E.F. Pittman, of the State Historical Department, was born at Peaksville, Mo., June 15, 1871. When a small boy he moved with his parents to a farm near Cantril in Van Buren County.



The Keosauqua Republican came into existence July 8, 1855. Fourteen months before the beginning of this paper, there was not a mile of railroad in the state of Iowa. In 1856 there was a railroad from Davenport to Iowa City, a distance of 52 miles. Also one from West Junction through Muscatine and S.W. to Columbus City, a distance of 24 miles. So in the beginning of 1857 there was only 76 miles of railroads in the state.

The first railroad train to enter Van Buren county was the Keokuk, Fort Des Moines & Minnesota Railroad Company's train in the spring of 1857. Keosauqua was laid out in 1839. So Keosauqua was without railroad facilities from its beginning until 1860 when the K.D. & M. road was built through The Summit (Mt. Zion) four miles north. The younger generation may wonder how the products of the farms was shipped out, and the articles of merchandise brought in. The Des Moines river was the main thoroughfare past Keosauqua and many steamboats plied up and down the river, as will be seen by an item under "River News" in the Republican of March 27, 1858:

"The 'Clara Hine' passed through the lock chute Saturday, bound for Eddyville. The 'The Des Moines Valley' arrived up on Saturday night and left for Keokuk Monday. The 'Col. Morgan' had difficulty getting through the lock Monday and a short distance above turned over on her starboard side and sank to the bottom of the river.  The 'Edwin Manning' came through the locks just behind the "Col. Morgan'. The "Clara Hine' on her return trip from Eddyville, passed through here Tuesday. The 'Delta' came up on Wednesday night and left Thursday morning. The 'Skipper' landed at the wharf Thursday on her way down, crowded with passengers and loaded down with freight. The 'Clara Hine' came up again Thursday with a full load. She took on one hundred tons of pork and departed yesterday for St. Louis."

So there was a large amount of shipping done in and out of the river towns of Van Buren county before the arrival of the railroads.


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The Keokuk, Fort Des Moines & Minnesota Railroad was finished to Farmington and a celebration held on June 10, 1857. Work progressed steadily and trains were running to Bonaparte July 15, and to Bentonsport by August 4. Work was continued as far as Rock Creek, a short distance above Columbus (another defunct Van Buren county town) when work was suspended while parleying with the citizens of Keosauqua and vicinity. Many meetings were held during a period of two years. The railroad company asked the town of Keosauqua to put up $75,000.00. Finally, in the spring of 1860, when the money was not forthcoming, the grading was resumed, going direct from the mouth of Rock Creek to The Summit, where the first train arrived September 14, 1860. By late September that year, trains were running as far as Independence (now Selma) the last station in Van Buren county.

The Iowa & Missouri State Line Railroad company was organized in 1859 by a group of citizens of Pleasant Plain (now Pleaston) a town ten miles south of Leon in Decatur county. Because there was no east-west railroad nearer than the B.&M.R. thirty miles north of the state line and the H.&St.J. sixty miles to the south, these promoters believed that a road along the state line would be a paying investment, inasmuch as the people along the proposed route were very, very anxious for a railroad, and landowners offered to donate the right-of-way, besides giving their labor for a few weeks in building the grade. The housewives also donated board to the workers for weeks at a time.

But the little company of citizens of Pleasant Plain were unable to finance the project, and after many miles of grade were ready for the ties and rails, the work was abandoned. Grading was being done at many places between Farmington and Bloomfield, being completed to Mt. Sterling. A cut and fill can yet be seen 80 rods east of the depot at Mt. Sterling from which point the road veered to the south, South of Upton, the grade is one mile south of the state line. They followed the line of least resistance, going around most of the hills. This is perhaps why they stated in their article of incorporation that they would at no time be farther than six miles on either side of the state line. I have followed this grade in several places from Mt. Sterling to Bloomfield.

They were leaving the town of Milton three and one-half miles to the north, and Bloomfield one mile to the north. The western terminus was to be Plattsmouth, Nebraska. If this road had been completed the town of Cantril would never have been, for the very reason that a town would have been located three miles south of the present town of Cantril, and the Burlington and South Western railroad would never have been built where it was.

At a joint meeting of the I.&M.S.L. R.R. Co. and the B.&S.W. R.R. Co. at Farmington Feb. 18, 1870, the two companies were consolidated, taking the name of the latter.


