Did you know that over a period of 120 years of Iowa City history – from 1850 to 1970 – there have been five railway systems that have attempted to bring passenger rail service into our community. Today, I’d like to tell you briefly about one of those railway systems.
In the early 1850’s, every community across the Hawkeye State was clamoring for the railroad to come their way. Iowa City, as the state capital, was on everybody’s map, and the good people of our community were anxious to receive whatever railroad company could get the job done as quickly as possible. While some in Johnson County put $50,000 toward the Lyons-Iowa Central Railroad, other investors were pouring funds into a second option: The Mississippi & Missouri Railroad – founded in 1853, and working out of Davenport.
Suffice to say that a $50,000 bonus was offered to M&M investors, if they could get one of their steam locomotives into Iowa City before January 1, 1856. Despite the icy cold weather conditions, the M&M engine arrived on New Years Eve, 1855, just prior to midnight! An exciting story, indeed! Three days later – on January 3, 1856 – the first M&M passenger train arrived in Iowa City from Davenport – and a grand celebration was held that day in the state capitol building.
The first M&M depot was built on Johnson Street – four blocks to the east of the present Rock Island station – and it faithfully served Iowa Citians until 1898. The Rock Island Railroad bought out the struggling M&M company in 1866, building a new, state-of-the-art Iowa City depot in 1898 – the one that still stands today. From the 1870’s into the 1960’s, the Rock Island played a huge role in the life of all Iowa Citians, continuing daily passenger service in and out of Iowa City until 1970. After that, the Rock Island ran a few Hawkeye football trains in from the Quad Cities, with the last one arriving in 1974.
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