1929 — Just three months after the stock market crash, a non-profit organization was formed to establish a private cemetery north of Des Moines. Highland Memory Gardens Cemetery was one of the first “Memorial Park”-style cemeteries in the United States.
December 26, 1929 — Edward & Abbie Evans sold 40 acres of farmland to the organization, located at Hobson Drive (now NE 60th Ave.) and Second Avenue , The newly formed cemetery was originally named Magnolia Memorial Park.
April 14, 1930 — The first burial took place in what was then the only garden at the cemetery, the Prayer Garden. Other gardens were added later, with their names indicative of scenes or events in the life of Jesus.
1933 — The cemetery has operated under the business name of Highland Perpetual Maintenance Society, Inc. from 1933 to the present.
January 17, 1935 — The cemetery was renamed Highland Memory Garden — depicting its location on one of the highest tracts of land in Polk County. As more gardens were developed within the cemetery the name was changed to Highland Memory Gardens. Highland Memory Gardens’ memorial park-style became a model for cemeteries across the country in the decades that followed its founding. Now nearly every community has duplicated this style of cemetery with only flat bronze memorials and no upright monuments to interfere with the expansive grounds of green grass, flower gardens, hedges and ornamental trees.
1935 — Des Moines philanthropist F.W. Fitch is credited with the survival of the cemetery through its difficult early days. Mr. Fitch envisioned a beautiful tower which would play chimes and music and offer a peaceful chapel to visitors of the cemetery, as well as a tower to serve as a landmark for the community. Thus the Tower of Memories became the central feature of the gardens.
1935 — Ralph E Sawyer drew the Gothic-style plans for the Tower of Memories. Construction began in 1935, utilizing advanced concrete pouring methods along with a variety of colorfully cut limestone from Rowat Cut Stone of Des Moines. Mr. Fitch loaned the cemetery the money to build the tower, and the cemetery gave him large plats of land in exchange for the money. Over time, Mr. Fitch deeded all the land back to the cemetery.
1939-1950 — Mr. Fitch served as cemetery president. He died at his home in October 1951 and is buried at Highland Memory Gardens.
1930’s-1950’s — The Tower of Memories was also known as the Bell Tower. Sunday afternoons were a special time in the gardens as musicians would play the organ in the Tower. Many people would come to remember their loved ones in the beautiful park-like setting as they listened to the music from the Tower.
1940’s-1950’s — The lot-owner association expanded greatly under the direction of a Kansas City, Missouri sales company. As the Kansas City Corporation grew, questions began to arise as to their handling of trust funds. Through a series of lawsuits the cemetery eventually regained control of all property and the sales company was ordered to repay the trust.
1953-1985 — Mr. Charles M Bump, a local attorney, contributed greatly to the cemetery’s success. Mr. Bump gave up his law practice to manage the cemetery. Mr. Bump’s wife, Wilma, also worked at HMG, serving as the office secretary.
1999 — The board of directors developed a restoration plan to restore the Tower of Memories, which had been showing signs of deterioration for the past decade. A plan was launched to restore mortar joints, the stone facing, roof and more. The Fitch Foundation provided a $25,000 matching grant to complete the 5-year project which included new electrical service, night-time floodlighting, installation of two stained-glass windows and restoration of the room on the main floor.
2005 — The Tower of Memories was re-dedicated on Memorial Day. Organ and carillon music is played from the Tower during burial services.
2011 — Of the 42,328 cemetery spaces at Highland Memory Gardens Cemetery, about one-third have been filled and another one-third have been sold. The cemetery also owns 12 acres on the north side of NE 60th Avenue, used for equipment, storage and service areas and for further expansion.