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Chapter 12

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Iowa As It Is in 1856

N. Howe Parker

Chicago and Philadelphia, 1856

The text is in the public domain.

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Chapter 14
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p89  Chapter XIII


There are several very important railroad lines projected, some of which are partly under contract, and others of which may not be built for years. Three different lines have been explored and surveyed, commencing at Davenport, as follows:

One from Davenport, through Muscatine, thence through the northern part of Louisa County, and through Washington, Keokuk, Mahaska, Marion, Warren, Madison, Adair, Adams, and Montgomery Counties, to the Missouri River, near the mouth of the Platte.

Another from Davenport, through Scott, Johnson, Iowa, Powesheik, Jasper, Polk, Dallas, Guthrie, Audubon, and Shelby Counties, to the Missouri River, in Pottawattamie County.

A third line, from Muscatine, through Cedar and Lime Counties, to Cedar Rapids, with a view to the further continuation of the line northwestwardly, into the Territory of Minnesota.

These explorations were made under the direction of Henry Farnam, Chief Engineer; and in December, 1852, an association was formed, under the general laws of Iowa.

 p90  The routes embraced in the Articles of Association are, a line from Davenport, by way of Muscatine, to the southern or western boundary of Iowa; and northwardly, by way of Cedar Rapids, up the Cedar Valley to the north line of the State of Iowa; thus combining, in one organization, a system of railroads for central Iowa, whose eastern terminus shall be the bridge over the Mississippi River at Davenport. Those portions of these roads between Davenport and Iowa City, and between Muscatine and Oskaloosa, are under contract, and will be readied for cars sometime during the coming summer. The line from Muscatine to Cedar Rapids has been permanently located, and that portion of it which forms a junction with the Davenport Road is nearly ready for the cars; so that Muscatine will be in connection with the main line to New York City as soon as the track is laid from Davenport to the junction.

The Chief Engineer says of the country, "In November last, in company with John B. Jervis, Esq., Consulting Engineer, James Archibald, Esq., a distinguished engineer, General George B. Sargeant, of Davenport, and the Hon. N. B. Judd, of Chicago, I passed over the line from Iowa City to Fort Des Moines, and thence down the 'divide' between the Des Moines and the Skunk, to Oskaloosa, and from Oskaloosa, through Keokuk, Washington, and Louisa Counties, to Muscatine. The whole country on both sides is one of unsurpassed beauty and fertility. Since then, I have passed over the line from Muscatine to Cedar Rapids. No more beautiful or productive region of country can be  p91 found in the Union. There is literally no waste land to be found, and the settlements are such that a railroad would be immediately productive. The entire land on each of the routes from Davenport to Fort Des Moines, from Muscatine to Oskaloosa, and from Muscatine to Cedar Rapids, has been all purchased of the Government, and the State of Iowa is settling with a rapidity unparalleled in the history of any State."

The Mississippi Bridge, now being built at Davenport, connects the Chicago and Rock Island and the Mississippi railroads; making one continuous line, without interruption or break of gauge, from Chicago to the Missouri River. The people of Iowa, Western Minnesota, and those who are to cultivate the fertile soil of Nebraska, will never consent to be shut out from the Atlantic and the great Western lakes by any pretended obstruction which a bridge built on the plan proposed may offer. The bridge will span the Mississippi on the Rapids, where the current is compressed to a narrow space, so that boats, to strike the piers on either side, would first have to surmount rocks which Nature has had fixed as impediments to navigation for centuries, and of which the proposed improvement of the Rapids does not contemplate the removal. Simply a skeleton railroad bridge, the draw will always be up, save when the cars are actually crossing; which never can occur when a steamboat is passing, except by the grossest negligence. For the reasons thus concisely given, we argue that this bridge will prove no obstruction to the navigation of the river.

