cemeteries within a city’s boundaries, Oak Grove was turned over to the City of Des Moines in 1924, when the church was not financially able to further maintain it.  Although the city maintains the grounds, each year fewer and fewer family members come back to care for the graves and monuments of their loved ones. Parks and Recreation is hoping you’ll consider “adopting a plot.” Hundreds of people of all ages volunteer their time as cemetery stewards each year, as individuals or members of families and organizations, to help take care of the city’s seven municipal cemeteries, while enjoying the history and beauty they provide. 

Sims Cemetery Highlights
  • Sims Cemetery is located at 3605 East University Avenue.  The cemetery sits on a hillside east of the Iowa State Fairgrounds.  The only entrance into the cemetery is a worn steep path off of University Avenue.  Sims Cemetery was established six years before the Civil War, in 1855. One acre of land was purchased by the Burying Ground Association, represented by John S. Dean, James H. Finch and L.S. Case all of whom are buried at Sims Cemetery.  The cemetery was located in Lee Township, outside the city limits of Des Moines.

    This Cemetery has been called many different names including: Harris Cemetery, Agency Burying Ground, Four Mile Cemetery and Sims Burying Ground. 
    Current records show there are 99 interments, the genealogical society states that there are 131, and Find a Grave.Com states that there are 115 interments at Sims. City staff are not certain which number is correct.   The City of Des Moines acquired the cemetery in 1909 per state ordinance.  The City was given a record book and $249.09 from the Agency Burying Ground.

    The first burial was of an unidentified man who drowned while driving a team of oxen through the Des Moines River on Vandalia Road.  It is said that he was “buried under a large oak tree in the cemetery.”  The last burial was that of Grover Maplethorpe on August 26, 1967 who died of “natural causes.”

    In 1939, John MacVicar, street commissioner had University Avenue widened sixty-six feet, which necessitated the moving of 59 interments from Sims Cemetery.  The bodies were reinterred at Laurel Hill, Rising Sun and Brethren Cemetery in Douglas Township.  Many died young in the 19th century due to lack of availability of medical treatment.  Many of the burials at Sims are in rows of children’s markers with inscriptions indicating deaths just a few months apart.  The family of a prominent pioneer of Des Moines, John Stewart Dean, is buried at Sims.    Dean established the first Des Moines Presbyterian Church and the first steam-powered saw and grist mill in Des Moines.  Dean Avenue is his namesake.

Woodland Cemetery Highlights
  • Few things in Des Moines are as old and none contain more history than the grassy knolls and stately trees of Woodland Cemetery.  The stories told by the monuments and headstones combine to form the history of the city as it has passed through civil and world wars, epidemics and natural disasters as well as the normal course of birth, life, and death.  Passing through the narrow drives of the cemetery, you see stone etchings of the names of many citizens from our past who helped build Des Moines and are now a part of everyday life in our city’s landscape . . . street and building names like Savery, Kenworthy, Ingersoll, Hubbell and Kaplan.

    This cemetery was planned prior to the incorporation of the town of ‘Fort Des Moines’ on September 22, 1851.  In 1848, area farmers on the outskirts of the city - John Dean, Abel Cain, Lewis Jones, Henry Everly, and Jonathan Lyon -donated the first 5 1/2 acres for Woodland Cemetery.  In 1857 the city of Des Moines became the owner of Woodland.  36½ acres were added to the cemetery in 1864 from land purchased from J. B. Bausman.  Today it totals 65 acres, including the adjoining St. Ambrose Cemetery.  St. Ambrose was deeded over to the city by the Catholic Diocese of Des Moines in 1923.  Woodland and St. Ambrose eventually became an oftentimes forgotten part of the city’s inner core, remembered only by neighboring residents, genealogists and distant relatives of the nearly 40,000 people buried in the park.

    Lots in Block #1 were purchased in November of 1849.  Some of the owners are L.W. Winchester who transferred his ownership of lot #5 to Bella McCoy; Mrs. S.E. Lyon, lot #15 and Conrad Saylor, lot #31.  The first burial was that of Thomas Casady (1849-1850) according to the Polk County Cemetery Records, Vol. 1 book.  Thomas was the son of early Des Moines pioneer lawyer and Judge Phineas M. Casady.

    With completion of the new ML King Parkway in 2004, Woodland has once again become a very visible part of the everyday life of citizens and visitors in our city.

    While the tears of relatives have long since disappeared, tributes to their loved ones remain as windows to our city’s past.  Each Memorial Day, fewer and fewer descendants remain to decorate graves, instead history-seekers visit the cemetery to explore Des Moines’ past and search for family lineage.

