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In May, 1854, the first rail was laid in Iowa, at or near high water mark on the bank of the Mississippi, in the city of Davenport. That year the road was completed to Iowa City, a distance of about 54-1/2 miles. The first locomotive in Iowa was landed at Davenport in July of the same year, and was called the "Antoine LeClaire." The road was then called the Mississippi & Missouri Eailroad. The first rail was laid at Keokuk, on what was then called the Keokuk, Fort Des Moines & Minnesota Eailroad, on the 9th day of September, 1856, and in October of the same year two locomotives for the road were landed at Keokuk from a barge which arrived from Quincy. They were called the "Keoltuk" and the "Des Moines."
In the meantime several lines of railroad had been projected to cross the State from points on the Mississippi. On the 15th of May, 1756, an act of Congress was approved making a grant of land to the State to aid in the construction of railroads from Burlington to the Missouri river, near the mouth of Platte river; from Davenport, via Iowa City and Fort Des Moines to Council Bluffs; from Lyons northeasterly to a point of intersection with the main line of the Iowa Central Air Line Railroad, near Maquoketa thence on said main line, running as near as practicable on the forty-second parallel across the State to the Missouri river, and from Dubuque to a point on the Missouri river at or near Sioux City. The grant embraced 'the sections designated by odd numbers six miles in width on each side of the four roads named. Where lands had been sold the State was authorized to select other lands equal in quantity from alternate sections or parts of sections within fifteen miles of the lines located. The law provided certain conditions to be observed by the State in disposing jof the lands to the railroads for which they were granted. In consequence of this grant the governor called a special session of the General Assembly which convened at Iowa City in July of that year, and on the 14th of the same month an act was approved accepting the grant, and regranting the lands to the railroads named, on certain specified conditions. The roads, with the exception of the Iowa Central Air Line, accepted the several grants, and located their lines before April 1, 1857, that being a stipulation in the act of July 14th. The lands granted to the Iowa Central Air Line road were again granted to the Cedar Eapids & Missouri River Eailroad Company. The act of Congress making this grant named no companies, but designated certain lines, in aid of which they should be applied, leaving the State free to dispose of the lands to such companies as would comply with the conditions. The state granted the lands to the following companies: Burlington & Missouri River Railroad Company; Mississippi & Missonxi River Railroad Company; Cedar Rapids & Missouri River Railroad Company, and Dubuque & Sioux City Railroad Company. These became the first land grant roads in Iowa. Several subsequent acts of Congress modified the conditions of the first act, especially with reference to changes in the lines of the several roads. On the 12th of May, 1864, Congress made another grant of land to the State to aid in the construction of a railroad from Mc(3regor to Sioux City. This grant embraced every alternate section ten miles on each side of the proposed road, with the riglit to receive other lands for such as might be sold or pre-empted.
By an act approved August 8, 1846, Congress granted to Iowa the alternate sections on each side of the Des Moines river for the purpose of improving the, navigation of that river from the mouth to the Raccoon Fork. In 1847 the State organized a board of public works. The board, constructed, or partially constructed, dams and locks at some four or five points on the river, when with the approval of Congress, the lands were transferred to a company styled the Des Moines Navigation and Railroad Company. At this time (1854) the board of public works had disposed of most of the lands below the Raccoon Fork, and 58,000 acres above it, and had incurred an indebtedness of $70,000 over and above the proceeds of the sales made. This indebtedness was assumed by the company. In the meantime there were difierent and conflicting rulings as to whether the lands above the Raccoon Fork were intended to be included in the grant. This led to a compromise with the Des Moines Navigation and Railroad Company. The company took all the land certified to tlie State prior to 1857, and paid the State $20,000 in addition to what they had expended, and abandoned the work. Congress, in 1862, settled the question as to the extent of the grant by a definite enactment extending the grant to the north line of the State, and the General Assembly granted the remainder of the lands to the Des Moines Valley Railroad Company to aid in building a railroad up and along the Des Moines valley, and thus this road also became a land grant road.
