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NOTEBOOK: Cemetery will no longer be island in the middle of a road


A historic Dallas County burial site commonly called “the cemetery in the middle of the road” will lose its moniker soon.

For decades, dirt roads and then paved streets were routed around the Huston Cemetery, located at 88th Street and Mills Civic Parkway in West Des Moines. 

As development marched westward, traffic increased. On occasion, a driver missed a turn and crashed into the fence surrounding cemetery. 

West Des Moines officials have long known that when Mills Civic Parkway was widened westward from South 81th Street, decisions would need to be made on safeguarding not only the cemetery but the people who visited each year. 

That time has come.

Traffic on Mills Civic west of South 88th Street has increased substantially since the extension of Grand Prairie Parkway to Mills Civic was completed in late 2016, said Brian Hemesath, West Des Moines’ city engineer. Before the extension, a few hundred vehicles each day traveled on Mills Civic west of South 88th Street; current traffic counts show more than 7,000 vehicles per day on the street, Hemesath said.

“People are starting to realize that to get to [Jordan Creek] mall and to area businesses, coming off I-80 at Grand Prairie and taking Mills Civic is a faster way than fighting all the traffic on Jordan Creek Parkway,” he said. “Also, the population west of 86th Street has increased because of all the new developments.”

West Des Moines this year is widening Mills Civic about three-fourths of a mile west, from South 81th Street to South 91st Street. The new three-lane street is being routed several hundred feet north of the cemetery. In addition, South 88th Street is being widened north and south of the intersection.

When the $7.2 million project is completed, Huston Cemetery will no longer be in the middle of the road. Instead it will be southwest of the intersection.

The construction project includes adding a small parking lot and walking path to the cemetery.

“It will be easier and safer for people to visit the cemetery,” Hemesath said. 

The cemetery is named after James B. Huston, who arrived in Iowa around 1847, according to a page on West Des Moines website. Huston was the first Dallas County attorney. The family’s home, which still stands near the intersection of 88th Street and Mills Civic, served as a stagecoach station, tavern and post office. The house was also a stop on the Underground Railroad. 

The first two occupants of the cemetery were two young girls, both former slaves, whose family was headed to California. Also buried in the cemetery are Huston, his wife, Nancy, and six of their children. Huston, who died in 1889, is believed to be the last person buried in the cemetery, which is cared for by the West Des Moines parks department and members of a nonprofit group. 

Construction of the Mills Civic extension is expected to be completed by late November, Hemesath said.

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