RAILROAD ERA: 1866-1909

The first survey of the Dubuque and Sioux City Railway (later to become the Illinois Central) was made in 1857, but it was not until 1866 that the first train reached Iowa Falls. On April 15 there was a large crowd of people at the depot awaiting its arrival. A three-day celebration was held, with a special excursion train running from Dubuque to Iowa Falls on April 24. Both the Dubuque Herald and Dubuque Times carried stories of the celebration. Evening entertainment, dinner and dancing were held at Sayer's Hall. The following day the excursion returned to Dubuque where another grand celebration was held. (8)

For two years Iowa Falls was the end of the rail line. In 1868 a bridge was built across the Iowa River at the site of the present bridge. By May 1869 the Iowa Falls and Sioux City Railroad Company had completed the track from Iowa Falls to Fort Dodge, and another celebration was held. The Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Northern reached Iowa Falls in September 1880. A daily passenger train from Iowa Falls to Cedar Rapids connected with east west trains. The coming of the B.C.R. & N. heralded good things for Iowa Falls. The town became both a freight and bridge division on the road, and a ten-stall roundhouse was built.

The Chicago, Iowa and Dakota Railway (locally known as the Slippery Elm) was a short track tat connected Alden, Iowa Falls and Eldora. For many years there were two trains a day, one in the morning and one in the evening. This provided access to the county seat, and the line did a good business until the automobile became the favored mode of transportation.

The Short Line Railway was proposed by E. S. Ellsworth to run between Iowa Falls and Des Moines, and later extended to Mason City. There had been a dire need for years for such a connection to the capitol city, and in 1903 the line was built. Known as the Des Moines, Iowa Falls & Northern, it became part of the Rock Island system.

The changes brought by the railroads were many. Building materials, groceries, all sorts of goods, could be shipped rapidly and inexpensively by rail. No longer did everything have to come overland by wagon. The accessibility of these materials helped Iowa Falls grow. New businesses were added along Washington Avenue (locally just called "the avenue") to meet the needs of growing population. A bridge was built across the Iowa at River Street in 1868, and in 1869 when the town was formally incorporated, the population had reached 1200. At that time the town could boast of five general stores, six groceries, two hardware stores, two drug stores, two furniture stores, two harness shops, a marble shop, four boot and shoe stores, three hotels, a printing office, four blacksmith shops, a wagon shop, four farm machinery dealers, two liveries, two grain dealers, a flouring mill, a saw mill, a machine shop, a woolen factory, a photo gallery, two millinery shops, one bank, four lawyers, three doctors, and three land agencies. (9)

To have an idea of just how important the railroads were, freight records from April 1, 1873 to April 1, 1874 show the following shipments out of Iowa Falls: 280 cars of grain, 70 cars of stone and lime, 12 cars of potatoes, and 20 cars of miscellaneous cargo. Shipped in were: 130 cars of lumber, 40 cars of coal, 15 cars of implements and household goods, and 12 cars of miscellaneous. (10)

The July 1874 fire that destroyed almost all of downtown Iowa Falls necessitated the immediate re-building of the business area. By January 1875 twenty-three new business buildings had been erected. During the Fall of 1874 the Sentinel had written:

Whack, bang, rip, apparently all is tumult for the
length of nearly two blocks on Washington Avenue.
Twenty-six carpenters, ten masons, thirty-six skilled
workmen in all, together with an army of shovelers,
teamsters, hod carriers, and men of all work, though
it may look like confusion, still you find all working
systematically and rapidly, accomplishing a vast amount
of work each day. (11)

Because of the fire there was a certain uniformity of design to the buildings of downtown Iowa Falls for many years. The town was forced to take on a more cosmopolitan appearance by the fire.

News articles from the 1870s note many happenings in the community. When Susan B. Anthony lectured in April 1875 there was a .25 admission fee. The spring of 1876 saw new brick buildings being erected for Israel Klopp and J. L. Estes, a new fence placed around the public square (now Estes Park), and E. S. Ellsworth was elected mayor. In September 1877 the Central Railroad transported thirteen coaches of Nez Perce Indian captives through Iowa Falls . . . the total cost to the government was said to be $2000. Settlers on their way to the Dakotas came through in long trains of prairie schooners.