[image ALT: An engraving of a tranquil scene on a wide river. In the left foreground, on one bank of the river, a few people await the arrival of a steamboat at a landing, a one-horse cart and several large crates of goods with them. The other bank of the river is seen only as a distant series of woods. In the river, a small island; on the island or maybe on the far bank behind it — the engraving is not clear — several tall wooden buildings and a utility tower of some kind, as well as a locomotive seen mostly because of its smoke. Across the river in the background, six arches of a slender bridge traversing it can be seen. It is a depiction of the Mississippi railroad bridge between Rock Island and Davenport, as it was in 1855.]

Mississippi Railroad Bridge,
between Rock Island and Davenport.

 p92  The estimated cost of the before-mentioned lines, for grading and bridging, track superstructure, equipments, station buildings, engineering and contingencies, are as follows:

Division Dist. Miles Cost Average per Mile
Davenport to Iowa City 54.92 $1,516,790.00 $27,618.00
Iowa City to Fort Des Moines 119.00 3,554,870.00 29,873.00
Muscatine to Oskaloosa 95.27 2,557,500.00 26,845.00
Muscatine to Cedar Rapids 62.64 1,493,250.00 23,839.00
Making, in the aggregate, $9,122,410.00

Several other railroad lines are proposed, and in part under contract, which we will mention:

The Burlington and Missouri River Railroad, being a continuation of the Chicago and Burlington Railroad, passes west, through the centres of Henry, Jefferson, Wapello, Monroe, Lucas, Clarke, Union, Adams, Montgomery, and Mills Counties, striking the Missouri opposite the mouth of the Big Platte, or Nebraska River, some twenty-five miles below Council Bluffs. This road is under contract to Wapello County, and the prospects of an early completion are good. Burlington has recently had railroad connection with Chicago, "through by daylight."

The Lyons Central Railroad, a continuation of the Chicago Air Line Railroad, passes west from Lyons, through Clinton and Cedar Counties, to Iowa City, in Johnson County, where it connects with the Mississippi and Missouri Railroad. This road was all under contract, and considerable work done at different points; but its progress has been suspended for some months. We understand that  p93 a new company has resumed the enterprise, and are hastening it to an early completion.

The Northern Iowa Railroad, a continuation of the Illinois Central, is projected from Dubuque west, through the Counties of Dubuque, Delaware, Buchanan, Blackhawk, Grundy, Hardin, Webster, Calhoun, Sac, Ida, and Woodbury, striking the Missouri at Floyd's Bluffs, at the mouth of the Big Sioux River. A branch of this road is also projected to run from Delhi, in Delaware County, north, through Clayton, Fayette, and Winnesheik,º to St. Paul, Minnesota.

A line connecting with the Chicago and Mississippi Railroad (which reaches the Missouri in Carroll County, Illinois), is projected to pass through Jackson, Jones, Linn, Benton, Tama, Marshall, Story, Boone, Greene, Carroll, and Crawford, striking the Missouri in Mahona County.

A line running as a continuation of the North Missouri Railroad enters the State in Davis County, passing through Appanoose, Lucas, and Warren, to Fort Des Moines, crossing the Burlington and Missouri Railroad at Chariton, the Muscatine and Platte Valley Railroad at Indianolo, and connecting with the Mississippi and Missouri Railroad at Fort Des Moines. A portion of this road is under contract, and we are informed will be pushed through as rapidly as circumstances will admit. A branch of this line leaves Fort Madison, passing through Lee, Van Buren, and Davis, connecting with the Northern Missouri and Des Moines Railroad in Appanoose County.

The Des Moines Valley Railroad is to leave the Mississippi  p94 at Keokuk, passing through Lee, Van Buren, Jefferson, Wapello, Mahaska, Marion, and Jasper, to Fort Des Moines, there connecting with two east and west lines. This is considered by many as being one of the most important routes, as the Des Moines Valley, in mineral and agricultural productions, is the richest valley in the State.