    Sitting high on a hill in the cemetery is the Children’s Monument, likely to be one of the most unusual in any cemetery.  In Des Moines’ early days, an orphanage served as the first home for many babies who were brought there by mothers who could not care for them.  Many of the infants died and were buried in a small plot at Woodland in wooden, crate-like caskets, one on top of the other in stacks of three.  The graves were unmarked, hence the single monument.  Although 44 names are listed on the monument, many more are listed as “unknown.”

    Interments continue to be made each year in Woodland/St. Ambrose; the two most recent ones occurred in November of 2014.  The most recent sale of spaces was completed in September 2014.

 

OTHER ITEMS OF INTEREST
Flag Retirement
  • The 49th Iowa Veteran Volunteer Infantry Regiment (The 49th) to hold an official American flag retirement ceremony in Glendale Cemetery at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, June 25, 2016 and 1:00 p.m. Friday, November 5, 2016.  The nature of the events is an authorized, contained burning of American flags.  The event will consist of the contained burning of several hundred American flags.  

    The 49th has held events of this nature at Woodland Cemetery in the past years and invited the public to bring their worn/tattered flags needing to the municipal cemetery office at Glendale Cemetery the weeks and days preceding the flag ceremonies for the commemorative retirements.  The response has been overwhelming, with thousands of flags being brought to Glendale by individuals, businesses, organizations, municipalities and other government organizations in the metro area.  The 49th determined that the public’s need for flag retirement options was not depleting and that they therefore needed to increase their capacity for the number of flags that could be properly disposed of. 

    The 49th has proceeded with construction of a 4’ x 8’ mobile, steel burner that is now in covered storage in the Glendale Cemetery maintenance area. This unit has the capacity to burn large batches of the small flags used to mark veterans’ graves and also the mid-size and very large 20-foot flags that have been flown at commercial businesses and government buildings.  The burns will take place in the roadway area outside the locked and fenced maintenance area; this area is gated and can therefore be locked from public access following the flag retirement ceremonies, thereby allowing time for the unit to safely cool. 

    As is required for any burning in the City, upon approval from the Board, The 49th will submit a burn permit application to Polk County; flag burning is an activity authorized for a contained fire on that application.  The group would remain at Glendale for approximately an hour following the ceremonies to make certain that all ashes are properly extinguished.

Cemetery Markers
  • When considering any cemetery marker, there are regulations on placement and size, shape and type of memorials.  The City of Des Moines Municipal Cemeteries do not sell cemetery monuments however we do provide a brochure with monument companies who are aware of our specifications and rules.  Before shopping, please note we will not allow memorials that do not meet our rules to be placed.  Veteran stones, benches, vases, flush markers have to fit our specification.  If they are not able to be installed or have to be removed, the owners is liable for all expense.  For instance, if a flush marker is not thick enough, it may be easily damaged or broken.   If an upright monument is placed in a section for flush markers, it will have to be removed.  Call the Cemetery office at 515-248-6320 if you would like a list of area monument companies to help you choose a monument. 

Military Veterans
  • The City of Des Moines Municipal Cemeteries provide several options as the final resting place for our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines—a place of honor, dignity, respect, and remembrance.  We work with funeral homes and the Department of Veteran Affairs for burial services.  There are unique sections in our cemeteries reserved for military veterans and spouses of military veterans.  Contact us to make arrangement or if you have questions.

Citizens Cemetery Advisory Committee (CCAC)
  • A volunteer committee was established by the Des Moines City Council to advise and represent the Council in all matters pertaining to the Park and Recreation Department.  The Park and Recreation Board authorize the establishment and support of a citizen advisory committee to be known as the Des Moines Citizen Cemetery Advisory Committee.  The CCAC activities will be of an advisory, informative, and recommending nature by majority vote to the Board and department staff in the Park and Recreation Board’s process of recommending cemetery policy and fees to the Council for the public at large.

    The purpose of the committee shall be:

    • To promote citizen awareness of the desirability of good public cemeteries with adequate financial support, and to encourage citizen understanding of the City cemetery policies and needs.
    • To interpret to the public the goals and needs of the cemeteries, and to interpret to the Board the concerns of the public about the City cemeteries.
    • To study continuously the needs of public cemeteries and the effects of cemetery maintenance, management, and promotion.
    • To identify cemetery problems either independently or at the suggestion of the Board, to study them by evaluating facts and to present to the Board suitable recommendations and remedies.
    • To accept policy study assignments from the Board for consideration and reply.
    • To work with the Board, the staff, and the citizens to implement cemetery policies and fees which have the mutual support of both the Committee and the Board.
    • To promote the City cemeteries as quality facilities accommodating citizen interest.
    • To make recommendations and facilitate the development and promotion of the municipal cemeteries and advocate financial support for facility improvements.