EARLY HISTORY OF OMAHA.
THE CHICAGO AND NORTHWESTERN THE FIRST TO REACH OMAHA--THE KANSAS CITY, ST. JOE AND C. B. CAME SECOND--THE CHICAGO AND ROCK ISLAND THIRD--THE CHICAGO, BURLINGTON AND QUINCY FOURTH--THE OMAHA AND NORTHWESTERN--THE B. AND M. IN NEBRASKA--THE BUILDING OF THE UNION PACIFIC AND SOME INCIDENTS CONNECTED THEREWITH--GRAND CELEBRATION AT OMAHA UPON ITS COMPLETION--THE BRIDGE--ILLUSTRATION--THE INITIAL POINT FIGHT--THE OMAHA AND REPUBLICAN VALLEY RAILROAD--A PLEASANT REMINISCENCE OF GEN. SHERMAN.
Kansas City, St. Joe & Council Bluffs, or as it is more popularly known, the Omaha & St. Louis Short Line. Frank Moores is the Omaha ticket agent of this road.
The Burlington & Missouri, now called the Chicago, Burlington Quincy railroad, was completed in 1868. Harry Deuel is the Omaha ticket agent of this road as well as of the Chicago & Northwestern and Chicago & Rock Island railroads.
The Omaha & Northwestern was begun in 1869, and was built to Herman, a distance of forty miles. During the present year it was extended seven miles further to Tekamah. The first president of this road was Mr. James E. Boyd, who was greatly instrumental in organizing the company. Had it not been organized just at the time it was, Omaha would not have the road. The proposition to submit the voting of bonds for the Omaha & Southwestern road was then being agitated, and the Omaha & Northwestern company was hurriedly organized so that their bonds could be submitted at the same time. The stock in the Omaha & Northwestern went rather slow after a certain amount had been disposed of. Then James E. Boyd took three-twentieths, or one-sixth of the whole amount, William A. Paxton two-twentieths, and John A. Morrow two-twentieths. The other stock-holders were John A. Redick, Herman Kountze, Edward Creighton, Jonas Gise, John A. Harbach, C. H. Downs, Frank Smith, G. M. Mills, and the Millards.
The Omaha & Southwestern was commenced in 1869 and built to Lincoln, the capital, a distance of fifty miles. The president was S. S. Caldwell, and among the stockholders were John Y. Clopper, Clinton Briggs, Henry Gray, Frank Murphy, A. S. Paddock, and Frank Smith. In 1872 this road passed into the hands of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy railroad, which corporation extended it to Kearney, where it unites with the Union Pacific, about one hundred and ninety miles from Omaha. This line is now called the Burlington &
Missouri in Nebraska. The general offices are located at Omaha, having been moved here from Plattsmouth about a year ago. Mr. William Irving is the general superintendent.
It is over the B. & M. in Nebraska, the Atchison & Nebraska and the Missouri Pacific that Omaha now has a through line to St. Louis on the west side of the Missouri river. This line was established in the early part of this year, and is called the Omaha & St. Louis Cut-off. H. D. Shull is the Omaha ticket agent.
Omaha now has six passenger trains daily to and from Chicago, four to and from St. Louis, besides the Union Pacific trains, and those of the Omaha & Northwestern and B. & M. in Nebraska. Omaha has also direct railroad communication with Sioux City and St. Paul.
The history of the Union Pacific railroad--the grandest and most important enterprise of the kind that was ever undertaken--is still fresh in the public mind, but nevertheless that history, however briefly related, will ever prove of great interest to the reader, especially if he be a resident of Omaha. We shall speak more especially of the facts and incidents relating to Omaha, as this is a local history.
The project of a railroad to the Pacific ocean had long been agitated, in a vague and indefinite way, until in 1853, the government sent out four different parties to the West to investigate the practicability of such a road, and upon their making a favorable report, the scheme was discussed at various times. At last, in the year 1862, Congress passed an act authorizing the building of a trunk road from the one hundredth meridian, which was two hundred miles west of Omaha. There were to be three branches, one from the western boundary of Iowa, one from Sioux City west and the other from the western boundary of Missouri, all of course to connect with the main line. The routes of the Sioux City and southern branches were afterwards changed.
The initial points were to be designated by the President of the United States, and on the 17th of November, 1863, he fixed the initial point of the main branch, by an order, as follows: "At a point on the western boundary of the State of Iowa, opposite section ten, in township fifteen, north of range thirteen, east of the sixth principal meridian, in the Territory of Nebraska." The act for the construction of the road provided that the branch reaching the one hundredth meridian first should build the remainder of the line and receive a donation of 13,875,200 acres of land.
