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.
In October of 1873, the Burlington, Cedar Rapids & Northern Railroad (BCR&N) opened a branch line in Johnson County – calling it The Plug Line with service between Iowa City and the little switching center called Elmira – approximately eight miles northeast of Iowa City.
The BCR&N Plug tracks came into Iowa City from the south from Hills, running parallel to Ralston Creek under the College Street bridge; then diagonally northeast across Washington Street and Iowa Avenue to Jefferson Street. On Jefferson, the street was shared for three blocks with horse-drawn vehicles. Then running diagonally, the tracks continued southeast across College Street and 7th Avenue, with continuation across Court Street, south of the Iowa City fairgrounds (present-day City High). The line continued east and then northeast through Scott and Graham Townships of Johnson County to Elmira.
Elmira was never a town, but only a busy railroad switching center. At Elmira, the Iowa City BCR&N plug line connected with two other lines – one east to Clinton and the other – north & south to Minneapolis and Burlington. At its peak, Elmira was made up of a hotel with a lunchroom, and also a water tower.
In 1903, the BCR&N Plug Line – which had its depot on Burlington Street where the Iowa City Rec Center is today, was bought out by the Rock Island Railroad and became part of their expanding freight system, with passenger service ending in 1924. Most of the track was removed by the 1930’s with a very small portion of the Plug Line remaining in use for freight purposes only until the early 1960’s. Today, the walking trail in Court Hill Park – off Friendship Street – has stone remnants of the original BCR&N Plug Line.
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