Des Moines Memorial Way was established after World War I as a living memorial to those who gave their lives in it. The Seattle Garden Club, supported by many civic groups and prominent individuals, transformed a 10-mile section into an American Elm-tree-lined road, from the Seattle City limits to the Kent-Des Moines Highway. Each tree was planted in memory of a different man, signifying the community’s losses and its commitment to work for peace. Des Moines Way, inspired by the tree-lined boulevards through which American soldiers marched in France, represents the kind of memorial popular throughout America shortly after World War I.
On Armistice Day, November 11, 1921, members of the Seattle Garden Club planted the first 25 elm trees along Des Moines Way South. A dedication ceremony was held at Sunnydale School, the halfway point between Seattle and Des Moines. On January 14, 1922, planting of the trees began with another dedication ceremony at the school, attended by many dignitaries. The "pioneer highway" was rededicated in 1922 as Des Moines Memorial Drive, with 1,432 American elm trees planted along its shoulders to commemorate Washington state’s World War I dead, including eight Seattle women. Some of these trees still line the memorial highway.
Over the next decade, the Boy Scouts maintained the trees on behalf of the Garden Club. By 1933, this responsibility had been turned over to American Legion Posts. Over the years, upkeep of the memorial has suffered many trials and tribulations. Maintaining the memorial trees in the face of public apathy or ignorance was an ongoing struggle.
Continue on to learn about the demise of the elms