Demoine House

A fashionable hotel known as the Demoine House once stood at First and Walnut Streets, which is now where the Polk County Office building resides. John Yost and Martin Tucker opened the Demoine House in April 1855, and it soon became the site of elegant parties for city residents and lodging for visitors. Part of the building was completed by covering some of the vacated barracks from the old fort.

Not long after the DeMoine House opened, Colonel Sumner Spoffard (not officially a colonel) purchased it and ran it himself until 1862. Lorenzo F. Andrews writes, “it was a lively place. The bar-room annex on the south side was the rendezvous for politicians. There being no public hall, the dining-room was a favorite place for dancing parties, where, in the pale mellow light of tallow dips or whale oil, joy went unconfined.”

When the state capital was moved to Des Moines, many people working in government stayed at the Demoine House, as well as those traveling through. Mildred Throne cites:

The space between the river and the capitol was a muddy swamp… But the people of Des Moines tried to make up for the shortcomings of their little town by lavish hospitality – at least as lavish as the frontier could afford. On the west side, at the “only hotel of much pretentions” – the DeMoine House. There Governor Grimes had rooms, and Ralph P. Lowe awaited his inauguration, and the “soft coal stoves glowed with a red heat.”

When Governor Grimes held his victory reception for U.S. Senate in January of 1858, it was at the Demoine House. Throne mentions it as “the famous hostelry” and Governor Grimes dressed the part, which many found surprising:

One of the great levees given at the famous hostelry (Demoine House) was that given by Governor Grimes in honor of his election as United States senator. The Governor was never noted for the tidiness of his wearing apparel, and was often seen trudging from the DeMoine House over to the Capitol Building through the mud, generally with his pants stuck in his boot tops, or else one leg in the boot top and the other rolled up, while the rest of his dress was worn in a don't-care sort of manner—in fact it was on the slouchy order…  But when the guests—the members of the legislative, the state officers, judges of the Supreme Court and leading citizens began to arrive they found a great surprise awaiting them, for there stood the senator elect clothed in a spick-and-span new full dress suit, patent leather shoes and kid gloves. This little incident furnished food for talk for the frontier town for many months. The old settlers even say that it was one of the grandest soirees ever given in the city.

Senator-elect Grimes said there were 178 guests and all his rivals were there and they enjoyed a “harmonious, well-conducted, sumptuous feast.”

Many other parties were held there, including one on Washington’s birthday in 1858 that had live music and dancing until 3 AM. The pioneers knew how to throw a party. The DeMoine house continued operating until 1877 when the building was pulled down. It was to be replaced with the Spofford but money became scarce, and it was never finished. Eventually, the property was deeded to Uncle Sam for a new post office in a deal negotiated by Louis Harbach.