Under the several acts of Congress there have been granted to the State to aid in building railroads, an aggregate of 4,394,400.63 acres of land, including the grant of August 8, 1846, for the Des Moines river improvement, as follows:
Bnrhngton and Missouri River Railroad 292,806.41
Mississippi and Missouri River (now C. R. I. & P.) 482,374.36
Iowa Central Air Line (now Cedar Rapids & Missouri) 735,997.80
Dubuque & Sioux City & Branch 1,232,359.15
McGregor & Sioux City (now McGregor & Missouri River). . 137,572.27
Sioux City & St. Paul 407,910.21
Des Moines Yalley 1,105,380.43
Total number of acres 4,394,400.63
On the 1st of January, 1877, there were in Iowa 3,938 miles of railroad. Since that time the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul, as it is now called, has been extended from Algona to Sheldon, and several other lines have been constructed or extended, making over 4,000 miles of railroad in the State, with an aggregate assessed valuation of over $23,000,000. Several very important roads in the State have been constructed without the aid of land grants, while others are projected and will be completed in due time.
The importance of railroads was early appreciated by the people of Keokuk county, and projects of that nature have been discussed for more than a quarter of a century. Although it required years of agitation, and before there was anything definite accomplished, there was an outlay of thousands upon thousands of dollars by way of individual subscription, and thousands upon thousands in public taxation, the county has now very good railway communication with the outside world, and this bids fair to increase in the immediate future.
The first railroad projected was the "Air Line" road through the State from New Boston on the Mississippi to Council Bluffs. The agitation of this question was quite active as is shown by the notice of the county judge submitting the question to the people whether or not aid should be extended to this line. The following is the notice:
"In 1853 the petition of many people of the county was presented, asking that the question be submitted to a vote of the people of Keokuk county, Iowa, whether the county of Keokuk, aforesaid, will aid in the construction of the Philadelphia, Ft. Wayne & Platte River Air Line Railroad by subscribing the sum of one hundred thousand dollars to the capital stock of the said road.
"Now, therefore, in order that the sense of the voters of said county may be taken in the premises, it is hereby ordered that a special election be held for the purpose of voting 'for' or 'against' the following proposition, to-wit: That the county of Keokuk, in the State of Iowa, will aid in the construction of said road, to-wit: the 'Philadelphia, Ft. Wayne & Platte River Air Line Railroad,' by subscribing one hundred thousand dollars to the capital stock of the company of said road. That county bonds be issued therefor, payable in twenty years of their date, bearing interest at a rate not to exceed six per centum per annum, payable semi-annually, and that whenever said company has obtained a sufficient amount of subscription to its stock as will, in the opinion of the county judge, secure the completion of the road, then that county bonds shall be issued to the company of said road. That in addition to the taxes usually levied an annual tax not to exceed one per cent upon the county valuation be levied from year to year so long as the same is required to be applied to the liquidation of the interest and principal of the bonds aforesaid, unless it is found that the interest and principal can be satisfied by the dividends arising from, or sale of, stock above mentioned. That the county judge of Keokuk county represent in person, or by proxy, the stock taken by said county. That the form of ballots for the said elections shall be 'For the county subscription' or 'Against the county subscription'; a majority of votes for the county subscription will be considered as adopting the above proposition entire. It is further directed that the law governing elections shall so far as compatible, be applied to this election."
The election to decide on this proposition was not held as it became apparent that the enterprise could not be successful, and the early settlers were compelled to do without a railroad.
Although railroad matters were discussed from time to time nothing definite was done for some seven or eight years. The war then breaking out railroad building was discontinued everywhere, and the public mind was so much absorbed with war matters that railroads ceased to be talked of. At the close of the war the attention of the people which had for so long a time been directed from the question of railroads was again called to this important matter. Lines leading in all directions were projected from the leading centers of trade and the peace of the interior towns which for five years had been so frequently broken by noisy war meetings was now interrupted no less frequently by equally exciting railroad meetings.
