Iowa History Daily: Council Bluffs & The Transcontinental Railroad



Iowa History Daily: On May 12, 1869, the first train chugged into Council Bluffs, Iowa, on the Mississippi & Missouri Railroad (later the famed Chicago, Rock Island, & Pacific Line). An extension of the first line to cross the Mississippi River at Davenport in 1856, the line created an important link across the state and country just two days after workers drove the ‘golden spike’ of the Transcontinental Railroad at Promontory Point, Utah.


The culmination of efforts starting with Grenville Dodge’s survey of a potential railroad from Davenport to Council Bluffs, many other important railway moments went into the achievement. Pottawattamie County voted to subscribe $300,000 in stock to the Mississippi & Missouri in 1857. Acting on advice from Grenville Dodge, President Abraham Lincoln designated Council Bluffs as the Eastern Terminus for the Union Pacific Railroad in 1863.


Growth soon followed for the future western Iowa railway center and Council Bluffs transformed from a small town of 2,000 in 1860, by the close of the decade the population surged to over 10,000. The Mississippi & Missouri also built a depot in Council Bluffs, located near West Broadway and Pearl Street. Eventually eight different railroads played a significant role in the growth of Council Bluffs: The Union Pacific Railroad, the Council Bluffs and St. Joseph’s Railway, later known as the Burlington, the Chicago and Northwestern, The Rock Island, the Chicago and St. Paul Railroad, later known as the “Milwaukee Road”, the Illinois Central, the Chicago Great Western and the Wabash.


In preparation for the eventual connection to points westward, workers completed the first temporary bridge to span the Missouri River during December of 1867. In sufficient for the volume of traffic, virtually all cargo and passengers seeking to cross the Missouri still ferried. The Union Pacific immediately got to work on a more permanent bridge across the ‘Big Muddy’ to accommodate the high volume of traffic expected on the line in years to come, but the nearly $2,000,000 cost for the project slowed progress.

As citizens across the country celebrated the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, the lack of a permanent bridge contributed to many people moving from east to west across the country making a stop in Council Bluffs while waiting to ferry. Cut-throat competition also resulted from the expansion of railroads in the city, eventually leading to the Burlington, Northwestern, and Rock Island to form the “Iowa Pool.” #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar #IowaOTD




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