Ankeny began as a farming community founded by John Fletcher Ankeny and his wife Sarah on April 22, 1875. Mr. Ankeny was an active Des Moines businessman and involved in area politics. He was also a promoter and stockholder of the Minnesota Narrow Gauge Railroad which was later built through the town of Ankeny.
Ankeny in the Late 1800s
Between 1874 and 1880, a narrow gauge railroad was completed from Des Moines through Ankeny to Ames. Passenger service was established in July 1880, with the fare from Ankeny to Des Moines at 33 cents. Riley Van Horn was the first station agent in Ankeny and received a monthly salary of $45.
In 1881, the town of Ankeny consisted of seven houses, a Methodist Church, a depot, a combination store and post office, a livery stable, a blacksmith shop, rooming house, a machine shop, and a school. There was no delivery of mail in the area at this time, and newspapers arrived in town on the train every Friday.
Many of the farmers in this area raised cane sorghum for molasses, which was processed in a mill two miles southeast of Ankeny. Others raised hogs, the first of which were driven from Ankeny to market in Keokuk, a trip that required seven days.
Ankeny in the 1900s
On February 28, 1903, Ankeny was incorporated as a town, with a total incorporated area of one square mile. Seven years after its incorporation, the United States census indicated a population of 445 persons.
Telephone service quickly followed incorporation and electricity was made available for the first time in 1907. Extensive electrical service was not generally available to residents until 1919 when the Central Light and Power Company were granted a franchise to operate a power plant in Ankeny.
In 1907 Ankeny’s first fire department was organized on a volunteer basis. The total firefighting equipment at the time consisted of three ladders and 24 galvanized pails.
Between 1932 and 1940, Ankeny experienced four major fires that almost destroyed the uptown business area. Most of the businesses were rebuilt. By 1942, the federal government had established an ordnance plant for the manufacture of ammunition on the site now occupied by the John Deere Des Moines Works and the surrounding area.
Ankeny's population experienced a rapid increase that continued after John Deere purchased the plant in October 1947. Production of corn pickers began in February 1948, with 570 employees. Production later included harvesting equipment for corn, cotton, sugar beets, and potatoes, along with grain dryers and various self-propelled crop sprayers.
By 1950 the town had grown to 1,229 citizens and by 1958, the first home mail delivery began. Ankeny was officially declared a city in 1961 and the number of residents living in Ankeny was 2,964, more than double the 1950 total.
Ankeny in 2000 & Forward
The 2000 census reported 27,117 residents. A special census taken in 2005, showed Ankeny's population at 36,161 and land size at 26.45 square miles. Ankeny has grown quickly in the last years of the 20th century and the first decades of the 21st century. The 2010 census counted 45,582 residents with a land area of 29.14 square miles and the 2020 census counted 67,887 residents.
If you would like to learn more about Ankeny’s history, please visit the Ankeny Historical Society website.