The war had scarcely closed and Keokuk county soldiers had not yet all returned to their homes when the building of a railroad through the county began to be agitated. A company was organized known as the North Missouri & Cedar Rapids Railroad Company and the proposed line was to run from Ottumwa to Cedar Rapids, passing through Keokuk county in a northeast direction. Early in July, 1865, George D. Woodin, Esq., visited Cedar Rapids for the purpose of consulting with the people of that place upon the subject. Upon his return he reported that the people of Cedar Rapids were heartily in favor of the project and would cooperate in the enterprise. Shortly after this a delegation of citizens of Sigourney, consisting of H. E. Havens, J. H. Sanders, G. H. Higgins and L. McCoy, visited Ottumwa. A public meeting was called at the City Hall of Ottumwa for the purpose of welcoming the delegation and conferring with them on the subject of the proposed line. As a result of the interview it was resolved to call a general convention at Ottumwa on the 10th of August, to be participated in by all the people along the line of the proposed road. The convention was held, and from this time J. Sanders, a wealthy and enterprising citizen of Sigourney was prominently identified with this enterprise. George D. Woodin, T. A. Morgan, J. C. Hogin, William McGrew and H. E. Havens were also very active in the matter. About this time a railroad meeting was held at the court-house in Sigourney. At this meeting Mr. Woodin estimated the amount necessary to be subscribed by Keokuk county at $160,000 and offered the following resolution:
"Resolved, That the citizens of Keokuk county can and will raise $160,000 toward the construction of the Iowa extension of the North Missouri railroad."
Which resolution was unanimously adopted.
It will be remembered that at this time there was no legislative provision whereby townships could vote a railroad tax, and the only way it could be procured was by voluntary subscription.
In September another railroad convention was held at Cedar Rapids, which was attended by delegates from ten different counties. At this meeting it was resolved that the capital stock should be five millions of dollars, and that measures should be immediately taken for the completion of the road.
The persons who were most interested, officially and otherwise, canvassed the country through which the proposed line lay, and solicited subscriptions to the capital stock. Quite an amount was subscribed along the line between Sigourney and Ottumwa, and considerable grading was done between these two points.
Such was the state of affairs in the summer of 1869. Up to this time it was impossible to make much progress in building, as the people along the line were unable to pay their subscriptions. To facilitate matters, and give subscribers time to pay, it was arranged with the contractors that the work should go on, provided the subscribers would give their notes for the amount of their subscriptions. About seventeen thousand dollars in notes were thus procured from people living along the line in Keokuk county. On the 27th of September, this year, a railroad meeting was held in the court-house, Sigourney, and after considerable talk an arrangement was entered into by which the merchants of Sigourney agreed to close their stores for three days, commencing the Tuesday following, and canvass for notes. A great number of notes were in this manner procured, and the work of grading was pushed forward and completed from Ottumwa to Sigourney. There were also quite a number of bridges built, and there was quite a flattering prospect that the road would soon be completed between these two points. However, when the people of the county, and especially those living at the county-seat, thought themselves on the very eve of having railroad communication with the outer world, they were doomed to disappointment. Many living along the line, who had given their notes, were either unable or unwilling to pay them, and, their collection being inforced [sic] by the courts, there was engendered a feeling of hostility toward the road, and the enterprise now met with the most stubborn opposition from those who at first were most friendly. Suddenly all work ceased. The railroad was no longer talked of except in derision. The next spring farmers built fences across the road-bed, and that part of it which was not cultivated became rank with weeds.