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The B.&S.W. began grading at Viele and came west to Farmington, reaching this place in May 1871. From this place they used the grade made by the 1.&M.S.L. Railroad Co. to within a short distance southeast of Mt. Sterling, continued westward, missing this town, about 80 rods. The town was afterwards built down to the railroad and around the depot. From here it continued westward to Niles, a very small village. This place had a vision of becoming a much larger town as land owners had offered to donate land for a station in the south part of the village,

But L.W. Cantril, a land owner three miles northwest of Niles offered the right-of-way and some additional land through eighty acres, if. they would locate a station there-on which they did, and soon Cantril came into existence. If Niles had secured the station Cantril would never had been, because Milton, eight miles northwest of Niles, would have been the next station on the road. The road was completed to Milton in October 1871, which is the last station of this road in Van Buren county.

Keosauqua was badly in need of a railroad to connect with the K.D.&M, road at The Summit, so a company was organized in June, 1873, to build this road four and one-half miles long. The company was known as the Keosauqua North and South Railroad Company. It was promoted by Charles H. Fletcher of Burlington.   Articles of incorporation filed June 25, 1873 were signed by 39 citizens, mostly living in Keosauqua. On October 9, 1873, a big celebration was held on the Frye farm midway between Keosauqua and The Summit to properly observe the beginning of construction work. There were several speeches, toasts, etc., and the big brass cannon was brought out from Keosauqua and fired several times. Jas. Duffield Sr., who was one of the incorporators, threw the first shovelful of dirt and the work was begun.

The work went on slowly and about two year's time passed before completion of it. It crossed the K.D.&M, track by bridge near the present depot, and the terminus was near the city well which was then about the center of the business district of The Summit. The ladies of Keosauqua agreed to pay the cost of the bridge across the K.D.&M, track at The Summit the amount they paid being one thousand dollars.

The K.N.&S. merged with another company starting this way from St. Louis, the name of the new company being the Keosauqua, St. Louis & Minnesota R.R. Co. During the two or three years that this 4 mile railroad was being built, there was much interest from Fairfield to as far south as Shelbina, Missouri. The final outcome was the failure of the entire enterprise. The road was to pass through Upton on state line, then south through Greensburg, Newark to Shelbina, Mo. This 4 1/2 mile railroad was finished in May 1875. Joe Rogers was engineer and William Craig was fireman. The road was poorly equipped, having two engines, and some dump cars that had been in previous use on the canal between Montrose and Keokuk. One of these was converted into a "passenger" car by providing uprights which supported a canvas top designed to protect the passengers during sunshine or showers.


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When the road was completed an excursion was run out to The Summit. Many people in and about Keosauqua took advantage of this excursion and had their first train ride. Because of the large number of passengers, it was necessary for the men to sit on the edge of the flatcars with their feet almost touching the ties. Mr. L.C. Fosnot, one of the incorporators, once showed me a picture of the excursion train he had taken just before it had left the roundhouse (if we may call a building with stalls for two engines a roundhouse) which was located in the north part of town, almost eighty rods north of the present depot.

Because of the poor equipment and inefficient service, both passenger and freight, the road was not well patronized and fell into disuse within a few months after its completion.

During this period of disuse, some of the dump cars were run into a pond in The Summit by some of the smart alecks of that place. The track, or most of it, was taken up in 1879, but some of the rails and ties were still intact near the old roundhouse as late as the summer of 1880.

In the spring of 1880, The Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad Company (who were then the owners of the old K.D. line form Keokuk to Des Moines) secured the roadbed and right-of-way of the K.St.L.&M. R.R. and widened the grade and laid the rails for standard gauge and ran the first passenger train into Keosauqua on Sept. 29, 1880. There was general rejoicing when the last spike had been driven Saturday, Sept. 25.

On October 5 an excursion train was run from Keosauqua to Keokuk, to celebrate the completion of the short line. Ever since that date Keosauqua has had railroad connection with the outside world.

In July, 1871, the Fort Madison, Oskaloosa and North Western Railroad Co. was incorporated. A year later this company became the Fort Madison & North Western Railway Co. Eight years later the road was built from Fort Madison to West Point, a distance of eleven miles. This was the end of the line for two years. I remember seeing the little turntable near the depot in West Point in October 1880.

