At the turn of the century, residential development in Des Moines extended as far west as Park Lane (now 42nd Street). In the late 1890’s, the Des Moines Railway extended the trolley line along Ingersoll from downtown to what is now Polk Boulevard. This provided access to the Ingersoll Amusement Park and Greenwood Park, which was dedicated in 1894. The trolley turnaround ran along what is now the alley leading to the parking lot behind the offices of Shiffler & Associates.
Phase 1: Golf Club and Surrounding Homes
In 1897, the Golf and Country Club was established on 60 acres south of Waveland Park between 49th and 56th Streets. The clubhouse was located at the present intersection of 49th and Harwood. The presence of the golf club gave the area an aura of prestige and exclusiveness.
By about 1906, residential development had pushed further west to 49th Street. Polk Boulevard was conceived when it was thought the city railway company would construct a cross town line to connect the Ingersoll and Waveland Park lines. The line never materialized and later Polk was developed as a major thoroughfare by H J Pharmer (1912). The Waterbury neighborhood was developed in three phases: 1906-11, 1923-25, and 1931-40.Three gentlemen had a part in the first phase, A B Shriver, S F Frick, and F C Waterbury.
Shriver developed Grand Avenue Heights (Shriver and Country Club Boulevard), Frick developed Walnut Hill Place (north of Grand and west of 56th), and Waterbury developed Oak Lawn Place (north of Ingersoll between 49th and 54th). It is from Mr. Waterbury that the neighborhood takes its name. He lived at 607 Country Club Boulevard and made his fortune as founder of the Waterbury Chemical Company. He eventually came to own the amusement park property when the park closed prior to World War I.
Phase 2: Country Club Knolls
The second phase was triggered by the sale of the Country Club property in 1924 when the membership decided to move further west. Country Club Investment Corporation was formed to redevelop the course as Country Club Knolls, creating the extensions of Harwood Drive and Woodland Avenue west to 56th Street. The sales literature stated that the plat offered “broad, winding avenues [that] lead you through lanes of giant oaks, past wide green lawns unsurpassed for picturesqueness and beauty”. The removal of the Country Club led to a proposal to expand Waveland to 36 holes. A preliminary survey was undertaken and a sketch plan was prepared but the expansion never took place.
Around the same time, North Waterbury Road and Waterbury Park or Circle were plated. This development was remarkable for a number of reasons. Its contoured plan took the form of an elongated cul-de-sac with originally but one street exit. Architecturally, the area was unique in the scale and quality of its homes and the fact that only one builder, Edwin Beck, built most of them. His homes are recognizable today by the individually crafted matching chimney and shutter motifs. Mr. Beck considered the neighborhood to be his most significant residential accomplishment of all the homes that he built in Des Moines. In 1930, the residents of the Circle successfully fought a plan to extend Ingersoll west through the circle to connect to White Pole Highway (now Ashworth).
The final phase of development filled in areas to the west of 56th, including a connection from Waterbury Circle to 56th Street completing the loop from North Waterbury, Walnut Hill west of 56th, and Mahaska Parkway (which no longer exists) running from Cummings Parkway south to Grand. Construction of the freeway roughly along Center Street in the early 1960’s severed what was largely a homogeneous neighborhood between University Avenue and Grand Avenue and established what is now the northern border of the neighborhood. Waterbury was one of the first neighborhoods designed to follow the topography of the land. A prime example is Waterbury Road and Country Club Boulevard, which curve and meander through a heavily wooded area; the plat called for a “sunken garden” running along especially low land at the west end of Waterbury Road and this strip remains a green space today.
The site plan was adapted to the hilly lots, many of them quite large and which dip down leaving the house perched at the top and overlooking what was a stream bed. The area retains important early or original elements: a mature tree canopy, the lowland or “sunken garden” street layout, and entry posts at many driveways.