Still other causes worked disastrously to the enterprise. The board of trade of St. Louis had promised that the citizens of that place would put in dollar for dollar to the extent of the amount subscribed along the line in Iowa. The citizens of St. Louis did not put a dollar into the enterprise. The North Missouri Railroad Company promised in the beginning to aid and foster the enterprise, but about one year after the movement was commenced instead of continuing their line north, temporarily abandoned their line north and turned their attention to the construction of a road to Kansas City. Thus matters stood in 1870. During the latter part of this year and the former part of 1871, there was a new departure. The high hopes which were then entertained are portrayed in the following local item which appeared in the columns of the local press:
"The long talked of forward movement all along the line of the railroad, between this place and Ottumwa, commenced on Monday, of this week. Skirmishing has been going on for the last two or three weeks, but the state of the weather has greatly retarded the operations. The work is now going on in earnest, and we are assured will be prosecuted with the greatest vigor. The completion of the road to this point by August, seems to be fully determined on. The good time coming is almost here." The good time coming was, however, much farther off than was anticipated.
In October, the president of the company started to New York, to deliver the bonds of the railroad company, and order forward iron for the track. Just at this time occurred the great Chicago fire. When he arrived at New York, the president of the company write to the friends of the enterprise, here, as follows:
"When I arrived at New York, panic was written on the face of every denizen of Wall Street to such an extent as to be almost ridiculous, to an, outsider. The result to our enterprise, however, presented nothing ludicrous. All but one of our associates in New York and Philadelphia promptly telegraphed me withdrawing from the syndicate. I stayed a week and tried to get them to reconsider their action, but to no avail. The commission merchant sold the iron to other parties, and I went home feeling very blue."
The Rock Island Railroad extending their road, shortly afterward, to Sigourney, all interest in the Ottumwa road died out. Persons who had invested money in the enterprise lost all they put into it, and some were financially ruined thereby. Mr. Sanders, who had invested heavily, and devoted years of labor upon the road, settled up his affairs as well as he was able to do, and removed to Chicago. The road-bed fell into the hands of private individuals, and a large portion of it has reverted to its former uses, and in the production of corn and potatoes yields a better return than it ever has done as a commercial thoroughfare. The road-bed and right-of way, however, is too valuable to be always devoted to agricultural purposes. Even at the present time, November, 1879, measures are being taken which promise, at no far distant day, to result in the completion of the road already costing so many years of toil, and the expenditure of so many hundreds of hard earned dollars.
Certain gentlemen, having the matter in charge, have recently visited Sigourney, and various points along the route between the latter place and Ottumwa. Quite an interest is being awakened, and the preliminary steps have been taken for calling an election in the various townships through which the road is to extend.
Transcribed by Steven McBride.
The I &W Railroad
The next railroad enterprise was the Iowa City & Western, which is a branch of the Burlington, Cedar Rapids & Northern. This latter, named corporation, although it has had for years quite an extensive line, was unable to get coal without trouble and expense, as its line at no point passed through any extensive coal fields. Some two years since the company projected a road to Iowa City with a view ultimately to reach the coal fields of Keokuk or Mahaska county.
Early in 1878 there was talk of extending the road southwest into Keokuk county, several lines were surveyed, the enterprise extensively agitated and the question of subsidies canvassed. Finally a proposition was made to the northern tier of townships to build the line through that part of the county if the required tax should be voted. Liberty township refused to vote the tax. August 20, 1878, English River township voted on the tax; Adams voted July 20, same year; Prairie voted August 29 and Washington August 28, in all of which there was a majority in favor of the tax.
The result of the elections being favorable, and the other conditions being satisfactorily arranged, the company began to make preparations to build the road. The work of grading began early in 1879 and has been energetically pushed forward till the present time. The grading is about finished and the work of track-laying approaches completion. The present terminus of the road is What Cheer, in Washington township. This point is in the most productive part of the coal field of Keokuk county, while the entire line in the county passes through the most fertile region of the State. Owing to the diversity of resources of the county and the distance from other lines of communication this part of the county will be greatly benefited by the road, while the company building it will reap large returns for its investment in the heavy amount of traffic which it will undoubtedly receive.
The stations so far established along the line of the road in Keokuk county are Kinross, South English, Webster, Keswick, Thornburg and What Cheer.
