Pottawattamie County, IAGenWeb History Home HOME

History of Council Bluffs
and Pottawattamie County
From Bushnell's 1869 Directory

Go to Page 2

Settlement of the State - Early History of Council Bluffs - The Great Railroad
Center of the Northwest - Its Past Growth,
Present Prosperity, and Future Prospects

Much of the earlier history of Iowa is involved in traditionary recollections, and not until it was almost too late has any effort been made to rescue the earlier incidents from oblivion. The services rendered by the State Historical Society in the matter are not to be lightly regarded by those who take an interest in contrasting her beginning and her attainments of wealth, growth, andprosperity.

Bancroft, who has carefully preserved, with historical fidelity, the facts relating to the tribes and original discoverers of the great Northwest, gives only a few chapters on Iowa, or the territory now called Iowa, but which, at the date covered by his last volume, was more distant from the Atlantic States than China and Japan is from us now.

Father Marquette, through missionary zeal, crossed the Mississippi, and was the first white man known to have set his foot upon the prairies of Iowa.

September 22d, 1788, Julien Dubuque, a Frenchman, arrived at the place now taking his name, and purchased from the Fox Indians the lands now included within the boundaries of the city.  Dubuque was we believe, the first regularly organized town in the State.

Robert Lucas was the first territorial Governor, and was appointed in 1838. The first Legislative Assembly was held at Burlington, November l2th, 1838. In 1841 the territorial capital was removed to Iowa City, where it remained until the admission of the State, in 1846, and was the State capital until 1858, when, on the 11th of January of that year, the Seventh General Assembly began its session at Des Moines.

Notwithstanding the removal of the capital from Iowa City, it has continued to flourish, having now a population of about 10,000 inhabitants. It is the permanent seat of the chief educational institution in the State - the Iowa State University - endowed and fostered by the commonwealth. Its public schools rank high, and the Law School, forming a part of the University, turns out as good lawyers, and as many of them, as any other institution of the kind in the country. It has the capacity to furnish all the lawyers needed in the State for many years to come.

The prestige and influence of the State capital being transferred from Iowa City to Des Moines, the latter has grown up with wonderful rapidity, in the midst of one of the finest agricultural regions in the world. It has the advantages of a fine water power, which is rapidly becoming utilized, and the contributions of two important railways - the Des Moines Valley and the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific, the latter connecting it with Council Bluffs - making it a place of no small importance to those proud of the growth and energy of our young State.

Nearly every city in the State is connected by rail with Council Bluffs - Burlington, Keokuk, Davenport, Fort Madison, Marshalltown, Waterloo, Mount Pleasant, Oskaloosa, Fort Dodge, Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids, and Sioux City - all growing and prosperous beyond precedent.

The city attracted most by the capital and enterprise of the east is:


The great railway center of the new Northwest. Among the first settlers were R. S. and David. H. Harris, the latter being the first white man who settled on the spot occupied by the town.  He was sent here by tlie United States Government, in 1837, as an agent to instruct the Indians in agriculture, etc. This was previously made the home of the Pottawattamies, by removal from Michigan. The Harris family built the first dwelling, on Madison street above thc site of the present Methodist Episcopal Church, on Broadway, bctweon tlie church and thc fort which was at the head of what is now Broadway. R. S. Harris lives on the Lewis road, ten miles from Council Bluffs, and his brother resides still in the city, which he has seen grow up magically about his father's cabin.

Of the early settlers there still remain: D. C. Bloomer (the present Mayor), Frank Street, L. W. Babbitt, George Doughty, J. P. Cassidy, Cornelius Voorhis, S. M. Smith, John Keller, S. S. Bayliss, J. Bayliss, J. C. Fargo, Captain Bell, Sam Paine, D. W. Price, Dr. Honn, Dr. McMahon, J. D. Honn, S. A. Robinson, W. W. Maynard, J. W. Ross, J. T. Stewart, Sam. Haas, Marshall Turley, Jerry Folsom, Rev. Rice, David Devol, J. B. Lewis, C. Thornton, D. B. Clark, Rev. Winchester, Wm. Mynster, R. D. Amy, Thomas and Ed. Jefferis, Thomas and David Tostevin, Thomas Officer, W. H. M. Pusey, J. Smith Hooton, C. E. Stone, Wm. Powers, Dr. Williams, John Rudd, Samuel Riddle, W. D. Turner, D. W. Carpenter, Frank Guittar, and Henry Delong.

