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Iowa History Daily: April 1 - Cedar Falls Railroad Arrival

Iowa History Daily: On April 1, 1861, The Dubuque and Sioux City Railroad crossed the Cedar River and the first train chugged into Cedar Falls at 5:30 p.m. The important crossing marked a significant milestone for the northernmost of four railroads built across Iowa following the Iowa Railway Land Grant Act passed by Congress on May 15, 1856 which opened up roughly 4 million acres of land available to rail companies for construction in alternating square-mile sections six miles deep on established right of ways.

Cedar Falls, a burgeoning town of around 1,500 by the time of the historic railway crossing, started to grow following the initial American settlement by William Sturgis and his brother-in-law Erasmus Adams in 1845. The small community, known at the time as “Sturgis Falls,” attracted early settlers through the agricultural, power, and transportation potential of the upper-Cedar River Valley. In 1850, John Barrick, as well as the brothers John and Dempsey Overman, acquired the site from Sturgis and renamed the growing hamlet Cedar Falls.

The 1850s saw an expansion of growth in the area, and as the town’s population grew from about 450 to 1,500 over the course of the decade a fight for the county seat with neighboring Waterloo unfolded. After the Black Hawk County Commissioners initially located the seat of power in Cedar Falls during 1853, eventually leading to a state referendum on the matter relocating the county seat to Waterloo in 1855. Even as the courthouse moved out of city limits, Cedar Falls saw significant growth and many ‘firsts’ during the decade including the introduction of a post office and schoolhouse.

The Dubuque and Iowa Falls Railroad represented an outgrowth of the earlier Dubuque and Pacific Railroad, an initial extension of the Illinois Central from the Galena, Illinois, area across the Mississippi. By September 10, 1856, the “Dubuque,” an aptly-named locomotive for the occasion, ferried across the Mississippi. As funds poured in from land town lot auctions put on by the railroad enabled by the congressional act, the bills quickly piled up. By 1859, the Dubuque and Pacific went into receivership before finding reorganization as the Dubuque and Sioux City Railroad. Two years later, the railroad finally connected Cedar Falls with points east, and citizens celebrated by adorning the locomotive engine with a wreath of cedar. #IowaHistoryCalendar #IowaHistoryDaily


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