Beside the roads already mentioned there were several other roads projected across the county. Some of these were surveyed, of others the proposed lines were simply prospected on horseback, while still others were only talked of and prospected from the counting-rooms and offices of Eastern capitalists. The Iowa City & Southwestern, commonly known as the Kirkwood road, was to have followed, in part, the same direction as the Iowa City and Western, with the exception that its general course was south of the latter line and its terminus was to have been Ottumwa. The Burlington & Northwestern was to have started from Burlington and having passed through Louisa, Washington and Keokuk counties reach out for any prize which offered the greatest temptation in the way of subsidies and traffic. The Muscatine, Oskaloosa & Council Bluffs railroad was an enterprise much talked of. It was in fact but a resurrection of the old Fort Wayne & Platte River Air Line road. The proposed route lay through the counties of Muscatine, Washington, Keokuk and thence due west to Council Bluffs. In this enterprise were enlisted the leading men from every county-seat of that tier of counties between Muscatine and Council Bluffs. Without the aid of any other corporation these men proposed to build a road across the State and although it was a tremendous undertaking it probably would have finally been carried to a successful termination had it not been for the early completion of other trunk lines across the State which rendered this road less necessary, and as a consequence less feasible.
The agitation of this railroad enterprise was at fever heat in January, 1868, when a mammoth convention was held at Oskaloosa. Delegates were present from Muscatine, Washington, Keokuk, Mahaska, Marion, Warren, Madison, Adair, Cass and Pottawattamie counties. The delegates present from Keokuk county were J. C. Johnson, J. H. Sanders, L. McCoy, J. W. Havens, J. H. Shawhan, L. Hollingsworth, W. M. Rogers, M. C. Boswell, S. Rogers, B. A. Haycock, A. C. Romig, S. T. Street, C. H. Smith and B. F. Crocker. G. E. Griffiths, of Warren, was chosen chairman and each county had a vice-president; J. C. Johnston had the honor of being the vice-president from Keokuk county. There was a corporation formed with sixty-six incorporators. There were fourteen articles of incorporation. A committee consisting of ten persons was appointed to nominate directors. B. A. Haycock and L. McCoy had the honor to serve on the said committee from Keokuk county. There were fifteen persons nominated for directors and the persons nominated had the honor to be elected. The persons elected from Keokuk county were J. H. Sanders and B. A. Haycock. The Board of Directors thereupon held a meeting for the purpose of electing officers. A President, Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer, Executive Committee and Attorneys were elected. B. A. Haycock, of Keokuk county, had the honor of election to a place on the executive committee.
The convention adjourned, and the delegates went home to gladden the hearts of their constituents with the assurance of a speedy completion of the road. The corporation was doubtless large enough to have built, and the officers numerous enough to have operated, a road twice the length of the proposed one, together with feeders and branch lines; but there proved not to be enough money, or enough credit, or sufficient pluck, to grade across a county or lay a mile of track. Upon the return of the delegates rousing meetings were held at the county-seats of all the counties along the proposed lines; eloquent speeches were made, subscription books passed around and the meetings adjourned to afford the people an opportunity to discharge the pressing duty of selecting depot sites. In a county-seat town west of this the people did in fact agree upon a depot site and on the plat of that town at the present time is a block termed "Muscatine, Oskaloosa and Council Bluffs Railroad Depot Grounds."
But alas for the vanity of human hopes and expectations when inspired by the flattering unction of a railroad; the Muscatine, Oskaloosa & Council Bluffs Railroad like the Philadelphia, Ft. Wayne & Platte Valley Railroad and many other railroads of high-sounding, and far-reaching names, never became a railroad only on paper and like the relics of the mound-builders and the fossils of the mastadon will be unearthed at future times to paint the antiquarian's moral and adorn the historian's tail.
Transcribed by Pat Wahl.
