Our Iowa Heritage Index: Iowa City – Transportation.

As you can see, our growing website Our Iowa Heritage covers a lot of time (pre-1800 to the present) and a lot of people. We’ve written about famous people and the not-so-famous ones as well. Yet, despite a person’s prominence (or lack of it), everybody has a story. And as you read our posts, you’ll hopefully discover that everyone’s story is a good one. So, in order to better find these good stories and details surrounding them, we’ve added this INDEX of HISTORICAL ACCOUNTS to help you along the way. Enjoy your journey.

Our Iowa Heritage: An Introduction. We might suggest you start here! Here’s how & why I got started collecting stamps, coins, and other Iowa memorabilia.

1839 – The Twenty-Four Streets Of Iowa City. Did you ever wonder how downtown Iowa City arrived at some of the street names we have? Sure, Washington and Jefferson are pretty straight forward, but what about Ronalds, Brown, Bloomington, and Dodge? Join us as we take a deeper look at the stories behind the 24 original streets of Iowa City.

Lyman Dillon – Plowing the Straight & Narrow. When Iowa became a U.S. Territory in 1838, transportation options were very primitive. Governor Lucas asked the U.S. Senate to fund a Military Road running the length of the Territory from Dubuque to the Missouri border. After surveying the land, Lyman Dillon, a farmer from Cascade, was hired to take his team of five oxen and plow up a furrow from Dubuque to Iowa City (86 miles). Get the straight story here!

On the Road to Iowa City. In 1839, there were three primary routes leading in and out of Johnson County: the Iowa River, the Sauk & Fox trail, today called Sand Road, and a narrow pathway to Bloomington (Muscatine) where you could catch a ride on the mother of all highways, The Mighty Mississippi. Within five years, all roads in the Territory led to Iowa City, the new capital city of Iowa.

1840 – The Road From Bloomington To Iowa City. When Napoleon was Johnson County’s only pioneer settlement, a roughly-cut trail made its way eastward through the Iowa prairie to Bloomington – on the Mississippi River. But now, in 1840, with Iowa City becoming the new Territorial capital, a new and improved road was needed to connect these two growing communities. Here’s a rare look at the early stages of development on one of Johnson County’s oldest roads.

Iowa City Stage Ready – 1840-1870. When Iowa City was established as Iowa’s new territorial capital, the priority was getting accessible transportation in and out of Johnson County. With the Iowa River too unpredictable for riverboats, stagecoaches were the wave of the future. Thus, between 1840 and 1870, the stagecoach business was a-rolling all over the Hawkeye State, with Iowa City being right in the center of the action.

Steamboat’s A-Comin’ – Maybe? Before the railroad reached Iowa City in 1856, there was great hope that the Iowa River would support steamboat travel as a way to import and export goods. During the 1840’s and 50’s, a few came rolling into town, but sadly, by the 1860’s, this grand idea sank like a stone since the river just didn’t have the consistent depth needed to sustain this enterprise.

Let The City-Wide Celebration Begin: 1841. During the early summer of 1841, the residents of Iowa City had the thrill of their lives when Captain Dan and his steamboat Ripple came chugging up the Iowa River, delivering a group of explorers and tourists to Iowa’s new Territorial capital. On the evening on June 21, at the National Hotel, the city’s elite gathered for a grand dinner celebrating this whole new era in transportation – with the glimmering hope that steamboats would now give Iowans a reliable way of interacting with the rest of the civilized world. Read all the details and join the fun here.

Gilman Folsom – Crossing The Iowa River. In Iowa City’s earliest days, crossing over the Iowa River was no easy task. Several flatbed ferry boats came into service in the 1840’s, but thanks to Gilman Folsom, a lawyer from New Hampshire, the first toll bridge was constructed, connecting both sides of the river on the National Road – which today is the Iowa Avenue Bridge.

1849 – Iowans Want The Transcontinental Railroad! In the late 1840’s, a very determined dreamer/businessman from New York – Asa Whitney – began traveling the country, drumming up public support for his grand idea of a transcontinental railroad that reached to the Pacific Ocean. The U.S. Congress had turned him down in 1845, and again in 1848, but now Whitney had a book and a speaking tour – getting more Americans behind him – including the voices of many Iowa citizens who saw our state as the centerpiece of such an endeavor.