A company for the undertaking of this stupendous project was soon organized, and on the morning of December A 1863, a dispatch came from headquarters to the engineer at Omaha directing him to begin work at once. The good news soon circulated all over the city and created most intense enthusiasm, and in the afternoon over one thousand people collected in the vicinity of the old telegraph crossing on the bottoms, and "broke ground" with great ceremony. After a prayer for the success of the undertaking, the first earth was removed by Governor Saunders and Mayor Kennedy, of Omaha, and Mayor Palmer, of Council Bluffs. Guns were fired, and deafening cheers arose from the assemblage. Governor Saunders, Mayor Kennedy, Dr. G. C. Monell, Hon. A. J. Poppleton, and A. V. Larimer each made a speech full of what was then considered extravagant predictions. George Francis Train, the great enthusiast, was present, and in his speech predicted that the Union Pacific railroad would be completed before the year 1870. His audience considered that a little too extravagant and laughed at him, but he was correct. President Lincoln and many prominent men sent telegrams to Omaha in regard to the auspicious opening of the project, and they were received with great enthusiasm by the crowd, to whom they were read.
The next spring, 1864, the work of grading was begun. After about one hundred thousand dollars had been spent on the due westerly
course, it was abandoned, because it was too hilly to allow the road to be completed to the one hundredth meridian in time to save the charter, as it was claimed, and two new routes were then surveyed. One was to the north and thence west. The other was to the south, nearly to Bellevue, and thence northwest. The latter was called the "ox-bow," and was chosen by the company, notwithstanding the violent opposition of the people of Omaha, who had great fears that the company intended to cross the Missouri river at Bellevue and leave Omaha out in the cold. The greatest anxiety existed at Omaha at this time. Everything was finally harmoniously settled, however, and upon the abandonment of the idea of starting from Bellevue, Omaha breathed easy once again.
The grading was then rapidly pushed forward, and the laying of the track followed almost as fast. Every twenty miles was duly inspected by the proper persons, appointed for that purpose, and numerous excursions were made to the end of the track, as it was moved from point to point. Fifty miles of the road were completed and in running order by the 1st of January, 1866. The ties for the road from Omaha to the Platte valley were obtained from the Missouri river bottoms. Being of cottonwood they were put through the "Burnetizing Process," which made them impervious to either animal or vegetable parasites. The ties for the remainder of the road were of hardwood and were obtained from Michigan, Pennsylvania, and other distant states, and frequently cost as high as two dollars and a half per tie laid down in Omaha. There was a break in railroad communication between Omaha and Des Moines, a distance of one hundred and thirty-three miles, and consequently everything had to be transported by teams from that point or by steamboats up the Missouri. The seventy-horse-power engine of the railroad shops at Omaha was transported in wagons from Des Moines to Omaha. The company started their extensive shops soon after beginning the work of building
the railroad, and they were completed in the fall of 1865. The shops consist of a dozen or more large and substantial brick structures, covering an extensive area of ground. They give employment to between six and seven hundred men, among whom over half a million of dollars is paid out annually. Mr. J. H. Congdon is superintendent of the locomotive department, and Mr. George E. Stevens is the superintendent of the car department.
There were two hundred and sixty miles laid during the year 1866; two hundred and forty miles in 1867; and from January 1st 1868 to May 10, 1869, five hundred and fifty-five miles were laid, completing the road.
The great work was finished in three years, six months and ten days from the time it was started. This was about seven years sooner than the limit limit fixed by Congress.
In the construction of the road there were used 300,000 tons of rails, 1,700,000 fish-plates, 6,800,000 bolts, 6,126,375 ties, and 23,505,500 spikes.
The Casement brothers, contractors, frequently laid the track at the rate of five miles per day.
During the building of the road, and afterwards, the Indians occasionally molested the employes, and on one occasion, in August, 1867, they attacked a freight train near Plum Creek. The fireman and engineer were instantly killed, and the body of the fireman was thrown, into the fire-box of the locomotive and burned to a crisp. One of the brakemen escaped, and running along the track saved an approaching train from the same fate.
The celebration at Omaha in honor of the completion of the road and its junction with the Central Pacific was a grand affair. It was a general holiday for everybody. Private and public buildings were ornamented with decorations of all kinds--flags, festoons, banners and mottoes. A telegraph line was run to a
building on Capitol Hill, and direct communication was had with Promontory, where the golden spike, at the junction of the two roads, was being driven into the last tie--of laurel wood--with a silver hammer. When the last blow was given at Promontory it was instantly known at Omaha, where one hundred guns were fired in
rapid succession when the announcement was made.