The town, as it grew up around the military and freighting post, took the name of Kanesville, called, we understand, after Elisha Kent Kane, the celebrated and lamented Arctic navigator, and whose brother added additional luster to the name by his meritorious services as a Union soldier in the late war. The discovery of gold in California increased the importance of the place as the point of departure of emigrants to the glittering mines of the new Eldorado.

After the expulsion of the Mormons from Nauvoo, Illinois, they sought refuge at this point, in 1846, on the Eastern bank of the Missouri River. Encroaching emigration, and a consciousness that they had not yet reached the land destined for their permanent habitation, led them across the wilderness into Utah, and they in 1862 abandoned the houses and homes built and prepared here.

Twelve or fifteen years ago the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad was projected, under the name of the Mississippi and Missouri Railroad Company, and to Hon. Henry Farnam, whose name is still preserved in the nomenclature of our streets, had charge of the bill before the Iowa Legislature. Then any spot ten miles either north or south of this was designated as Council Bluffs, but to make the matter definite in the charter, he procured the point designated as Kanesville for the terminus of the road, and subsequently, to conform to the name selected as the terminus, Council Bluffs, the name "Kanesville" was dropped, and the place incorporated, by special act of the Legislature, as the "City of Council Bluffs."

The Mormon claims had been purchased by energetic men, who at once set to work tearing down the habitations of the "saints," and erected good buildings in their stead. From this time forward, the population and trade of the city have steadily and rapidly increased, until Council Bluffs now ranks, in point of business and wealth, as one of the first-class cities of Iowa.

It was prophesied that there must be, somewhere in this locality, another large city, ranking with New York, Chicago, St. Louis, and San Francisco, and that Council Bluffs was to be the place, in view of it being the point where the railroads - North, South, East, and West - were centering. It is no speculative idea to-day, as to the place where will be the great railroad center, for we have already seven railroads converging here, within the corporation, on a section or two of transfer gronnds, in a good part of the city - west of town, south of Broadway - where the Union Depot will be. We need only think of the rapid growth of our city to know that before long it will be the metropolis of the Northwest.

Council Bluffs is well named. It is, as most our of readers are aware, situated at the base of those beautiful bluffs that range along the Missouri River, and which, at this point rise almost perpendicular about 80 to 100 feet above the the city. The city has commenced to spread out on the bottom lands lying wost and south, and, eventually, all that will divide it from Omaha will be the river.

The main part of the business is at present done near the bluffs, but is rapidly reaching over the beautiful plateau westward, towards the river.

The surrounding country is abundantly supplied with streams of the purest water, upon the banks of which streams are found plenty of different kinds of timber.

The growth of Council Bluffs has been very rapid since the advent and opening of the Northwestern Railway, and from eight to twelve hundred houses have been erected in each of the three years since then. Added to this is the completion of the St. Joseph & Council Bluffs Railroad connecting this point with St. Joseph, Missouri, and giving a double line, one direct to Chicago by the way of Quincy, Illinois, and the other to St. Louis by the way of the North Missouri Railroad. The Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad, just open and in successful operation, gives another air line to Chicago and the East. This puts us in communication with Des Moines, the Capital of the State, and with Davenport, one of most active and flourishing cities on the Mississippi. The Sioux City & Pacific Railroad gives us an outlet to northwestern Iowa, Dakotah and western Minnesota, and on the completion of the Iowa Falls & Sioux City Railroad this fall, we will have another direct line to Chicago by the way of Dubuque. The Burlington and Missouri River Railroad, now within seventy-five miles of this place, will add a fourth railway to Chicago, and with other lines in contemplation, this will emphatically increase in importance as the great railway center, which it now is, of the New Northwest. For particulars of the great bridge over the Missouri River, see page 2.


