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A short history of Ankeny

Located near the center of Polk County, the City of Ankeny is situated approximately six miles north of Des Moines on U.S. Highway 69, served by I-35 interchanging with I-80 four miles south of the city. John Fletcher Ankeny and his wife Sarah acquired the 80-acre tract of land, on which the town of Ankeny was originally developed, on July 11, 1874. The following year, on April 19, 1875, Mr. Ankeny and his wife laid out the plan for the city, which bears their name, and recorded the plot three days later on April 22.

A narrow gauge railroad was completed from Des Moines through Ankeny to Ames in 1874, and in 1879, the Chicago Northwestern Railroad changed the tracks to wide gauge. Passenger service was established on July 11, 1880, with the fare from Ankeny to Des Moines priced at 33 cents. Riley Van Horn was the first station agent in Ankeny, and he received a monthly salary of $45.

In 1881, the town of Ankeny consisted of seven houses, a Methodist Church, a depot, a combination store/post office, livery stable, a blacksmith shop, rooming house, machine shop and a school. There was no delivery of mail in the area at this time, and newspapers arrived in town on the train every Friday.


Many of the farmers in this area raised sorghum for molasses, which was processed in a mill two miles southeast of Ankeny. Others raised hogs, the first of which were driven from Ankeny to market in Keokuk, a trip which required seven days.


Ankeny was incorporated as a town on February 28, 1903, with a total incorporated area of one square mile. Seven years after its incorporation, the United States census indicated a population of 445 persons.

Telephone service began in Ankeny in 1903, and electricity was made available to residents for the first time in 1907. Extensive electrical service was not generally available to residents until 1919, when the Central Light and Power Company was granted a franchise to operate a power plant in Ankeny. The first fire department was organized on a volunteer basis in 1907. The total firefighting equipment at the time consisted of three ladders and 24 galvanized pails.


Between 1932 and 1940, Ankeny experienced four major fires that almost destroyed the uptown business area. Most of the businesses were able to rebuild. By 1942, the federal government had established an ordnance plant for the manufacture of ammunition on the site now occupied by the John Deere Des Moines Works and surrounding area.


Ankeny's population experienced a rapid increase that continued after John Deere purchased the plant in October 1947. Production of corn pickers began in February 1948, with 570 employees. Production later included harvesting equipment for corn, cotton, sugar beets, and potatoes, along with grain dryers and various self-propelled crop sprayers.


By 1950 the town had grown to 1,229 citizens and by 1958, the first home mail delivery began. Ankeny was officially declared a city in 1961, and the number of residents living in Ankeny was 2,964, more than double the 1950 total. A U.S. Census estimate in 2015 showed Ankeny's population at over 56,000 and area at 29.33 sq. miles.

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