The History of Hanawalt Elementary School

Hanawalt Elementary School was completed in 1912 and opened it’s doors to students in 1913. Located on Des Moines’ west side, the school sits upon a 4.8 acre site amidst wooded terrain and established homes. It hosts a diverse student population and has a strong tradition of academic excellence. Hanawalt’s educational environment is defined by dedicated and creative teachers and staff and enhanced by involved, committed parents and community members who actively participate in the School Based Council (SBC) and the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA). Hanawalt has deep roots as a neighborhood school.

The school is named after Dr. George P. Hanawalt, a doctor and surgeon who had a distinguished career at the turn of the century. As a young man growing up in the Midwest, George began his study of medicine with his sights set on becoming a doctor. However, the Civil War interrupted his medical studies. In February of 1862, he volunteered for active service with the Seventh Ohio Infantry. He was later transferred to the Army where he served as a hospital steward at the United States General Hospital in Washington D.C. During that time he was able to attend classes at Georgetown University and received his medical degree from that institution in 1864. Dr. Hanawalt continued his service in the military until 1868. Upon retiring from active duty, he moved back to Des Moines to establish his medical practice. He had a fruitful career and family life and practiced medicine and surgery in Des Moines for over 40 years.

During his long and impressive career Dr. Hanawalt was a strong leader in the Iowa medical community. He served as Surgeon General of the National Guard for 25 years and President of the Polk County Medical Society in 1877. He was also President of the State Medical Society in 1880. One of Dr. Hanawalt’s most important contributions to Des Moines was the building of the first hospitals in Des Moines — Tracy Home and Cottage Hospital. Tracy Hospital was in operation at the time of the terrible ‘Four Mile Disaster’ on the Rock Island Railroad which killed and injured hundreds. Among the victims of this train accident were many employees of the Barnum & Bailey Circus which was performing in the area. Dr. Hanawalt volunteered to aid the victims and as a result saved many lives. P.T. Barnum was so grateful for this heroic service that he gave a benefit performance where over $12,000 was raised. Dr. Hanawalt used this money to found Cottage Hospital which operated until Methodist Hospital was built.

Dr. Hanawalt died on July 6th, 1912 at the age of 76. The Des Moines Board of Education honored his memory by naming the school on 56th Street after him. The school cornerstone, which sits atop the west side of the building, bears Hanawalt’s name and the date of 1912 indicating the building completion date.

When Hanawalt Elementary School opened its doors to students in 1913, there were just four teachers assigned to the building. As the years went by, slow development of the area made future growth at Hanawalt questionable. It was even suggested in the Grieder Building Report of 1939 that Hanawalt be torn down with the site given to the Parks Department. This report suggested that the land parcel at 52nd & Grand Avenue be developed into a new Hanawalt School, which would include a small Jr. High attached to it. As we know, this proposal was not carried out. Hanawalt remained in its location and Merrill Junior High was built at 52nd & Grand to serve students from the surrounding area.

In 1972, a building addition was completed at Hanawalt. The cost for this addition totaled $500,000. It consisted of ten classrooms, which accommodated grades K through 3. The new space also added offices for the principal, secretary and nurse, a gym and a library. Grades 4 & 5 occupied the original part of the building, fondly known today as “The Castle.” The new addition was planned according to an Open Space Concept, which was popular at the time. This system proved not to be conducive to focused learning, however, and traditional classroom walls were constructed in 1980. With the ’72 addition making way for more students, the Frisbee school, located at 63rd & Muskogee, was closed and later torn down.

With the passage of a one-cent local option sales tax in the late 1990’s, the District established a 10-year plan for school building expansion and renovation. Hanwalt was included in the second phase of this plan. In the spring of 2000 a parent-led facilities team was established and along with the district and a selected architect, a four-year planning process for Hanawalt’s renovation began. Construction was underway in the Summer/Fall of 2003. Hanawalt furniture and classroom materials were boxed up and moved that summer to Mann Elementary School which served as a ‘swing school’ for certain schools during the 10-year plan. For the 2003-2004 school year all Hanawalt students were bused to Mann, located on the south side of Des Moines.

Hanawalt’s renovation and contruction was completed the Summer of 2004. The renovation brought many changes and improvements to the school. Space needs, traffic flow, lighting and all needs of teachers and students were carefully examined. Many areas of the school were addressed with improvements. A geo-thermal system was installed to meet the energy requirements of the school which includes air conditioning. A new wing located on the southwestern portion of the campus provided additional classrooms, a bathroom and bookroom for the lower grade units. Space in the seventies addition was completely reconfigured into a new media center/library as well as a music classroom with adequate storage space for instruments and practice rooms. The art room, previously located in the Castle, was moved to the first floor next to the music room. The art area is connected to the main hallway by a skylight corridor which features artwork by students. The office area was redesigned to provide more efficient storage space for the office manager, a more inviting and accessible office for the Principal, and a full-service nurse’s office. A larger counseling office was added off the main hallway.

Through the fundraising efforts of parents, a multi-purpose room was added to the northeast which serves as the lunchroom during the week and as an auditorium/performance area for special events. This cafeteria/auditorium addition was named Weitz Commons after lead donors and Hanawalt alums Fred and Steve Weitz. The existing gym was renovated and now serves as a dedicated classroom for P.E. instruction. A moveable wall between the gym and multi-purpose room allows for more flexible use of both spaces. An elevator was added to serve the first floor and all floors of the original structure, confirming Hanawalt as an ADA compliant building. Castle classrooms were upgraded and reconfigured with new windows, storage area and refinished hardwood floors. Wiring for all classrooms was brought up to current code standards and planned with future technology needs in mind. An area for special education instruction was included in the original structure. Finally, the grounds of the campus were addressed with a comprehensive landscape plan with all plants and materials supplied by the PTA. A large limestone retaining wall was then constructed on the western edge of the campus along 56th Street to address both erosion and esthetic concerns.

Hanawalt has a strong tradition of academic achievement and commitment to the growth of each and every student. As a neighborhood school it has fostered a sense of community for nearly 100 years. With the 2004 renovation complete, Hanawalt will certainly be assured a place in the community for many generations to come.

Dates of Construction: 1912, 1919, 1972, 2004, 2018

Site: 4.8 acres

The History of Hanwalt Principals

1913-1916 Elizabeth Robb

1916-1918 Ella Baker

1918-1919 Lulu Auracher

1920-1925 Nellie Warren

1925-1943 Frances Umpleby

1943-1945 Murray Work

1945-1952 Lorene Lightfoot

1952-1958 Robert Langerak

1958-1966 Lorraine Kimball Reed

1966-1968 Howard Hart

1968-1971 Harry Elder

1971-1975 Melvin Kiner

1975-1984  Don Shaw

1984-1988  Olive Devine

1988-2008  Helen Oliver

2008-2009  Julia Burton

2009-2015  Andrew Burg

2015-2018  Kelly Schofield

2018 – present  Jolene Liebl