This great work, whose initial point is Council Blufis, having been located here by proclamation of Abraham Lincoln, confirmed by the Interior Department, and accepted by the Union Pacific Railroad Board of Directors, will, on the completion of the great bridge across the Missouri, have its transfer grounds, oflices, workshops, depots, and all other buildings within the corporate limits of the city.


The population of Cvouncil Bluffs, by the census of 1860, was a little over two thousand, and on April 1st, 1867, was estimated at eight thousand.

A careful survey of the improvements now (1869) warrant us in saying that the population is fully eleven thousand, and in this candor can detect no exaggeration.


In area Council Bluffs includes twenty-four square miles, all suitable and laid out for building purposes. The bluffs furnish the choicest building spots, whilst the plateau gives excellent lots for business purposes. The city is spreading out over them with unprecedented rapidity, botli in the erection of handsome and comfortable dwellings, and solid, imposing, and beautiful business blocks. 


What facilities, it is asked, has Council Bluffs, either natural or acquired, for becoming the commercial center? We have said that we have citizens who are wide-awake; that we are building extensively and substantially; but we look beyond and beneath all this. It is necessary to omit all exaggeration - to ignore the great expectations of the citizens, and survey, if possible, the foundation upon which the greatness of our city must rest. Unlike the Iowa cities on the Mississippi, which are numerous, Council Bluffs and Sioux City are the only rivals on the Missouri, and they are so dissimilarly situated as hardly to be called rivals. This will allow the former to make a far greater growth than it could otherwise hope to attain. It is destined to be the best railroad center west of Chicago. Please take a glance at the map, and think of the prospective roads whose termini will be Council Bluffs, and remember that this is, and must always be, the initial point of the Union Pacific Railroad, and that the roads east, west, north and south, are extending their arms for their share of the overland freight which must come to the extensive transfer grounds here, where the Union Pacific Company have bought 1,080 acres of land. Don't say that company don't know what they are doing.  Are not all the roads looking to a connection with the great continental thoroughfare? What does this indicate? Do you say the Pacific railway commences over the river? Certainly it does, today; but do you suppose the company will always ferry their cars over the river? Or do you anticipate that, when the bridge is completed, these seven railroads will use it, instead of one? Or do you suppose the company will give up the lands purchased expressly, and as expressly designed by nature, for a transfer depot, and go out of their way, at great inconvenience, and with no hope of finding so good a place within reasonable distance of where it should be; and all because some dissatisfied party thinks it should? No; the managers care little for Council Bluffs, or any other town; but they are supposed to have practical common sense, and to act from an enlightened self-interest.

When there is a beautiful plain, as there is here, where the transfer grounds are located, is it to be supposed that any company will leave such advantages, and expend millions of dollars to make suitable grounds, as they would have where they are now located. Omaha has no place for transfer grounds such as would be necessary for the convenience of as many roads as are centering in this city.

We do not boast at all, but, as we have canvassed the place, we can speak from facts. If a year ago the business of the place was estimated at $5,000,000, what has it been the last year but almost twice that? With our great tide of emigration this year, it must be greater than ever before, by far, as houses are being rapidly built.

One of the great advantages which Council Bluffs claims over all rivals, is, that it is backed by a farming country which can scarcely be excelled. It is a well-known fact that Omaha, and many of the large western cities, as well as the mining districts, are fed by the farmers of Western Iowa, and that a large share of this produce is bought in Council Bluffs. It is plain to be seen what will be the final result. The farmers in Western Iowa will rapidly become wealthy, having one of the best markets in the country, and easily accessible. The merchants of Council Bluffs will have the first and largest profits after the produce leaves the producer's hands. It is safe to say that the lion's share of the profits of the immense productions of Western Iowa will remain east of the Missouri River. Now that the Union Pacific Railroad is finished, the towns on the west bank of the river, which have heretofore been supported by the western trade, will find other cities springing up, which will give equal advantages, but the advantages of Council Bluffs can never be transferred to any other point. The Missouri River and the initial point of the Union Pacific Railroad fixes this point as the railroad center. Our rich farming land, which is the foundation of wealth, can never be moved. Our advantages are, therefore, permanent, and not accidental, or subject to other laws than the laws of nature. Some speak of Omaha that she is a place of importance, but the natural advantages Council Bluffs has over Omaha are plainly seen to-day.

