Volume 2


Printed by the Clio Press Iowa City, Iowa 1918
Copyright 1918 by Clarence Ray Aurner

Transcribed by Sharon Elijah, June 21, 2013

pgs 97-106

The distance from Dubuque to Sioux City is about three hundred and twenty miles. At one place on the first railroad built between these two cities, there is a stretch of sixty five miles which is perfectly straight. In building this road, the first thirty miles were the most expensive, because of the bluffs some distance back from the Mississippi River. At first, in 1855, the road was called the Dubuque and Pacific. Such a name shows that it was planned to reach the Pacific Ocean, for even at that early time men saw that a railroad would soon extend across the United States. Afterwards it fell into the hands of a new company and the name was changed to the Illinois Central, which has been kept to this day. It was during the years 1856 and 1857 that this road was started, and as early as May, 1857, it to haul freight and passengers from Dyersville, thirty miles from Dubuque.

Before January, 1858, the road had been completed and trains were running to Nottingham (not now on the map), forty miles from the Mississippi. Perhaps this railroad was more fortunate than some of the others in the beginning, since it shared earlier in the lands donated to Iowa by the government of the United States to be used to help railroads. Besides, the people were so glad to have it that they gave most of the right of way without any cost. By the “right of way” one means the ground owned by the railroad through the farms. The company fences this narrow strip, and it is as much private property as the farm or house and lot of any man. If a farmer did not want to sell the right of way, the company could take it anyway. The laws allow all railroads to do that; but the owner of the land can get all it is worth and often whatever damages are caused. Such arrangements would make much disturbance now, but when lands were cheap the right of way was a small matter.

Pg 99 There is a picture of the first bridge on this page

As soon as a bridge could be built across the Mississippi River, the Dubuque and Pacific was to connect with a railroad which had been started long before from Chicago. This arrangement, of course, was the same as the one at Davenport where the M. & M. had been joined to another road opposite that city. The hope that Dubuque would become the railroad center and the market of the northwest was fast vanishing as the bridges were built across the great river which separated Iowa from Illinois. Chicago was preparing to gather all the crops into her big granaries. To be sure, St. Louis was trying to prevent the bridging of the Mississippi, or to stop it as long as possible. The people of St. Louis said that if bridges were built, traffic could not readily pass up and down the river and that, of course, would stop the trade with St. Louis. When a steamboat ran against the first bridge at Davenport and damaged both bridge and boat, there was a good excuse for fault-finding. The courts had to decide whether bridges could be built.

While the events mentioned above were taking place at Dubuque, another company was constructing the Chicago, Iowa, and Nebraska railway westward from Chicago. The first rails were laid at Clinton in 1856, and about a year later the track had been put down as far west as the Wapsipinicon River. The track extended only a little farther on, that is to Yankee Run (in Cedar County), by January, 1858; and it did not reach Cedar Rapids until June, 1859. It is interesting to know that in this case the celebration could be held out of doors in the sunshine of June days, a much more favorable time of year than when the cars first reached Iowa City in the bitter cold of January, 1856.

Those who were present described that occasion as like the Fourth of July or a circus day. Big lumber wagons with the entire family on spring seats, or on boards laid across the top of the wagon box, were seen coming from every direction very early in the morning. The roads from the country districts were lined with teams and the excursion train from the east—they always came from the east—brought families on passenger cars or any other available kind. There were only three passenger cars belonging to the new road, the Chicago, Iowa, and Nebraska (now the Chicago and Northwestern). Perhaps these were all needed for the city guests from Chicago.

After a great parade through the main streets of the city of Cedar Rapids and some speeches by Mr. Samuel J. Kirkwood and other noted men, who said happy things about the city and about the great State of Iowa, the crowd turned aside into a near-by grove to enjoy the picnic dinner. The tables were six hundred feet long and about four thousand people were served. Even then it was found that there was food to spare. A picnic dinner in mid-June was sure to bring together a great quantity of eatables from the homesteads of Iowa. Out of the abundance which came from the field, from the garden, from the fine herds of cattle, and from the poultry yard, the people in and near Cedar Rapids were glad to use a part to celebrate the coming of the first railroad to their city and county.

When the Chicago, Iowa, and Nebraska had begun to run regular trains from Cedar Rapids eastward, and to connect with trains to Chicago, the good steamboat Black Hawk with Captain Snouffer in charge, did a thriving business. It carried freight and passengers from up the Cedar River as far as Waterloo. The boat was unloaded at Cedar Rapids; but that was a less expensive way to handle freight than when it had to be taken by ox teams to the boats on the Mississippi. And it will be seen that now the produce went to Chicago rather than to St. Louis as it did when the steamer Black Hawk ran to the mouth of the Cedar River.

Besides the four railroads already mentioned there were, by the close of 1857, altogether eight railroads begun in Iowa. Among these were the Muscatine and Oskaloosa, which had been built twenty miles westward from the city of Muscatine; the Keokuk and Des Moines, which extended up the valley of the Des Moines river for thirty-eight miles; and the Keokuk and Mt. Pleasant railroad, twelve miles of which had been built.

About the time that the first roads were pushed out from Dubuque and from Clinton, another company of men banded themselves together to build a line westward from Burlington. Again the name, the Burlington and Missouri River (or the “B. & M.”), showed that it was sometime to reach across the State. It was soon joined to another line from Chicago and since then it has been called the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy. This shows again how the city by the Great Lakes had fastened the Iowa fields to it; and how, as the iron rails were laid still farther west, the whole State would soon be bound to Chicago. As in other places, a great celebration was held at Burlington when the first train came there. Again Mayor Boone and other city officers of Chicago were present and they told how glad they were to have the cities on the river for neighbors. From Burlington westward the road seems to have had a very hard time in getting the first part built. Although the men who were trying to get the money had little of their own, they were not discouraged; it seems that they were such men as others would trust and in some way they succeeded in getting about thirty- six miles built in 1857. It would go on, of course, as fast as money could be raised to build it.

The public land given to railroads was not available until a certain number of miles had been built. And as more of the line was completed, more land to aid in paying for it was donated. On either side of the line for a certain distance, every other section (640 acres) was to become the property of the company building the road. Farmers purchased the land at prices fixed by the company, and the money received was to help pay for the grading, the building of bridges, and for laying the ties and rails. Only because these roads helped the country through which they passed could the United States afford to give away so much public land.

It was the aim of all these lines, as has been said, to connect the rich farm lands with the markets. These and many more would be needed to carry away the produce of a new state. It would be well at this place to look at a map of Iowa which shows the principal railroads. Besides the roads which really built, there were many which were only talked about. People were made to believe that they would be built; and many persons subscribed money to help pay for them. Heavy taxes were to be paid by whole counties, and by cities. Men were so anxious to have a railroad near them that they would believe almost any rumor that one was coming in their direction. There is no way of telling how much money had been wasted in giving to worthless companies before 1857. It was natural for men to help get a railroad when they were far from market; in fact, every mention of one was encouraging. Perhaps they should have been sure that there was good reason for investing so much money before they came forward with it.

Page created June 25, 2013 by Lynn McCleary

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