More history can be found in Historical and Descriptive Review of Nebraska, Vol II - 1892, found in the NEGenWeb Project OnLine Library and part of the Mardos Memorial Library. The chapter on Lincoln includes information on several railroads, pp. 217-221. You can find a chart on Railroad mileage in Nebraska on p. 14.
Nebraska first grew along its rivers and navigable streams. People, livestock, and equipment were brought in by boat, ferry, and even canoe. Timber for construction was found along the rivers and streams. Nebraska's first communities sprang up along the Missouri, the Platte, the Ombria and other navigable rivers.
For the interior of Nebraska to grow, it would take some other form of transportation. Wagons could and did do this for a while. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of teamsters using tens of thousands oxen, mules and horses hauled food, lumber, dry goods, and even people to the interior of Nebraska. However, to really grow, it took the coming of the iron roads and the steam engines that traveled these steel rails bringing people and vital materials for growth.
In the interior of Nebraska, existing communities that were not located along the route of the railroads soon shriveled up and died. New communities sprouted up along the train route and prospered. Some communities physically moved their entire town many miles from the original location to be next to the railroad. This proved to be a smart move for those communities that made the effort.
The effort to bring the railroads to Nebraska was monumental. Many speculators lost all they had in trying to bring these iron horses to this vast country. Yet, others prospered beyond expectations for investing in this task. These iron roads are what truly opened up Nebraska (and the rest of the west) to settlement.
As early as 1778, east coast visionaries for saw a vast rail line running to the Pacific Ocean. Occupation of the Columbia River area and Oregon Territory was on the minds of many politicians from the time of Lewis and Clark on. In 1825, Senator Thomas Benton urged Congress to consider forming a line of "communication for commercial purposes" between the Missouri River and the Pacific Ocean. This idea evolved into a great system traversing the continent, and Nebraska stood right in the middle.
Ten years after Senator Benton, one Reverend Samuel Parker journeyed across the continent and made the statement that "the mountains presented no insuperable obstacle to a railroad." What qualifications he had to make that statement is not known by me, but history proved him right.
In 1836, public meetings were held in various places east of Nebraska to consider the possibility of a Pacific railway. Engineers, newspaper editors, speculators and politicians urged such an idea. From this time on, interest in such a railway gained momentum. The explorations of Fremont in 1842 and 1846 caused Congress to become more interested.
During this time congress appropriated large sums on money for construction of this iron road. The area between the 32nd and 49th parallels were scouted and surveyed for the best route. Private enterprise explored and developed a line along the 42nd parallel.
In 1852 The Mississippi Railroad was being built across the state of Iowa as an extension of the Chicago and Rock Island railroad line, which ended in Rock Island, Illinois. The Mississippi was to terminate at the Missouri River. Politics played a big role in having the Mississippi line end in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The communities of Council Bluffs, IA and Omaha, NE got together and sent a delegation to New York to offer financial incentives and land if the railroad would terminate in Council Bluffs instead of farther south were it was more practical. These two communities realized their existence was on the line. Their persistence paid off, as the railroad altered its route to end in Council Bluffs.
A railroad bridge was built across the Missouri River from Council Bluffs to Omaha. In Omaha, the Union Pacific railroad went to points west, delivering supplies to military forts and other outposts of civilization. In between, communities sprang up and grew as a result of having railroad transportation nearby. From Omaha, routes eventually headed for Oregon (Union Pacific) and California (Union Pacific and Central Pacific). For a more detailed account of the inception of the Union Pacific Railroad, see The Andreas' History of Douglas County .
Another great railway system, The Burlington and Missouri River, was the second most important railroad in Nebraska in the early days. This line ran from Burlington, Iowa to Plattsmouth, Nebraska and later on to Kearney, Nebraska (90 miles). Lines were built from Omaha to Plattsmouth (21 miles), where various connections were made.
By July , 1866, the Union Pacific had pushed its rails all the way across Nebraska. At this time, passenger fares were set at ten cents a mile. In 1868, passenger fares were reduced to seven and a half cents a mile. It was also in this year that the Omaha & Southwestern Railway (later absorbed by the Burlington System) came into being. Rails were laid by this system from Omaha to Lincoln. Many prominent Nebraska citizens invested in the Omaha & Southwestern venture. Men like S.S. Caldwell, Henry T. Clarke, Enos Lowe, A.S. Paddock, George W. Frost, Clinton Briggs, John Y. Clopper, Ezra Millard, Jonas Gise, and Alvin Saunders were major shareholders and office holders of this railroad.
By 1869, Union Pacific rails ran from Omaha, Nebraska to Promontory Point, Utah. From Promontory Point, the (Central Pacific) rails ran to the Pacific Ocean, giving a west coast outlet for Nebraska (and east coast) goods. Some of these goods were then further shipped as far as the Orient. In this year also, the Nebraska legislature appropriated 2,000 acres per mile to any railroad for every ten miles of its route completed within one year (but not to exceed 10,000 acres). This caused a lot of railroad activity within the state for this and several years afterward. In October of this year, James E. Boyd and other investors proposed the Omaha and Northwestern Railroad project (incorporated as "Northwestern"), which would build some 250 miles of railroad into the Elkhorn and Niobara Valleys. Investors included J.E. Boyd, Ezra and J.H. Millard, J.A. Horback, J.S. McCormick, H. Kountze, C.H. Downs, J.A. Morrow, Q. A. Paxton, and A. Kountze.
Also in 1869, ground was broken in Lincoln for the Burlington line. The Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley (later part of Northwestern) built its first ten miles near Blair.
Between 1870 and 1872, lines were run to Desoto, Nebraska City, Crete, Hastings, and through Richardson, Pawnee, Johnson and Gage Counties, plus a line ran to Atchison Kansas. In September of 1872, the Burlington and Missouri brought one train with 720 passengers, 600 from Iowa and points east. This is indicative of the influx of immigrants Nebraska was starting to receive because the railroads.
Between 1872 and 1874, lines were graded or completed to Kearney Junction, Herman, Tekamah, Sioux City (Iowa), Grand Island and connections to Denver, St. Paul, Chicago, St. Joseph and links from Lincoln to Seward County were completed.
By 1884, Nebraska was fairly covered with iron roads. Freight wars broke out between The Union Pacific and the Burlington railroad companies. There was hardly a point in Nebraska that could not be reached by the immigrant and the tourist, and rates were reasonable, and traveling at speeds around 60 miles an hour in the open country, got them there relatively fast.
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