It will be well for capitalists, and particularly for men with moderate means, desiring to acquire rapidly, to give their closest attention to the attractions which Council Bluffs now offers to them over any city in the West. The peculiar railroad advantages of Council Bluffs must be at once apparent to the most casual observer. With seven lines of railway, north, east, south and west, and the longest single lines in the world; a Pacific Railway bridge, with its tremendous transfer business, railroad workshops and offices, make up a grand natural situation for a city seldom equaled, never surpassed. The at present cheap rates of real estate, and in view of the large mechanical population which will be brought here in the construction of railroads, bridges, depots, and other works, we know of no other place on the American continent which presents better opportunities for the investment of capital, or which promises a more enduring prosperity. Council Bluffs, unlike many Western cities, is not built up by borrowed capital.

For the Western trade, what town so favorably situated?  With the before-named advantages, to make it the market for Western Iowa, and insuring it cheap transportation from the east, it could not be better situated in reference to this trade; and it may reasonably be expected that in due time its shipments of merchandise and produce to the plains and mountains will be very heavy. Indeed, the start already made in this direction is some indication of what may be expected in the future.

Viewed in the light of these facts, Council Bluffs possesses no ordinary interest; and he who studies the situation disinterestedly, will not undervalue its importance, or ignore its well-grounded hopes of future prosperity and greatness. It cannot hope to rival Chicago, or eclipse San Francisco; but it may reasonably expect to be the metropolis of Iowa.


The County of Pottawattamie was organized in 1851, by an act of the Legislative Assembly, and named in honor of the Indians who had last inhabited the county. The same year, the county-seat was established at Kanesvilie, by a vote of the people of the County. The name of the town was subsequently changed to Council Bluffs, which is the only town of any importance in the county.

This county contains more than half a million acres of the best farming lands in the West. The surface is gently undulating, well watered by streams fed by springs, watering nearly every section of land. In the western part of the county timber is abundant - cottonwood growing in the Missouri bottoms and hard wood upon the hill sides - while the eastern portion of the county is but moderately supplied. There it is found skirting the larger streams, with one or more groves within the limits of nearly every township. It is well adapted to grain growing or grazing, and is every way calculated to support a large agricultural population. Less rough than some counties adjoining it, it contains some of the best lands adapted to grain growing. We think the upland is mostly very fine in this county, though somewhat rolling, yet not sufficiently so to interfere with easy and profitable culture.

The County is rapidly filling up and being improved by enterprising farmers from the East. The ready market found at Council Bluffs for everything produced by the farmer, and the rich remunerative yield from everything planted in the soil, are rapidly enriching the farming community.

Pottawattamie county is a little south of the center, and on the west side of the State of Iowa. It has Harrison and Shelby counties on the north, Cass on the east, Montgomery and Mills on the south, and the Missouri river on the west.

The surface of the county is diversified by hills, valleys, and plains, groves of timber and prairie, and watered by numerous springs, brooks, creeks and rivers.

In some parts of the county limestone rock is plenty. As yet there has been no stone coal discovered in the county.

The soil appears to have been formed by decayed vegetable matter, and the land is very productive.

The climate is temperate, and congenial to the growth of hemp, wheat, corn, rye, barley, oats, potatoes, and fruits, such as apples, pears, plums, grapes, cherries, &c., &c.

As regards health, there is no place known to us more healthy.

The county contains about 600,000 acres - is twenty-four miles wide from north to south, and about forty-two uiiles in length from east to west, and is divided into twelve civil townships, viz: Kane, Walnut Creek, Knox, Center, Silver Crcek, Macedonia, James, York, Crescent, Boomer, Rockyford, and Grove.

Now is the time to purchase farming lands. Prices are low, in tlic interior of the county land can be bought for from three to live dollars per acre - time usually given on one one-half the purchase money, by paying ten per cent, interest.

While the adjoining counties of Mills, Cass, Audubon, Shelby, and Harrison are equally favored in soil, water, and timber, we think all must concede that, in raiIroad facilities, and in furnisliing transportation for produce raised within her borders, Pottawattamie bears the palm.


