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Railroads-Churches-Schools-Agricultural Society-Old Settlers' Association.


ONE of the first and greatest difficulties which presented itself to the early settlers was the lack of suitable means of communication with the great money centers and commercial emporiums of the East. In fact it was urged by persons living in the seaboard States, that on account of its great distance from market, Iowa could never become an agricultural State, and that its great abundance and variety of natural resources must forever remain in an undeveloped condition. Considering the situation of Marion county when it was first settled, and for many years afterward, these objections to the country were well taken. At that time not a railroad had yet entered Chicago, and there was scarcely a thought in the minds of the people here that a railroad would or could be built into the wilds of the West, lying beyond the Mississippi River. There may have been a few whose faith in the future of Iowa lead them to indulge the fond hope that eventually the great lines of communication which began to stretch out from the commercial centers of the East would reach their far western

homes; but even these had no conception of the immense cost involved in the building of a railroad, or what a revolution a railroad or telegraph through here would cause in the progress of the country. Then there were less than five thousand miles of railway in the United States, and not a mile of track this side of the State of Ohio. Now that there are more than one hundred thousand miles of railway in the Union, and nearly five thous and in Iowa alone, and depots and side-tracks are at our very doors it is impossible to realize the condition of affairs in the country thirty years ago. It was thought by many that the bridging of the Mississippi River would never be accomplished and this was considered an impassable barrier which would forever shut off overland communication with the East. Thus it was that the early settlers of Marion county, as well as in other parts of the State, turned their thoughts toward New Orleans as the future emporium of the West, and they looked hopefully forward to the time when the Des Moines River would be improved by locks and dams so as to afford a safe and convenient outlet for their crops during all seasons of the year. Large grants of land were made for this purpose by Congress as early as 1846, and the law making these grants was approved by President Polk in August of the same year. A further account of this grant, the deplorable failure of the improvements, and the unfortunate complications which grew out of it will be treated elsewhere. Thousands of acres of the best land in the county were, metaphorically speaking, sunk in the Des Moines River, and the State got nothing but an old scow and the settler's numerous lawsuits in return. We refer to this matter here to show how, in early days, the idea of railroad communication never entered the minds of the people: It was not many years, however, till Chicago began to loom up out of the miasmatic marshes bordering on the shores of Lake Michigan; various lines of railway were projected and built to that city. Not only were lines of railway built into Chicago, but they soon found their way out and extended westward across the prairies of Illinois. As these roads began to near the Mississippi River the people of Iowa began to view the transportation question in a new light. The improvement of the Des Moines River promising nothing but failure, and railroads from the East extending themselves ready to embrace the State, the people of Iowa turned their backs on the Des Moines River as a medium of communication and reached forth their hands toward the railroads.

The first bar of railroad iron laid in Iowa was at Davenport in May, 1857. The first railroad projected through Marion county was the Philadelphia, Fort Wayne and Platte River Air Line Railroad. This railroad enterprise early began to be agitated by the people of the county seat towns of the State located in this tier of counties.

The first organized movement in the interests of this enterprise in Marion county was a meeting held at Knoxville early in the year 1853. The following is a copy of the minutes of that meeting:

"At a meeting held at the court-house in Knoxville, Thursday evening, January 27, A. D. 1853, according to a previous notice, to take into consideration the object and propriety of taking stock in the contemplated railroad, commencing at Davenport via Muscatine to Council Bluffs, provided the same be located at or near Knoxville, Marion county, whereupon John Harper was called to the chair and E. G. Stanfieid was chosen secretary.

"The object of the meeting being explained by the chair it was moved by L. W. Babbitt that a committee of five be appointed by the chair to

draft resolutions, and report the same at some future meeting, of the object and wishes of the citizens of this county; whereupon J. E. Neal, L. W. Babbitt, Joseph Brobst, J. A. Scott and C. Hall were appointed. It was moved and carried that some person be appointed to correspond with the president of the company on the subject of private individuals taking stock in said road; whereupon James M. Walters was chosen, and to report at the next setting meeting."

At a subsequent meeting J. E. Neal, chairman of the committee on resolutions, reported the following:

"We, the committee, respectfully report:

1. Resolved, That we take a deep interest in the construction of a railroad through Knoxville, Marion county, Iowa.

2. Resolved, That we propose to any company who may construct a railroad through Knoxville to take the amount of stock annexed to our subscription in the accompanying subscription.

3. Resolved, That a committee of three be appointed by this meeting to solicit and obtain a subscription of stock to said railroad.

4. Resolved, That J. E. Neal, Isaac H. Walters and E. G. Stanfield compose said committee.

5. Resolved, That James M: Walters, Esq., be appointed corresponding secretary, to correspond in behalf of the stockholders in Marion county, Iowa, with any company that may propose to build said road.


"We, the undersigned citizens of Marion county, Iowa, do hereby promise and agree to subscribe as stock the several shares set respectively opposite to our names, to any railroad company that may commence a railroad on the Mississippi and running to Council Bluffs in this State; provided said railroad shall pass through Knoxville, Marion county, Iowa. Said shares to be fifty dollars per share.

