The Little Engine that Did—another first for Davenport!

This week, we are celebrating the upcoming anniversary of the first locomotive in Iowa, which arrived in Davenport on July 19, 1855. 

This was a pretty big deal—most people were counting on reliable overland transportation to be as much of a gold mine west of the Mississippi as it was to the east.  By 1855, the Mississippi & Missouri Railroad had already laid tracks through Davenport towards Des Moines in one direction and Muscatine in the other–and they  just couldn’t wait to get things running.

But, as we all know from a previous entry on this humble blog, the first railroad bridge over the Mississippi River wasn’t completed until a year later.  So how did the train get here?

By boat, of course. 

According to the Sunday Democrat-Times– which ran a 100th anniversary article on August 17, 1955–the M&M railroad hired a special barge to ferry the small locomotive over to where nearly all of Davenport had gathered to welcome it.    A few hours later, the engine had been fed a load of pine wood and enough steam had been built to take its inaugural run.

Twenty-five prominent citizens took that first crowded train trip—the first train trip in the state.  The whistle blew at every intersection, drawing cheers from the crowds.    Alas, the trip was cut short at the west border of the city by a low-hanging branch over the tracks.  Loathe to risk damage to the brand new locomotive, the engineer took her back to the business district, where everyone could take a gander before it was put to work. 

The engine was named the Antoine LeClaire, after one of Davenport’s founders and leading citizens.  Mr. LeClaire had supported the railroad all along, not only by helping to finance the M&M, but by donating his former house—the Treaty House, which was built on the spot where the Blackhawk Treaty was signed– as a railroad station.

Railroading caught on as well as those early supporters would have wished.  By the 100th anniversary of that first train, Iowa had about 8,600 miles of track covering the state.

(posted by Sarah)

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