When the Mississippi and Missouri Railroad committed to complete their line from Davenport to Iowa City (1853), the Iowa City delegation sweetened the deal by offering a $50,000 bonus if M&M would complete their 55-mile track before January 1st, 1856.
From 1856-1860, Iowa City became a busy, busy place – the end of the M&M line for railroad travelers wanting to head west. Look at the daily schedules in and out of Iowa City (below) from 1856-1858…
In preparation for this highly-anticipated arrival, the good people of Iowa City built a small depot at the south end of Johnson Street – four blocks to the east of the present Rock Island station – which faithfully served Iowa Citians until 1898.
Read about The Central House – a hotel located near the first Iowa City depot.
Iowa City historian, Irving Weber, tells us…
In 1866, M&M Railroad was bought out by the Rock Island Railroad.
In 1898, a new Rock Island Depot was built at 115 Wright Street – costing $25,000 using a design similar in plans to other larger stations in Ottawa, IL and Council Bluffs, IA. The records from the National Register of Historical Places (NRHP) show…
Throughout the first half of the 20th century, the Rock Island Depot served as the major transportation hub for people coming in and out of Iowa City. Read more here.
The Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad named its post-depression passenger trains “Rockets” not just for speed, but also to honor the first American steam passenger locomotive of 1852.
Daily service included the CRI&P’s Corn Belt Rocket and Rocky Mountain Rocket passenger lines.
(M-0021) The Corn Belt Rocket started service in 1947 and connected Chicago with Omaha across Illinois and Iowa. It was a day train (no sleepers). Here is a one-way ticket from Philadelphia to Iowa City, dated September, 1947 This passenger would have taken the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) from Philadelphia to Chicago, and then change trains to the Corn Belt Rocket – Seat 29 in Car C.
The Rock Island Depot ceased passenger operations in the early 1970’s, although the railroad continued to maintain offices here into the ’80’s.
In 1982, the depot was acquired by two attorneys, one of which, Dale Sanderson (1950-2020), was a close family friend, for use as offices, and it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places that same year. Today, the building sits adjacent to the Iowa Interstate Railroad lines.
While passenger rail service in Iowa City ended years ago, recently (until 2021) the Hawkeye Express was used to transport football fans to Kinnick Stadium using the old Mississippi & Missouri/Rock Island line that once took passengers from Iowa City to Marengo as early as 1860.
Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.
Rock Island Railroad Bridge Over Iowa River – 1860, Irving Weber, Historical Stories About Iowa City – Volume 2, Article 114, 1975, pp. 2-4
Iowa City Railroad Station, Wikipedia
Rock Island Depot – National Register of Historic Places Inventory, National Park Service
Misc. graphics, 1851 Iowa Township Map Info, Iowa Dept of Transportation
Crowd gathered at depot, University of Iowa Digital Library
The Hawkeye Express – An intrinsic part of the game-day experience, David Harmantas, The Daily Iowan, November 9, 2018
Dale Sanderson obituary, Gay & Ciha Funeral Home
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