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 1850, investors in the Lyons-Iowa Central Railroad were given permission to buy a strip of land one hundred feet wide across the state of Iowa from Lyons (near Clinton) to Council Bluffs – a distance of about 300 miles. When completed, the railroad would connect Iowa City and points west to Chicago via Fulton, Illinois, a town opposite Lyons on the Mississippi River.
Records indicate that several investors from back east were able to raise nearly one million dollars with one businessman from Syracuse, New York – Henry P. Adams – becoming the face of the project, traveling the state, raising expectations and securing local investments and in the 1853 business report we find that, the good people of Johnson County invested $50,000.
By February, 1854, nearly five hundred men were at work on the Lyons-Iowa Central road and it was promised that there would be many more in the spring of that year. In Iowa City, the work of clearing land and preparing the track bed was nearing completion.
Suddenly, in the summer of 1854, all work on the railroad came to screeching halt – as it was announced that the company had run out of funds. Apparently, Adams had secretly pocketed a lot of money, leaving employees scrambling for back pay. The Lyons-Iowa Central quickly went belly-up, and with no cash available, the employees were left with payment of back wages via a supply of groceries, dry-goods, and reams of calico – thus the name – The Calico Railroad.
Today, in Iowa City, traces of the Calico Railroad’s track bed can still be found on the city’s north side – particularly near St. Joseph’s Cemetery.
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