In 1881 this railroad reached the eastern edge of Van Buren county at Hillsboro, going west and north passing McVeigh postoffice, which became a station on this road. Then to Stockport, and by Longview, another postoffice two miles west of Stockport, and on to Birmingham in March, 1882, which was the end of the line for two years, when it was continued to Collett, a station five miles northwest of Birmingham in 1884. In March, 1890, a new corporation was formed under the name of Chicago, Fort Madison & Des Moines Railway Company and at once set about to change this narrow gauge (36 inches between the rails) to standard gauge (56 1/2 inches between the rails), and in April 1891, began the construction of 26 miles of track from Collett to Ottumwa. Widening of the roadbed and the laying of standard track was completed from Fort Madison to Collett Sept. 10, 1891.


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Proposed Railroads of Van Buren County

No newspaper accounts can be found concerning some of the very early proposed railroads of Van Buren county, so we must depend upon maps of this state.

The Henn, Williams & Co. map of 1855, published at Fairfield, Jefferson County, Iowa shows a proposed railroad starting at Keokuk, running northwest through Big Mound in Lee county, through Utica, Winchester and Birmingham in Van Buren county. Name not given.

This map of 1856 shows a line called Fort Madison & Bloomfield railroad, starting at Fort Madison and running northwest through West Point and continuing westward, passing south of Big Mound, and westward into Van Buren county, passing two miles north of Bonaparte and Bentonsport to Rock Creek, thence to Keosauqua and west to Pittsburg, going up Chequest Creek and on to Bloomfield, having passed through Oak Point, a postoffice in Davis county near the West Van Buren county line, 15 miles northeast of Troy.

The map of 1857 shows the Keosauqua and Hudson City railroad. Hudson City is some distance south of Memphis, Mo. This same map shows the line of the Keosauqua & Nebraska R.R. Co. This road seems to begin at Keosauqua and runs to Nebraska City, Nebr., using the same survey from Keosauqua to Bloomfield as the Fort Madison & Bloomfield railroad. A meeting of the lowa Southern Railroad Co., is mentioned by the Keosauqua Republican of Nov., 1857; but I do not find it on any map of Van Buren county. This paper also states on April 3, 1858, that the two companies last above, consolidated in March, 1858.

The Keosauqua Republican of January, 1872, contains a notice of a special election on Feb. 10th, to vote on the levying of a 4 per cent tax to aid the Keosauqua, Pittsburg & Western Railway Co, in constructing a railroad from some point on the Des Moines Valley road, to Keosauqua, Pittsburg and westward.

Colton's map of 1872 shows a proposed railroad, the Iowa & Nebraska railroad, starting at Alexandria, Mo., and running northwest striking Van Buren county at State Line (supposed to be a postoffice and small settlement near Iowa state line, not far from the present site of the Eureka schoolhouse). Same map of 1856 gives name of this place as "Union P.0.". I think the map is in error in locating this line and the town should be Upton, five miles farther east. From the Iowa state line it goes in a northwesterly direction to Bloomfield, there being only about four miles of the line in Van Buren county. Of the ten proposed railways that were surveyed through Van Buren county, this was the only line that would not have passed through Keosauqua, had the road been built.


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The Milton Herald of June, 1878, states that petitions for an election are being circulated about Hillsboro to vote a 5 per cent tax to aid in building the Burlington, Denmark & Keosauqua railroad. This is not shown on any map that I have seen.

On January 13, 1880, fourteen citizens of Keosauqua filed articles of incorporation for a railroad company by the name of Keosauqua & Southwestern railroad. So far as I can find, nothing came of this company.

On July 16, 1906, articles of incorporation were filed for the Iowa & Missouri Traction and Power Co., many signers of which were residents of Van Buren county. On August 14 a special election was held in Van Buren township to vote a tax of 5 per cent to aid in building this interurban railway. The vote carried for the tax by a majority of 342, including the women's vote. On August 21st there was a special election in the town of Birmingham for a tax of 3 per cent which was carried by a majority of only 15.

Nothing came of this enterprise. Several prominent citizens of Van Buren county each purchased a $1,000 share of this interurban stock, all of which was lost.

This was the last effort made to get transportation facilities from Fairfield to Memphis through Keosauqua. With very unsatisfactory train service at this time, Keosauqua feels the need of another railroad, from north to south, even more than it did back in 1906.

Keosauqua Republican published on August 15, 1935 in a 146 page "book" on the paper's 80th anniversary.

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