A new woolen mill opened in 1880, and Farrington and Taylor built a new agricultural warehouse. (12) In November of 1880 the Sentinel noted that it was almost impossible to hire a carpenter, mason, painter, or laborer, every man that can build is busy, because the town is growing so fast. (13) By 1882 the excitement of the telephone had reached Hardin County, and a petition was being circulated to put telephone instruments in the courthouse in Eldora to connect Iowa Falls and Ackley. February 1882 saw telephone wires up in Iowa Falls, and four businesses "have instruments in place" . . . the office was in the Western Hotel. (14)

Improvements were not limited to the downtown. The ladies of Iowa Falls had been in charge of the Union Cemetery for a number of years and were responsible for many improvements, such as the iron fence, gateway, and the planting of rows of evergreen trees. In 1882 they decided to take on a new project, the construction of a pagoda in the public square. The fund-raising for this project took sixteen years (until 1898); total cost of the pagoda was $277. Some property owners decided to lay plank sidewalks in front of their residences, and many were also found in the business district. Stone crossings were laid across major downtown intersections. Plans were made for the construction of a new school on Seminary Square (present Ellsworth College campus). The First National Bank was constructing a new building on Washington which had "very fine" ornamental stonework on the fašade. The local foundry cast iron columns for the front of Winslow's new store, and the paper noted that there was no need to go to Chicago for such ironwork anymore.

A skating rink was opened at the corner of Oak and Washington. Measuring 110' x 44', it had a large reception room to don the skates, a hard maple floor, and a 4' platform on all sides for the spectators. (15) In later years a stage was added so this could be used as a theater and meeting hall as well. In a move that would have great importance to Iowa Falls' future development, E. S. Ellsworth took L. E. Jones into his business as a partner. John Weiland recorded a total of 1521 people in Iowa Falls in 1883.

The 1890's brought the opening of Ellsworth College, the establishment of a city water system, and in 1895 electricity became available. Assessor Bowman took a census in 1895, which showed a population of 2257 people. The town was growing physically as well. In 1893 the Sentinel noted "Nearly a hundred residences will be built in Iowa Falls the coming summer. About one-third will be built east of Rock Run." (16)

Construction downtown included two fine two-story brick blocks built on the northwest corner of Oak and Washington in 1895 for Shipley, Herriott & Schoenhair, and Daniel Griffiths.

E. S. Ellsworth started buying up lots on the south side of Washington between Oak and Stevens. On June 28, 1899 he announced plans for a magnificent opera house. This served as the impetus for the construction of several new business blocks, as well as the installation of "cement" sidewalks in front of the newest buildings. The city voted to install a municipal sewer system that same year. Two years later Ellsworth added two new buildings just east of the Opera House. Iowa Falls' continued growth seemed assured.

The railroads provided excellent passenger as well as freight service. In 1891 the Burlington, Cedar Rapids & Northern had two passenger trains and two freight trains leaving Iowa Falls northbound daily except Sunday, and two passenger and two freight southbound also. The Illinois Central had two passenger trains and an "express" plus two freights leaving eastbound daily except Sunday, and two passenger and three freights westbound. The Chicago, Iowa & Dakota had two passenger trains daily southbound, and two northbound. (17)

In 1897 Byron Bliss brought about the opening of the north/south road leading out of Iowa Falls across the river. He platted the land on the south side of the river, and helped finance the building of the first Oak Street bridge in 1898. This was a major development in the growth of Iowa Falls in the coming decades. There was immediate talk of the Illinois Central building a modern depot at the intersection of Oak and the tracks, just south of the new bridge. This turned out to be just rumor, but it did plant the idea of a new depot, which finally was built as a Union Depot in 1902-03 east of Rock Run.

The first decade of the new century saw the city consulting with officials of the Illinois Central about an underground crossing at Oak Street, listening to a suggestion from a citizen that waste receptacles be placed in convenient places "to improve untidy appearance," and deciding to replace old wooden sidewalks with new "cement" ones. The fire department asked the city to connect the Central Iowa Telephone office with the light plant to facilitate prompt fire alarms. (18) A new city hall was planned for part of the old Stevens Hotel property, and the population had reached 3680.

The two rival newspapers each decided to build a new building in 1904. The Hardin County Citizen built a two story artificial stone (concrete block) building on the east side of Stevens, just south of the park. The Sentinel had a two story brick, complete with rounded corner oriel window, built at the corner of Main and Washington.

Through the years the newspapers had always noted the construction of new residences as well as commercial blocks, but in 1904 there were many notes concerning the construction of the L. e. Jones residence which was designed by the Des Moines architectural firm of Smith and Gage. Originally estimated at $15,000, by the time it was completed the cost had risen to $30,000. One of the art glass windows alone was said to cost $500. The Jones residence is now the Masonic Temple and remains one of Iowa Falls' finest residences.

Railroad construction continued. A new brick Union Depot (NRHP) was constructed in 1902-03 on East Rocksylvania, replacing the old wood frame Illinois Central depot from 1866. The newest road, the Short Line constructed a "new electric interlocking tower" where their road crossed the rock Island and Illinois Central tracks on the east side. Known as the Mills Tower, this complex is now listed on the NRHP. In 1909 the Short Line built a new high bridge across the Iowa River. The era of major railroad construction had ended.

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