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National Endowment for  the Arts


American Alliance of Museums


Home > Exhibitions > Railroads of Muscatine County

Railroads of Muscatine County

June 29, 2014 – February 22, 2015

Railroads of Muscatine County

Since 1855 when the first railroad line was constructed in Muscatine, the City has laid claim to over 35 named railroads. Some advanced the City’s prosperity, while others were merely proposed or renamed by active railroads as they grew or came out of bankruptcy. In the early 1900s, Muscatine had four active railroads, two inter-urbans and a city trolley system. The exhibition, “Railroads of Muscatine County”, highlights artifacts, photographs and artwork to explore the histories of these seven local railroads which include: Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific RR; Burlington, Cedar Rapids & Northern RR; Citizens Railway & Light Company city trolley; Muscatine North & South Railway; Chicago, Milwaukee St. Paul & Pacific RR; Clinton, Davenport & Muscatine interurban and the Muscatine & Iowa City Railway Company. The exhibit features engaging components for the young and the ‘young at heart’, including a toy train table, step-on caboose and working “O and S Gauge” model railroads.


The 1850s brought some of the first railroad milestones in the Midwest. The first land grant railroad in the United States was completed with the arrival of the Illinois Central in the area of East Dubuque, Illinois. The first railroad bridge to span the Mississippi River connected Rock Island, Illinois and Davenport, Iowa, and was completed in 1856. President Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railway Act in 1862 to authorize construction of the first transcontinental railroad.
 Leaders throughout Iowa recognized that the railroad would be an important tool in transporting goods, raw materials and passengers into and out of their communities. Towns competed with each other to attract railroad lines. Considerable capital and years of planning and constructing were required to launch a new railway line. Mississippi River towns like Muscatine relied on the river for the transportation of goods, but the railway system greatly expanded the town’s ability to quickly reach new markets, especially those to the west.
 Many area railroads faced receivership (corporate bankruptcy), multiple reorganizations, buyouts and breakups of the railway line. Rail lines were marginally profitable, and as better roads and more affordable automobiles were introduced, many rail lines were scrapped.
 “Railroads of Muscatine County” will open at the Annual Ice Cream Social on Sunday, June 29th with activities from 1 to 5 p.m. The exhibition will run through January 25, 2015.