The C. R. I. & P. Railroad
The next railroad enterprise in the county was the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific. This company had, for a number of years, been operating a road to Washington, in the adjoining county, and repeated overtures were made, from time to time, to induce the said company to extend the line to the county-seat of Keokuk county. In the fall of 1870, Ebenezer Cook, vice-president of this company, made a proposition to build the road by the first of December, 1871, provided the people of the county would raise by subscriptions the sum of fifty thousand dollars, secure the right-of-way from the Washington county line, and provide suitable depot grounds in Sigourney. The committee to whom the people had delegated the management of this matter consisted of J. P. Yerger, J. H. Shawhan and George D. Woodin. This committee, on canvassing the matter, wrote to Mr. Cook, stating that his proposition would be accepted, but they preferred to raise part of the subsidy by taxation, in several townships, under the laws of Iowa, instead of by subscription. To that the Rock Island Company assented, agreeing to take the amount assessed as a part of the fifty thousand dollars; but as a delay had been occasioned by these negotiations, thus preventing any work being done till the following spring, the time for completion was extended to July 1, 1872.
In January, 1871, elections were held in the several townships of the county which would be immediately benefited by the building of the proposed road. These townships were Lafayette, German, Sigourney and Van Buren. The vote in all these townships was in favor of the tax, and through the energetic efforts of the committee the right-of-way was soon secured. The depot at Sigourney was located on the farm of, Messrs. Woodin and Clark in the north part of town. Having agreed to assist in purchasing the right-of-way for the road and depot grounds at Sigourney, these gentlemen furnished the land free of cost as a means of discharging their share of the obligation. The donation was a liberal one and went far toward lessening the expense to those who signed the bond for the right-of-way. Work was commenced on the road in the summer of 1871 and was completed some time in advance of that specified in the contract; trains were running into Sigourney by the 9th of April following. The promptness which characterizes this company in all of its enterprises when it once determines to act was manifest in this instance and presents a marked contrast with the long years of vascillation and uncertainty which characterized the movements of the north and south road already described.
The road once completed proved to be a good investment both for the people of the county and the company which built it. The following tables show the shipments of produce and manufactured articles from Sigourney station for the years 1875 and 1878 These tables were carefully compiled by Mr. J. C. Baird, agent of the C., R. I. & P. railroad, at Sigourney, and not only show the business of the road but furnish a good basis from which to make an estimate of the resources of the county:
The shipments for the year 1875 as given furnish a good basis for estimating the business of the road and also the resources of the county. From the following statement for the year 1878 it will be seen that there was quite a falling off. This resulted from the partial failure of crops and the extension of the road westward, much shipping heretofore done at Sigourney now being done from stations further west.
The stations on the road in Keokuk county are Keota, Harper, Sigourney, and Delta.
The length of the road belonging to the company in Keokuk county is shown in the following proceedings of the board of supervisors:
In accordance with chapter 5, section 1321, Code of 1873, the board of supervisors of Keokuk county make the following division of railroad lines in Keokuk county, Iowa:
Chicago, Rock zislnd & Pacific Railway
Sub-district No. 7, Lafayette township, one mile, and pays a tax of $67.70.
Sub-district No. 8, Lafayette township, two miles, pays a tax of $154.00. Sub-district No. 9, Lafayette township, 2.25 miles, pays a tax of $173.27. Independent district of Keota, 0.75 miles, and pays a tax of $90.76.
Sub-district No. 10, Lafayette township, 0.25 miles, and pays a tax of $27.51.
Sub-district No. 7, German township, 2.10 miles, pays a tax of $167.47. Sub-district No. 8, German township, 2.05 miles, pays a tax of $163.50. Sub-district No. 9, German township, 2.17 miles, pay a tax of $173.06.
Sub-district No. 1, Sigourney township, 2.95 miles, pay a tax of $251.49. Sub-district No. 3, Sigourney township, 3.95 miles, pays a tax of $423.64. Independent district of Delta, 1.05 miles, and pays a tax of $138.61.
Sub-districts Nos. 1 and 2, Warren township, 2.27 miles, pays a tax of $299.65.
Sub-district No. 3, Warren township, 2.87 miles, pays a tax of $189.43.
The valuation of the road is $5,500 per mile, and in addition to the taxes enumerated pays a special railroad commissioners' tax amounting to $210.32.
Transcribed by Pat Wahl.