Some four years ago, Mr. E. McBride, then a member of the Board of Supervisors, deeming that onr county required a Court House, the matter was laid before the Board, who appointed a Building Committee, composed of Hon J. P. Casady, J. M. Philips, Thomas Officer, and Wm. Ward, to procure plans for the building. Mr. Ward being an architect, and wishing to furnish plans, resigned his position, and prepared a plan, which, with the modifications directed by the committee, was adopted by the board ; and in January, 1866, it was commenced by Messrs. Johnson & Hammer. The building was completed at a cost of from $60,000 to $75,000. It is a splendid building, neatly and substantially constructed, and is an ornament to the city and county. We are proud of it. Photographs of it can be had at J. Mueller's gallery.


The interest taken in the education of the youth is the most conclusive evidence of the intelligence of the community where they may be established. Here we have the best of schools all will admit. It is admitted by all who visit our town that we have about the finest school buildings in the State for public schools. There is not another city in the West where the public seems to take the same interest in all matters pertaining to the education and moral training of the children, that is evinced in Council Blulfs. There are at present five large public school houses; a very fine Young Ladies' Seminary, Rev. Mr. Little principal; besides many other select schools. We take pleasure in stating that the German schools of this city are successsfully and satisfactorily carried on.

The teachers' institute which met here last fall was largely attended, and very interesting, there being a good report from all parts. It will meet again August 30th.

There are some seventy district schools in the County. Of these, Council Bluff's has sixteen; Kane Township, eleven sub-districts and thirteen school houses; Rockford, four school houses; Crescent, eight; Boomer, seven; York, one; Knox, five; Center, five; James, three; Macedonia, two; Walnut Creek, three; Silver Creek, three.

The schools outside of the city, as well as those in the city, are well supplied with apparatus, maps, &c. The school houses are well seated, mostly new, and many of them are of brick. The teachers are first-class, receiving from $30 to $40 per month in summer, and from $35 to $50 in winter.


The benefits which are derived from railroad communication are untold, and can hardly be realized, when we remember that civilization and improvements of all kinds follow the iron horse. They are an almighty power. Whatever they undertake to do, as companies or corporations, they always seem to accomplish. If it is the building of a town on any of their lines, they make all to serve their plans by the mighty influence they exert; and, almost like magic, cities and towns spring up where they plant the standard.

Economy being essential to success in any enterprise, so railroad companies look to their own interests in the location and building of towns and roads, &c. The bridge which is being built across the Missouri River by the Union Pacific Railroad Company, at a point decided by them, was a matter of importance to all the other roads which are centering here, as well as to them, to have it located with a view to dispatch of business, and also to have a safe and permanent foundation to build on. It was located only after thorough investigation, and that being opposite the general transfer grounds of all the roads, on section two, in the western limits of our city, two miles from the river, and, ere long, the trains will leave Council Bluffs, pass over the Missouri (leaving Omaha to the right, as a stopping point, or way station). Then all will understand that Council Blulfs is the terminus of the Union Pacific Railroad, and that all the other roads which are here, and are coming from the east, north and south, tap the above-named road at this point, the great railroad centre of the Northwest. It will be interesting to see the iron horse glide majestically and triumphantly across the western plain, thus conducting the pioneer to the far West, to plant the standard of civilization and enlightenment.


The natural advantages of this point as a railroad center must not be overlooked, as it was not by the engineers when they had investigated the same, which report has been generally received by all, and endorsed by the seven roads which center here, especially. We know we have the natural advantages of grounds for one grand union depot, where freights and merchandise will be sent to and from all parts, not only of the United States, but will pass this way from all parts of the world, eventually, as this is a central point, equally distant from almost all the great cities.

But we will not forget Him who created all things for the best for these favors, to enable us to surpass our rival city, which, we think, misrepresented herself in the East, and to-day stands on a sandy foundation, built by wind and speculation, which is now, we are told, on the decline. Council Bluffs, on the other hand, with her many railroads, as so many arms, stretching all over the country, bringing thither the commerce of the world, is forming a mighty city by her tributaries, like the rivers which are tributary to and from the great ocean. We have then but to live in hopes of seeing the Capital of our Nation removed to Council Bluffs, "The Great Railroad Center of the Northwest."