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The people soon became greatly excited over the enterprise and were de termined to have a railroad immediately. The effort to procure the subhscription of stock did not meet with that encouragement which was anticipated, and later in the year it was decided to abandon the individual subscription enterprise and have the judge call a special election to vote on the proposition of having the county, in its corporate capacity, to subscribe stock to the amount of one hundred thousand dollars. Near the close of the year the county judge issued his proclamation as follows:




"To the voters of Marion county:


"You are hereby notified that a special election will be held at the usual places of holding election in said county, on Saturday, the fourteenth day of January, A. D. 1854, for the purpose of deciding the following question; to-wit., will the county subscribe one hundred thousand dollars' stock in the Philadelphia, Ft. Wayne and Platte River Air Line Railroad. The form of taking the question will be as follows: For subscription'; 'against subscription.' The votes will be taken by ballot and entered on the pollbooks, and returns made as in other elections, and the poll-books must show that a copy of the above question was posted up at the different places of voting during the day of election.

"Should a majority of the votes cast in the county be in favor of such subscription the county judge will be authorized in behalf of the county, provided said road shall be located through said county, to subscribe stock in said road to the amount of one hundred thonsand dollars ($100,000), and for the payment of the same to issue the bonds of the county to the same amount, made payable at such times as may be deemed advisable by said judge, provided that they shall be not less than ten nor more than twenty years from their date, said bonds to bear interest at a rate not exceeding six per cent per annum, payable annually. And for the purpose of paying the interest on bonds, and redeeming the same when they become due, the county judge will be authorized by a majority of said votes to levy such annual tax, not more than one per cent, nor less than one mill on the dollar of the county valuation as may be necessary therefor, after having applied on such payment the proceeds of such stock as the same may accrue from time to time. Said tax will, if necessary, be continued from year to year until the said bonds and interest thereon are fully liquidated. "In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and affixed the seal of said county at Knoxville, this fifth day of December, A. D. 1853. [L. 6.] "JOSEPH BROBST. "County Judge."

The proposition was voted on according to the terms of the proclamation and was decided in the negative.

The Muscatine, Oskaloosa and Council Bluffs Railroad was the next enterprise talked of. It was in fact but a resurrection of the old Fort Wayne and Platte River Railroad. The proposed route lay through the counties of Muscatine, Washington, Keokuk, Mahaska, Marion and thence due west to Council Bluffs. In this enterprise were enlisted the leading men from

every county seat of that tier of counties between Muscatine and Council Bluffs. Without the aid of any other corporation these men proposed to build a road across the State, and although it was a tremendous undertaking it probably would have been successful had it not been for the early completion of other trunk lines across the State which rendered this enterprise less necessary, and as a consequence less feasible.

The agitation of this railroad enterprise was at fever heat in January, 1868, when a mammoth convention was held at Oskaloosa. Delegates were present from Muscatine, Washington, Keokuk, Mahaska, Marion, Warren, Madison, Adair, Cass, and Pottawattamie counties. The meeting was organized by the election of C. E. Griffiths of Warren county, chairman; vice-presidents were elected for each county and there was a corporation formed consisting of sixty-six incorporators. There were fourteen articles of corporation and a committee of ten was appointed to nominate directors, who nominated fifteen directors. Afterward the directors held a meeting and organized, by electing a president, secretary, treasurer, executive committee and attorneys.

The convention then adjourned and the delegates then went home to gladden the hearts of their constituents by the assurance of a speedy completion of the road. The corporation was doubtless large enough to have built, and the officers numerous enough to have operated a road twice the length of the proposed one, together with feeders and branch lines; but there proved not to be enough money or enough credit, or sufficient pluck to grade across one county or lay a mile of track. Upon the return of the delegates rousing meetings were held at the county seat towns, eloquent speeches were made, subscription books passed around and the meetings dispersed to afford the people an opportunity to select depot sites. In a certain county seat not far from Knoxville the people did in fact agree upon a depot site, and on the town plat at the present time is a block termed "Philadelphia, Ft. Wayne and Platte River Air Line Railroad Depot Grounds." But alas for the vanity of human hopes when inspired by the flattering unction of a railroad! The Muscatine, Oskaloosa and Council Bluffs Railroad, like the Philadelphia, Fort Wayne and Platte River Air Line Railroad, and many other railroads of high sounding and far reaching names, never became a railroad except on paper and like the relics of the moundbuilders and the fossils of the mastodon, will be unearthed at future times to point the antiquarian's moral and adorn the historian's tale.

With the collapse of the Muscatine, Oskaloosa and Council Bluffs Railroad enterprise the people despaired of getting a railroad. However, new hope sprang up in another direction. In order to describe this new enterprise we must return to the old Des Moines River improvement project. This project was abandoned.

The people despaired of getting a railroad. In the meantime a corporation was organized to improve Des Moines River for purposes of navigation. To give a history of it would require a volume. The project was abandoned, and the franchises of the corporation passed to the Keokuk, Fort Des Moines and Minnesota Railroad Company in 1853. In 1854 the name was changed to the Des Moines Valley Railroad Company, without change of owners. A railroad was started from Keokuk up and along the Des Moines River. It reached Eddyville in 1861, and again the people of the county were doomed to wait for several years the tardy coming of the iron horse. On the 29th day of August, 1866, the road was completed,

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