Another line, as a continuation of the Philadelphia and Fort Wayne Air Line Railroad, to leave the Mississippi at the mouth of the Iowa River, passing through Louisa and Washington Counties, connecting at Washington with the Muscatine and Oskaloosa Railroad, has been proposed.

A preliminary survey has been made of a railroad from Keokuk to Davenport, via Montrose, West Point, Mount Pleasant, Columbus City, and Muscatine; the entire distance being 70¾ miles. The estimated cost of this road, including furniture, depôts, fencing, &c., is $1,911,934. This is one of the many roads which will seek the bridge at Davenport as the Mississippi crossing.

We doubt not that those railroad lines penetrating into the State, which are continuations of roads from the East and South, will be pushed forward to an early completion.

The construction of the several roads reaching from Chicago towards the Mississippi River demonstrates that railroads may be constructed through a country of prairie on the line of emigration, and yield a profit as soon and as far as opened. The receipts of the Chicago and Rock Island Road for the 10th of July to the 10th of January were $710,688.86. Running expenses for the same time,  p95 $440,764.86; leaving a balance of $270,894. The whole number of passengers passing over the road for the five months ending December 1st, amounted to 168,824; total amount of freight transported during the same time, 49,734 tons.

We give the statistics of this road, because it was the first which reached the Mississippi, and reliable facts could be more easily obtained. Nor is this railroad an exception — each of the Chicago and Mississippi, and the Galena and Chicago lines, pay well as far as completed.

The Mississippi Railroad Bridge

The great Railroad Bridge crossing the Mississippi at Davenport is steadily progressing, and the greater part of the masonry is completed. Its entire length will be 5832 feet, consisting of spans of 250 feet each, exclusive of bearings. The river is divided into two channels at this point by the beautiful isle, Rock Island. The main channel is on the Iowa side, the second channel upon the Illinois side of the river. That portion of the bridge over the main channel is 1583 feet in length. The circular-shaped draw-pier, which stands near the centre of this channel, is 40 feet in height, 46 feet in diameter at the foundation, and 37 at the top.

On each side of the draw-pier is a draw of 120 feet, working on the rotary principle; making, in all, a clear space of 240 feet for the passage of river craft. These draws are open at all times, save when a train is due; and  p96 even in that case, if a boat is in sight, it will have the preference.

The average height of the bridge is 30 feet above low water.

Besides the draw-pier, there are five others. These are oblong in shape, and measure, at their base, 57 feet by 16 to 18; at their top, 24 feet by 7 to 10.

There are two abutments, one on the island and one on the Iowa shore, containing together about six thousand yards of masonry.

This bridge connects with a huge embankment, built over the lower point of the island, which lies very low, containing 125,000 cubic yards of earth, and costing forty thousand dollars. At the west end, this embankment connects with another bridge, of less dimensions, over the Illinois channel of the Mississippi. This lesser bridge has two piers, and three spans, of 150 feet each, all constructed in the same style, and upon the same principle, as those of the bridge over the main channel.

The entire length of the two bridges and the intervening embankment is 5,832 feet. The cost of the entire work will be $260,000. The bridges are being built for a single track. Their wooden work will be of pine and oak. Mr. John Warner has the contract for the masonry and grading, and Messrs. Stone and Boomer for the superstructure. The contractors are all energetic men, and are doing the work with the utmost fidelity. The bridges are built according to Howe's improved patent, and when completed will be models of strength and beauty.

 p97  This Great Bridge has naturally attracted attention from every part of the Union. The design is indeed a colossal one, and one which can only be accomplished by men of stout hearts and of iron nerve. For many long years the Mississippi has been considered an insuperable obstacle to the continuity of all great thoroughfares, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Happily for the best interests of the West, and indeed, the whole world of commerce, a rare combination of natural facilities at this point, of the resources of modern science, of eastern capital, and of western enterprise, has made the project practicable, and insured its completion within the present year. Its opening will mark a new era in the history of Commerce, and in the annals of the Great West.

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