Fremont County, Iowa

Railroad Reminiscences
by Lona Lewis

View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
Week of Oct 7, 2013

In almost every community in Fremont County, there is a train depot. Each building is a reminder of how trains helped the county become a thriving commerce area in the early 1900s. Because it was bounded on the west by the Missouri River, the county was part of exploration in the early 1800s, but it was the railroads that spurred the creation of towns where there had been only prairies.

Historical accounts place the settlement of the county as beginning in the 1840s. Sidney became the county seat in 1851 but it was not until the 1870’s that trains came into the area. The first trains went through Farragut and Riverton as a result of the railroad from Red Oak to Hamburg. It was in the economic interest of the railroads to run through towns and as they had done in areas, they created towns. Farragut was a result of the railroads purchasing 160 acres from Major U.D. Copy. The town was then built around railroad tracks that went through the middle of the town.

Riverton history proudly tells the story of Coleman Smith negotiating with the railroad for the right of way through the town. The railroad men tried to bargain Smith down implying they would go to Sidney unless he met their price. Smith held his ground and sold the land for $50 an acre while the town nervously awaited the outcome of the negotiations. The depot, completed in 1870, soon became a hub of commerce for the entire county. Because Sidney did not get the railroad, mail and passengers traveling to Sidney got off the train in Riverton and were hauled overland to Sidney.

By 1877, the demand for railcars for crops required added rail lines. The line from Hastings, Iowa, into Sidney was built by the Nebraska City, Sidney and Northeastern Railroad. The only depot ever built in Sidney was completed on December 2, 1878 and closed in 1966. Built at about the same time, the Kansas City, St. Joseph and Council Bluffs Railroad provided the north south route through the county with Percival, McPaul and Bartlett settlements springing up along the track. Thurman became a city of mansions because of the railroad and its commerce.

Mr Rudd brought the railroad to Randolph and soon rails connected all parts of the county. The result was thousands of head of livestock being to the larger cities needing food. Asparagus and strawberry growers and orchards all sold their abundant goods using the trains to transport.

In a 1920 history of Hamburg, Fred W. Hill, editor and publisher of the Hamburg Reporter, and W. T. Davidson, editor and publisher of the Hamburg Republican, co-authored “Hamburg, The Home City”. Included in the introduction was this quote “When Hamburg began its history the Missouri River was the only commercial highway. But now two railroads stop ten passenger trains and numerous freights here daily.” They went on to described the flour mills, fatted cattle and two canning factories all “selected for the chosen markets of the American metropolis” and transported by trains.

Source: Information for this Attic was taken from “Images of America Fremont County” published and sold by the Fremont County Historical Society.


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Page updated on June 22, 2023 by Karyn Techau