20+ Cool Things You Didn’t Know About DSM

From local celebrities to little-known, must-see locations, you’ll find these 20+ fast facts about Greater Des Moines (DSM) to be memorable and interesting. If you’re looking for some TIL facts — that’s “today I learned” for anyone not up on the online lingo — that showcase the region and your knowledge of all-things-Des Moines, you’ll love the roundup below!

Surprising Facts & Cool Things About Des Moines 

  1. Waukee’s Alice Nizzi ran Alice’s SpaghettiLand Restaurant and is the inspiration for Alice Nizzi Park, featuring a spaghetti and meatballs-themed playground.  
  2. There are 11 Frank Lloyd Wright homes in Iowa, including four in the DSM region: Caroll Alsop House (Oskaloosa), Jack Lamberson House (Oskaloosa), Robert Sunday House (Marshalltown) and Paul Trier House (Johnston). 
  3. The Iowa State Fair in Des Moines holds the Guinness World Record for largest cornhole tournament with 730 participants.  
  4. The Iowa State Capitol in Downtown Des Moines (DSM) is the only five-domed capitol in the country and contains 23.75 karats of gold. 
  5. view of the Iowa Capital building
  6. Lauridsen Skatepark in Downtown DSM is the largest skatepark in the U.S., with 88,000 square feet of skateable surface, including a skateable “WOW” art sculpture that is 84 feet long. 
  7. Lauidsen Skatepark
  8. Madison County is home to six covered wooden bridges still standing from the late 1800s, but originally there were 19! All six of the bridges structures are open to the public. The bridges served as the inspiration for the Clint Eastwood-directed film “The Bridges of Madison County,” featuring Meryl Streep and himself in the title roles. 
  9. Covered bridge
  10. In 2007, celebrity talk show host Oprah joined now former President Barack Obama on the campaign trail, speaking to a crowd of 15,000 at Hy-Vee Hall in Downtown DSM.  
  11. 801 Grand in Downtown DSM is 45 stories and the tallest skyscraper in Iowa, housing the global headquarters of Principal Financial Group. 
  12. MidAmerican Energy Company, headquartered in Des Moines, has made Iowa a national wind energy leader, with $14 billion invested in wind energy projects and more than 3,400 turbines across the state, creating enough electricity to power 2.3 million households per year. According to the Iowa Environmental Council, Iowa produced the highest percentage of electricity by wind of any state as of June 2022.  
  13. The Women of Achievement Bridge along the Des Moines River in Downtown DSM can be lit in any color to recognize various events, as it did when it turned green to celebrate Des Moines’ Sister City of Kofu, Japan.  
  14. Women of Achievement Bridge
  15. More than a few well-known personalities have ties to the DSM region, including: Bill Bryson, author (Des Moines), Thomas Cech, Nobel Prize in Chemistry (Grinnell), ,att Earp, American West lawman (Pella), Andrew Fuller, cake artist/reality television star on “Is It Cake?” (Des Moines), Shawn Johnson, Olympic gymnast and Gold medalist (West Des Moines), Lolo Jones, track and field athlete and Olympic bobsledder, Cloris Leachman, actress (Des Moines), McCaughey septuplets, world’s first-known set of surviving septuplets (Carlisle), Jason Momoa (Norwalk), Ben Silbermann, co-founder of Pinterest (Des Moines), many of the members of Slipknot – Josh Brainard, Shawn Crahan, Anders Colsefni, Chris Fehn, Craig Jones, Joey Jordison, Donnie Steele, Corey Taylor, Mick Thomson, Greg Welts, Sid Wilson (Des Moines), George Washington Carver, agricultural scientist (Winterset), John Wayne, actor (Winterset), Kurt Warner, NFL football quarterback/NFL MVP/Super Bowl MVP who played for the Iowa Barnstormers (Des Moines) and Frank Wykoff, Olympic relay runner/medalist (Des Moines)  
  16. Three of Iowa’s national historic landmarks are in the DSM region: Merchants National Bank (Grinnell – open to the public), Terrace Hill Governor’s Mansion (Des Moines – open to the public), Fort Des Moines Provisional Army Officer Training School (Des Moines – not open to the public)  
  17. Simon Estes Amphitheater in Downtown DSM is named for Iowan and international opera singer, Simon Estes.  
  18. From 1915 to 1978, Riverview Park was Des Moines’ premier amusement park. In 2014, a renovation of the area began and will include an outdoor concert stage, plaza, amusement park-themed playground and more. 
  19. Riverview Park
  20. The Des Moines Register has won 17 Pulitzer Prizes.   
  21. In 1903, a winged creature is said to have visited Van Meter which eventually led to a paranormal festival called the Van Meter Visitor Festival in 2013.  
  22. In 1979, Saint Pope John Paul II visited Living History Farms in Urbandale, holding a mass for the largest crowd in Iowa history: 350,000.  
  23. The Heritage Carousel in Union Park in Des Moines is hand-carved, hand-painted and provides 45,000+ rides per season. 
  24. The National Bar Association was founded in Des Moines in 1925. Its founding lawyers aimed to give a voice to Black attorneys who were otherwise excluded from other industry associations at that time. 
  25. The Des Moines region is home to several massive data centers including Meta (Facebook) which has invested $3 billion to create more than 5 million square feet of data center space. Additionally, Microsoft has 2 million square feet of data center storage in DSM, and Apple has purchased 2,000 acres in the region for future growth. 
  26. World-renowned artist, Claes Oldenburg, has — not one, but — two highly visible art sculptures located in Downtown DSM: the Crusoe Umbrella at Cowles Commons and Plantoir located outside of Dotdash Meredith, which is perfectly fitting for the headquarters for publications including Better Homes and Gardens
  27. Des Moines is home to the Ape Cognition and Conservation Initiative, a sanctuary housing seven rare and endangered bonobos, among the fewer than 250 in captivity worldwide. The 230-acre campus in DSM is home to Kanzi, a bonobo who is regarded as the first great ape to demonstrate an understanding of spoken English and can use his lexigram keyboard to communicate to humans in return. 
  28. The Historic Jordan House, available for tours, is located in West Des Moines and was a station on the Underground Railroad, and radical abolitionist John Brown stayed at least twice at the home including a stay where he led 12 formerly enslaved people to freedom. 
  29. The Drake Relays and the famed blue oval track have been a Des Moines tradition for nearly 115 years, beginning in 1910. Numerous Olympians and Olympic-hopeful athletes have made record-breaking history at this event held annually in April at Des Moines’ Drake University.
Greater Des Moines (DSM) is surprising beyond trivia and cool facts. It’s consistently named a top place to live and work and has earned bragging rights as the #1 mid-sized city for Millennials. Do something unexpected and live greater in DSM.  

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