Sunday, April 28, 2013

Old Ankeny hidden within the new

Ankeny, to those of us who live elsewhere at least, seems like a place where it might be easy to lose track of the past. Located just north of Des Moines along Interstate 35, it has grown from a village of perhaps 1,200 in 1950 to a city nearing 50,000 now.

It is home to every big-box store known to humanity, the main campus of Des Moines Area Community College and Faith Baptist Bible College and Seminary; such industries as Deere & Company's Des Moines Works (which produces cotton pickers rather than tractors) and Tone's Spices; the corporate headquarters of Casey's General Stores, Hy-Vee's Perishable Distributors and a good deal more.

But the old town still is embedded in the new --- complete with a small business district known as "uptown" because "downtown" in Ankeny always has meant you were headed for Des Moines.

History is the exclusive focus of the Ankeny Area Historical Society, housed in two buildings --- a restored farm house and a new display building designed to look like a barn --- just east of uptown. We were there for a museums association meeting yesterday, hosted by some of its volunteers.

Like Chariton, Ankeny's origins can be traced to agriculture --- and coal mining.

The emphasis here is on Ankeny's small-town to mid-20th century roots --- the society is relatively new (organized in 1988, the restored house --- moved from a site being cleared for commercial development --- was opened during 1996 and the barn added during 2006). Telling the story of the city's explosive late-20th-century growth is in the future.

There are displays pointing toward that however, perhaps the most telling an extensive collection of school-related memorabilia. The walls in one area of the barn's upper gallery contain many composite arrangements of senior portraits dating from a time when senior classes consisted of fewer than 50 students. The most recent class portrait is of more than 250 seniors, individual faces difficult to recognize, arranged on bleachers. Next year, a second high school will open in Ankeny as enrollment nears 1,000.

If you'd like to visit, the museum is open from 2 to 4 p.m. the first Sunday of every month April to November and at other times by appointment or on special occasions. An influx of volunteers probably would allow it to open more often.

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