Folsom’s Fury – Building A Bridge Over Troubled Water. In the early 1850’s, Iowa City was growing rapidly, and with the flood of Easterners flocking to California to pursue golden opportunities, traveling through Iowa’s capital city on The National Road was a must. Iowa City’s own Gilman Folsom offered to build a bridge over the Iowa River, but needed the state legislature to approve it. That part came easy, but in 1851, Governor Hempstead vetoed the plan, setting off a firestorm, and keeping Iowa City bridge-less until 1854!

The 1850’s – The Birth Of Iowa Railroads. 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!

1853 – The $50,000 Investment In Iowa City’s Future. When the Mississippi & Missouri (M&M) Railroad announced its plan to build their line from Davenport to Council Bluffs, the competition was on for communities like Iowa City and Muscatine to bargain for the number one station stop. In May 1853, two Iowa City businessmen – LeGrand Byington and William Penn Clarke – were sent to Chicago to twist a few arms. Armed with a $50K promise if M&M made it to Iowa City by January 1, 1856, the deal was cut and Iowa City’s long-term future was secured.

Iowa City – Here Comes The Railroad! On January 1, 1856, Iowa City changed forever. The long-awaited M&M railroad finally arrived in town. Now everything, including the way we send and receive communication with others, suddenly took a huge step forward. The Iron Horse had arrived! Come read the full story – all aboard!

Let The City-Wide Celebration Begin: 1856. Two days after the M&M Railroad completed their track into Iowa City, a party to end all parties was held in the Old Stone Capitol. Seven train coaches rolled into town on January 3rd, filled with bigwigs from back East, and while the temperatures were cold enough to keep everybody home, the whole town turned out for Iowa City’s Grand Railroad Festival.

The Rock Island Iowa City Depot. In preparation for the coming of the railroad, the good people of Iowa City built a small depot at the south end of Johnson Street. While there are no known pictures of this depot, it faithfully served Iowa Citians until 1898, when it was replaced by the Rock Island depot that still stands today.

Riding The Five Rails Of Iowa City. Over a 120-year period (1850-1970) there were five different railway systems that attempted to serve the good people of Iowa City with passenger rail service. Today – there is none. Come reminisce with us as we review the amazing stories behind these five railways from our past.

The Bridges of Iowa City. The Iowa River played a major role in why Iowa City is where it is today. In the earliest years, crossing the river was no easy thing to accomplish. Here’s the story of how Iowa City became a City of Bridges – all beginning with the Burlington Street Bridge in 1860. FYI: This page was nominated as Page of the Year by The BridgeHunter’s Chronicles in 2021!

All Aboard Iowa RPO’s. As railroads became the fastest and most efficient way to move both freight and people, so the United States Postal System wisely used the rails to get mail across the country. RPO’s (Railway Postal Offices) were the mobile offices that made it all happen.

Captain Tom, Iowa City & The Red Devil Airship. In October 1910, a former circus showman, Thomas S. Baldwin, came to town. The Johnson County Fall Farm Festival was in full swing and the highlight this year was Captain Tom and his Red Devil aeroplane. On October 13, aviation history was made with both the first successful flight and the first plane crash in Iowa history.

The Iowa City Airport – A Rich Aviation History. Did you know that Iowa City hosted one of the earliest commercial airports in the country – serving as one of the strategic stops in America’s first cross-country air mail route? As a matter of fact, today, Iowa City’s airport – which opened in 1918 – is the oldest airstrip west of the Mississippi River that’s still in its original location – with many of the early pioneers of flight landing here – including Wiley Post, Jack Knight, Charles Lindbergh, and Will Rogers.

A Bird’s Eye View Of Iowa City. Back in 1868, a panoramic artist named Albert Ruger produced our first look at Iowa City from above. Over the next ten decades, high-flying photographers, like SUI’s Fred Kent and others, gave us an exciting array of pictures – all offering a viewpoint of our favorite city – as seen from above. Enjoy this bird’s eye collection.

Henry County to Iowa City – The Red Ball Route. The Boller family lived in Henry County from 1896-1966. There were two main highways that we used to connect to the outside world. Here is the story of one of them, The Red Ball Route: a road paved with a lot of rich Iowa history.

Mapping Out My Iowa – 1951. This “official” State of Iowa Highway Map takes us back to 1951 – no interstates – no rest stops – no cruise control. Come drive across the Hawkeye State with this roadmap!


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