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Sims Cemetery


Posted By: PCGS Volunteer
Date: 1/21/2021 at 16:43:18

Hot Line
East-side Cemetery Dates to 1855
Evelyn Welsher of Des Moines; “I’m curious about the cemetery at East 37th Street and University Avenue. There’s not even a name on it. One name on a family headstone is ‘Dean,’ which must have been one of Des Moines’ early pioneers (Dean Avenue). I wonder if other early settlers are buried there.”
Our Des Moines city map shows Sims Cemetery at that location, Evelyn, and John Lowe, supervisor of Laurel Hill Cemetery at 3600 E. Court Ave., sent us a Sims Cemetery history compiled in 1938 by Frank C. Walesh of the Des Moines Engineering Department.
Sims originally was established by John S. Dean, James H. Finch and L. S. Case, who incorporated under the name of the Agency Burying Ground Association Inc. on Mar. 16, 1855. The association purchased an acre from Pleasant W. Harris and his wife, Gemina.
When Sims Cemetery was established, it was to serve the needs of people who lived on the Indian agency lands nearby. It was run as a private cemetery until it was given to the city in 1909.
According to tradition, the first burial was of an unidentified man who drowned while driving a team of oxen through the Des Moines River ford on Vandalia Road, near the Iowa Power and Light Electric Plant.
Lots sold for $15.
According to the history, Mrs. George P. Curran, the last secretary of the association before the cemetery was turned over to the city in 1909, said a record of burials was maintained, but it can’t be found.
Presumably, the cemetery became known as the Sims Cemetery because it is located within Lot 7, Partition Plat of the L.D. Sims estate.
Hot Line doesn’t know whether L. D. Sims was Lorenzo D. Sims, who according to a 1933 article, owned part of the property now occupied by the Iowa State Fairgrounds, or Lue D. Sims, who, according to a 1933 obituary, was a Polk County pioneer and fruit grower who died at age 76 in August 1933. He was survived by his daughter, Dimple Sims, and his sister, Mrs. Lucinda Short, both of Des Moines.
Along with the cemetery, the city received $249.09 in unspent association funds.
In 1939, Street Commissioner John MacVicar ordered crews to remove 59 graves from the cemetery to make room for the widening of University Avenue.
Abram S. Dean, who lent his name to Dean Avenue, and several members of his family are buried in Sims. His father, we think, was the John S. Dean who helped to establish the cemetery.
Dean farmed until his death and was active in supporting the public schools. He was a charter member of the first Presbyterian Church organized in Fort Des Moines.
He died Jan. 25, 1859, when he was 39. Dean contributed 15 acres to the site on which the State Capitol was built.
In Lakeland, Fla., Betty (Finch) Fay heard about the recent item about the Sims Cemetery on East University Avenue and wrote that among those buried in the cemetery are members of her family: a great-great-great-grandfather, John Stewart Dean, a great-great-grandfather, James Harvey Finch, and her grandfather, George W. Finch. William H. Watson was another great-great-grandfather buried in the Sims Cemetery.
Betty pointed out that Dean Avenue was named for John Stewart Dean, not his son Abram Dean.
Her father, Roy Finch, was a monument dealer in Des Moines who cut and set some of the stones in the cemetery. Fay invites any readers wanting more information about the Sims Cemetery to write her at 12529 Stratton Ave., Lakeland, Fla. 33813
Source: Des Moines Register; Wednesday, October 23, 1991
Hot Line – A service in which writers Ruth Gatti and Linda Banger answer readers’ questions about the Des Moines area. To ask a question, call 284-8161, Monday-Wednesday, or write Neighbors Hot Line, P.O. Box 957, Des Moines 50304.


Polk Documents maintained by Brenda White.
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