The Union Pacific Railroad is one of the greatest lines of road on the continent, and in can be said that no road will be traveled more, in a few years. It is now finished. Its terminus is Council Bluffs, Iowa. All the other roads - seven in number - tap the Union Pacific at this point, making all tributary to it. By the energy of its Chief Engineer, G. M. Dodge, it has been pushed west to completion. The company have been buying a large amount of lands in Council Bluffs, adjoining the general transfer grounds and elsewhere, amounting to over half a million dollars. Reader, does not this seem like business, and show that some day the initial point of the Union Pacific will be second to Chicago - yes, out-rival the same.  Webster Snyder, Esq., is Superintendent of the road, and Hon. Oliver Ames, President.


This is one of the longest single lines of road in the country. Its terminus is Council Bluffs, where it connects with the Union Pacific Railroad. It is doing an extensive business, and has been since its completion. Long trains of freight cars are coming almost constantly, and we can judge of the prosperity of the road by the amount of freight and merchandise which is now here to be transferred. It passes through the best part of the country. The towns which have been established by the company are permanent and flourishing. Missouri Valley, Dunlap, Montana, Marshalltown, Cedar Rapids, and Clinton, are the principal town[s] on the Iowa Division. The company has a very fine freight and passenger depot and other necessary buildings, on Broadway, corner of Sycamore street. They own a large amount of lands, and are buying more adjoining. We are acquainted with the workings of this company; and, as the ofiicers and men connected with the road are thorough business men, transacting an honorable business, there is nothing to hinder its success. William B. Strong, Council Bluffs, General Western Agent.


This road was finished the first day of August, a year ago. We can now go to St. Joseph in twelve hours. Judging by the energy which has been evinced in the past, this will certainly be a prosperous line.  It is now competing with other roads. They are doing a big business now. The company has a new passenger depot building near the old one. This is well. Thanks, from the people of this city, for this connnection with St. Joseph and other points South, to the company which has so rapidly built this road. From its present prospects, its past benefits to us, and the success it has had, the road must have success and prosperity in the future. As the company feels an interest in Council Bluffs, the terminus, and are doing all they can to build up our city; so we, as citizens, feel equally interested in the road that is to be the main arm from the South, which will help to make our city one of renown. W. H. Whitla, General Agent, Council Bluffs.


This road has been finished lately, and is doing a good business. It forms a junction at Missouri Valley with the Chicago & Northwestern railroad, and bids fair to be an important line. It has been built with dispatch, but well done. We see the importance of this line in the fact that the North and South are bound together, freights and merchandise passing by way of Council Bluffs.


This road also connects with the Union Pacific here, as this is its terminus. It will compete with the other Eastern roads in the transportation of freights and merchandise. It is finished now. This, another great line across our State, terminating here, adds to our prosperity, evidently. Atlantic, Des Moines, Marengo, Grinnell, Iowa City and Davenport are the principal towns on the Iowa Division. The great growth, commerce, and trade of the West demand that this road should rank among the first in the land. S. S. Stevens, General Agent, Council Bluffs.


Tliis road is to be completed this fall to this point, which is its western terminus. It is another of those tributaries of the great Pacific Kailroad which the completion of the latter is hurrying forward. A large force is engaged upon tlie work. It is now complctcd to Afton, Iowa, and is expected to be finished and in running order this year at least, making another line from the Mississippi to the Missouri, across the State of Iowa - the garden of the West.


This line has been well considered by the principal railroad men, and noticed by the shipping and commercial tradesmen. It is certain that the enterprise is deemed fully accomplished. It will be an important route, as a thorough consolidation of certain roads from Fort Wayne, Indiana, eastward, and the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne & Chicago and Pennsylvania Central; but westward we have not yet learned whether a route has been established or not. Certain it is that the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne & Chicago and Pennsylvania Central are well able alone to build a track to Council Bluffs, which will be done. This will be an important road, when built.


The above-named road is talked of, and a meeting of persons interested in its construction was held at Muscatine a short time since, for the election of a board of directors, for the year ensuing, and for the transaction of such other business as may come before them. There is no doubt but it will be built.