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 88-96

Although there were other failures among railroads some, as early as 1850, were undertaken in real earnest. Before any cars entered Iowa, however, there was an interesting contest between the cities of St. Louis and Chicago for the markets of the new State. Great cities are made by trade; and if the entire trade of the Mississippi valley could be captured for its markets, Chicago would gain great advantage. St. Louis had the start of Chicago, because the river trade was all going in that direction.

There were cities in Iowa ambitious to become the railroad centers of the State. Dubuque wanted to be, next to the city of Chicago, the market and railroad center of the northwest. It would have been to the advantage of Dubuque, no doubt, had the plan to build a line to St. Louis instead of to Chicago been carried out. At first the north and south road was not to run along the Mississippi River, but in a line which passed through the chief towns which had sprung up some distance back from that stream (See map, p. 80). The purpose of this line would have been to carry freight to St. Louis just as the river had before.

But the Chicago market was not idle; and the railroads were being pushed westward from that point toward Iowa. By the close of 1853 there were nearly three hundred miles of railroad in Illinois, while Iowa had none at all. Although the two cities mentioned, Chicago on the Great Lakes and St. Louis to the south on the great river, were trying each to win over the other, there were men in Iowa who saw the value of having two markets—one by railroad and one by water, or by both. These were the men, no doubt, who did the most to bring the lines of railroad into Iowa and to help them to get started.

About 1850 a company of men decided to build a road from Davenport to the capital of the State (Iowa City). It was to connect, when it was finally completed, with another then being built from Chicago to Rock Island, opposite Davenport. As in other ventures of this kind, the men who were at the head had to find money to employ a surveyor to lay out the line. Congress was asked to allow the road to pass through the public lands; and along with that request was another to give the company about 210,000 acres to help build the road. But Congress seems to have been troubled with too many requests of that kind to respond to all of them. This refusal seems to have made no difference, for the company went ahead and got a name; at least it became afterward a part of the “M. & M.”, or the Mississippi and Missouri, Railroad.

Not long after that the company had set out to construct a road in Iowa, and the road from Chicago was well under way (in 1853), it was agreed to unite the two companies under the “M. & M.” name; provided always that Iowa City (the capital) should be a station on the line.

pg 91
At the time this action was taking place Muscatine was busy in making plans to have the main line run through that place, and then to continue westward through Washington, and on through Oskaloosa to Council Bluffs. If such a thing should happen, all the plans made by the company in 1850 would be overturned. The Muscatine plan must, in some way, be stopped. Immediately a man was sent in haste on horseback; and after an all night ride he reached the meeting called in Davenport. There he succeeded in preventing the movement to turn the line away and persuaded the officials to stay by their first plan. As a result there is a branch from the main line at Wilton to Muscatine. In September, 1853, the first tie was laid at Davenport, and in August, 1855, the first passenger train ran out of that city. The engine which drew that train was brought across the Mississippi River by a ferry.

It was in November, 1855, that the first train ran to Muscatine. On that occasion there was a great celebration which has been described in the papers of the time. The story of the feast that was provided for the guests and the company present is almost unbelievable. No doubt it was true, however, that the twelve tables had pyramids of cake in the center, and that the pyramid on the main table was fully seven feet high. According to the same story, there were twenty kinds of meat among the eatables. It would be hard to find that many kinds now. But then there was abundance of game and it was brought to the market in large quantities. Turkey and quail and venison as well as other kinds of game were mentioned; and the other things which went along with such a dinner could hardly be described. This meal was prepared for a great event and the citizens did their very best. Never again would they have a chance to celebrate the first coming of a railroad. At night there was a grand ball. The next morning the guests from the city of Chicago returned, but not until Mayor Boone of that city had been presented with a token from the main table at the feast of the night before. It is remembered by some that the mayor told them of the eleven railroads which were to extend westward from his city.

By harvest time in 1855 the tracklaying on the Mississippi and Missouri Railway had been completed as far west as Durant, in Cedar County. Freight shipments were soon made from that place. Among the first things sent out of that vicinity were several barrels of game. It is said that the first cars of wheat went from that place; and that there, also, the first depot, or the first building to be used especially for that purpose, was built. The track was laid rapidly westward and by November, the people in Iowa City determined to help to complete it to that place by New Year's Day, 1856. A big celebration was planned in advance; and in order to finish the work so that trains could bring the expected visitors from the east, it was necessary to build huge bonfires along the track to keep the workmen warm. Men worked very hard and for long hours to finish the task before the time set. Not only the regular laborers who were accustomed to lay ties and to drive spikes, but also a number of citizens of the place helped in this work.

At two o'clock on the afternoon of January 3, 1856, the day set for the reception and speechmaking, the booming of cannon announced the arrival of the first train. Although the thermometer showed twenty degrees below zero, the company marched to the Capitol building. Here they were welcomed by a greeting from Mr. Le Grand Byington, the chairman of the day, and a gentleman from Chicago replied for the visitors. No doubt the visitors were glad to find a comfortable place at the feast of good things which followed, for, as usual on such occasions, there was an abundance of food for the whole company. The people of Iowa who had got the first railroad could afford to prepare a great dinner to celebrate it. It meant very much not only to the community where it stopped for a time, but also to the counties farther west to which no road had been built; and where none would be found until several years later.

It is of some interest to know that the committee which had the celebration in charge had left about $500 over their expenses; and it was decided to use this amount in the surveying of another road which they hoped would be built north and south through the capital city from Cedar Rapids on the north to Mount Pleasant on the south. But the direction of the railroads most in demand was east and west instead of north and south. Just as the main stage lines were east and west (as shown in Book One), so now the railroads followed the same direction. It was a long time before there were any north and south main lines.

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