The dream of a Transcontinental Railroad began as early as 1838, but by the 1850’s, serious investors were putting big money into that dream. Chicago was becoming the nation’s new railway center and with the dream of reaching California, the bridge to getting there went directly through Iowa. In 1856, the Iowa Land Bill opened up our state to four competing railroads and now, the race to the West was on!
Allow me, here, to introduce you to the four start-up railroads that were given Iowa Land Grants in 1856…
The Mississippi and Missouri Railroad (M&M) was the first Iowa-based railroad to actually lay tracks and successfully run a steam locomotive here in the Hawkeye State – with its first run in Iowa from Davenport into Iowa City on December 31, 1855. The M&M successfully ran between Davenport and Iowa City until 1860 – when a bridge was constructed over the Iowa River. Finally reaching Des Moines in 1866, the M&M was bought out by the Chicago & Rock Island (C&RI), completing their tracks into Council Bluffs/Omaha in 1869.
The Burlington and Missouri River Railroad (B&MR) was incorporated in Burlington, Iowa in 1851, with headquarters eventually placed in Omaha. The railroad began operations on January 1, 1856 with only a few miles of track. In 1857, the B&MR connected to Ottumwa, followed by Murray – southwest of Des Moines – in 1868, operating 13 locomotives and 429 cars, mostly freight, with net earnings of $299,850 in 1867.
The Chicago, Iowa and Nebraska Railroad (CI&N) began laying track out of Lyons/Clinton in 1856, reaching Cedar Rapids by 1859. Under new management, the Cedar River was bridged in Cedar Rapids, and then, the line headed west – reaching Marshalltown in 1862, State Center in 1863, Nevada by July 4, 1864, and finally into Boone in 1865.
The Dubuque & Pacific Rail Road Company (D&P) was chartered on April 28, 1853. The first division, Dubuque to Dyersville, Iowa, about 29 miles, was completed in May 1857, and the second division, Dyersville to Jesup, Iowa, about 49 miles, was completed in March 1860.
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