The coming of
the spur line between Des Moines and Winterset was a significant event in the annals of
Winterset history. As railroad building blossomed after
the Civil War, Winterset was in the forefront of towns
seeking to be on the main line of one railroad or another
but their efforts proved fruitless. The closest line was
the east-west Rock Island
line between Omaha
and Des Moines
that traversed the very northern border of Madison County. Having railroad service was a tremendous stimulant to
economic prosperity, not that Winterset was not a thriving
town, but rather that it could be much more so with a
railroad connection. After being bypassed by the Rock Island
main line, several abortive attempts were made at other
connections before success was finally achieved by way of
a Rock Island
spur line from Des Moines, completed in early 1872. What follows is the newspaper
account of that glorious day when the first train made its
appearance in Winterset.
Typical Steam Locomotive
the Early 1870s
Winterset Madisonian, 06 March 1872
As Winter goes out the Cars come in -
Banquet to the Railroad hands -
announced last week, on Thursday. February 29th, the
track was completed to Winterset and the first train of cars
entered the city limits. After years of waiting, hoping, working,
the consummation has come.
snowed during the night and the ground was cold and damp,
notwithstanding all which there was a great concourse of people,
on foot, on horses, in wagons and carriages, to witness the
completion. When the cars moved up to the site for the depot the
first time, the engine and construction cars were jammed and
covered, on tank and tender, on side, on boiler, on cow-catcher,
everywhere, with men and women, boys and girls.
4 o’clock, when the last rail was laid, a procession was formed,
headed by Winterset’s excellent Brass Band, and the railroad
employees were marched to the St. Nicholas, where, with some of
the officers of our Company and the representatives of the press,
they sat down to a magnificent dinner prepared by Major Cavenor.
We would do the repast injustice if we did not add that it was in
all respects a complete success and gave complete satisfaction,
neither should we forget to acknowledge how much our Band added to
the enjoyment of the day. To say that they have few superiors in
the State, and discourse most excellent music, would be to repeat
what all our people know. It is more than this, it is composed of
your very best young men, who are ever ready, whenever they can,
to do their part at all our public and private gatherings.
was Engine No. 27 that made the first locomotive visit to our
town. The engineer in charge was Billy Sprague, an old hand on the
Rock Island road, and well and favorably known by all its employees. He was
very polite to our people, leaving his big engine to invite them
to places on the train, that they might have the gratification of
riding into town on it.
in the same paper…
are informed that the Rock Island Company have named the stations on our road. The first is called
Patterson, and next Bevington, in complement to the President of
our company, and the third Spring Hill.
Murphy, Judge Mott’s sister, was the first lady passenger from Des Moines
to Winterset, over the new railroad. Coming from poor benighted New Jersey
she must conclude this to be a wonderful country.
towns of Patterson and Bevington are to be surveyed and laid out
this week. County Surveyor Wilkinson is now so employed.
It has been decided that the depot building will be placed at the
southwest corner of Fremont and North streets, between the main
track and the side track, with a large platform on the north,
south, and east sides. The building will be twenty feet wide, but
its length is not yet settled upon. For temporary purposes, a Y is
to be put down in Safford’s field; when frost is out of the
ground it will be taken up and a turntable put in. The Stock yards
will be in Safford’s field, well nigh the east line. The lumber
and elevator switch will be started from the side track, as will
also a switch leading to the stone quarries.
And in the
We clip the following letter from the Des Moines Register:
people of the thriving city of Winterset and of Madison County
have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Iron Horse, and
now, today, at 4:20 P.M., the shrill whistle has been heard, and
the Iron Horse interviewed by some 2000 people, of Old Madison,
assembled alongside of the track to witness the laying of the last
rail, which is to give them easy communication with the sister
city of Des Moines and the rest of mankind. On behalf of the
Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific Railroad Company, who have,
during the past three months been doing their share of the good
work for Madison County and for the benefit of Winterset, I return
to one and all of its citizens, our thanks, for the kindness
shown, and the hospitality given us on the above occasion, hoping
that now they have these opportunities open to them, they will
profit by them, and arise up and take this, “new departure” as
a friend in Deed. W.
H. Carson, Road Master
Madisonian, 15 May 1872...
The cars commenced their regular trips last Monday. We have
long hoped and waited - fruition has come at last. There remains a
brighter future for Winterset.
Express rates to Des Moines are 50 cents per hundred pounds.
Passenger fare is $1.70. If you weigh 150 pounds you had better
express yourself; it would cost 75 cents, a saving of nearly a
dollar, and besides you would have somebody to take care of you.
The lumber for our depot came up Monday evening. It will soon be
erected. It is expected a telegraph line will be put up in the
next few weeks.
of the Railroad Coming to Winterset
Did the railroad have a
significant impact on the town of Winterset? You bet it did. In
the summer of 1872, that same year the the first passenger train
arrived in town, 73 new buildings were erected at a cost upwards
of $90,000. In addition to the new buildings, many of the old
buildings received new paint and repairs as needed. Sidewalks were
put in and in general, the town was cleaned up and gussied up.
And, within 7 years, the population of Winterset had doubled.
It is ironic that it took less than 30 years for the pride of
having railroad service to dissolve into an embittered hostile
relationship with the Rock Island line, primarily over freight
rates. This relationship is detailed in several articles in the
local papers at the turn of the century.
of Passenger Service
Railroad passenger service between Winterset and Des Moines
lasted 54 years and three months but the automobile finally took
its toll. The following story appeared in the Winterset Madisonian
on 01 July 1926:
I. WILL STOP PASSENGER TRAIN
to Winterset Will Make Its Last Run Monday, July 5th
is to be without a passenger train after Monday, July 5th, according
to word received by M. S. Logan, passenger agent, Thursday morning.
It seems that the passenger business does not warrant the Rock
Island to continue running two trains here each day, and they are
taking off the passenger that leaves here at 6:45 in the
morning, and comes back at 6.40 in the evening
of eight business men went to Des Moines Monday to confer with the
Rock Island officials concerning the train and mail service.
Evidently the officials made their decision regardless of how the
business men felt about it.
It is probable
that the Star Route carrying mail between here and Des Moines will
soon be put into effect, although Mr. W. H. Vance, postmaster, has
not yet heard anything definite.
opinion, the railroads have overplayed the injury sustained by the
loss of short haul business to the auto. The freight on Winterset
gasoline alone is probably more today than the revenue from
passenger traffic over was in the "good old days" when
automobiles were unknown.
recently counted tank cars on a freight train at Peru that must have
yielded an income of nearly $8,000 00 on gasoline shipped from
Oklahoma to Iowa and Minnesota.
and improved highways have made the railroads money, and to destroy
the mail service at a town like Winterset where freight tonnage is
phenomenal is neither good policy on the part of the railroad or
& edited by Kent Transier