A procession was formed in the afternoon on Farnham street, and, with flags and banners flying, marched to Capitol Square where the meeting was presided over by Gov. Saunders. Eloquent speeches were made by Gen. Clinton B. Fisk, of Missouri, and Gen. Manderson and Judge Wakeley, of Omaha, amidst the most unbounded enthusiasm.
The illumination in the evening was a brilliant spectacle. The city was one blaze of, light, while the display of pyrotechnics was very beautiful. It was the grandest day that has ever been recorded in the history of Omaha.
While the Union Pacific railroad was in process of construction and for some time afterwards, Omaha was a very busy city, and during those few years she made rapid strides, both in acquiring population, in general improvements, and in wealth.
The next thing necessary was a railroad bridge at Omaha over the Missouri. This structure was not commenced until after the Union Pacific had been finished, although the initiatory steps had been taken in 1866 by getting an act passed through Congress. A fight arose as as to its location, whether it should be a low bridge at the "Telegraph Poles," or six miles down the the river at "Child's Mills." Council Bluffs objected to the "Telegraph Poles," and both Council Bluffs and Omaha opposed "Child's Mills." The location where the bridge now, stands was finally agreed upon. Omaha voted $250,000 in bonds as aid to the bridge in consideration that she, should have the main transfer depots, general offices, machine shops,
etc. Council Bluffs voted $200,000 in bonds on the same condition but the company never received them, and of course Omaha obtained the principal benefits to be derived from the enterprise. The Bridge Company was authorized by special act of Congress to issue bonds to the amount of $2,500,000, and these bonds were sold in England.
The Boomer Bridge Company, of Chicago, on the 4th of September, 1868, secured the contract of building the bridge for $1,089,500, the time of its completion to be November 10, 1869. They were greatly delayed and did not get the first cylinder ready for, sinking until March, 1869. In July following the Union Pacific took hold of the work, the contract having been annulled with the Boomer Bridge Company.
The structure was completed on the 25th of March, 1873. It is two thousand seven hundred and fifty feet long--eleven, spans of two hundred and fifty feet each--and is composed entirely of iron. The superstructure is supported by piers, each formed of two iron pneumatic tubes, sunk in sections, and filled with cement masonry, each tube eight and a half feet in diameter. About five hundred men were employed constantly in the construction of the bridge, with the exception of seven or eight months suspension of work; and ten steam engines were used in hoisting material, driving piles, excavating, and otherwise putting the different parts of the bridge in position. The elevation of the bridge above high water mark is fifty feet. The bridge is approached from the Iowa side by a grade about one mile and a half long, thirty-five feet rise to the mile, and on the Nebraska side there is a trestle-work, now filled in with earth, about fifty feet in height and about seven hundred feet long. This bridge, one of the largest in the country , is said to have cost over $2,000,000. It is a masterpiece of engineering and mechanical skill.
When the work was finished, the transfer of passengers by boats was done away with of course, and the old wooden depots
on the bottoms and on Ninth street were abandoned as soon as the present large brick depot, with iron truss roof, was completed, at a cost of over $100,000.
Upon the completion of the bridge a fierce struggle arose between Council Bluffs and Omaha as to which place should be the initial point of the Union Pacific railroad, the real question being whether the Union Pacific should cross its trains over the bridge to Iowa, or the Iowa roads come over to Nebraska. Both parties were obstinate, and as the Iowa roads held out, they being obliged to under the Iowa laws which gave them existence, the Union Pacific resorted to a little strategy. They organized a "Bridge Transfer company,'' and operated it as a separate institution, thus making a transfer at Omaha, and conveying passengers and freight over the bridge by transfer train.
Council Bluffs had always maintained that the eastern terminus of the road was in Iowa, according to President Lincoln's order, and they finally brought a mandamus suit against the Union Pacific
compelling them to show cause why they should, not operate their road as a continuous line to and from the Iowa side of the Missouri river. Judge Dillon decided the case in favor of Council Bluffs, compelling the road to run its through trains to and from the Iowa side of the river, and allowing them to still charge the usual toll on the bridge. This decision was affirmed by the Supreme Court of the United States, and the Union Pacific began running their through trains to and from Spoon Lake station, in compliance with this order, in May of the present year.
The general offices of the Union Pacific railroad are located at Omaha. Mr. S. H. H. Clark is the general superintendent; Mr., Thomas L. Kimball is the general ticket agent; E. P. Vining, general freight agent; J. W. Gannett, auditor; O. F. Davis, land commissioner.
The Union Pacific company is now building a branch road called the Omaha & Republican Valley railroad. It is being constructed from Valley Station to Wahoo, in Saunders county, and the cars will be running from Wahoo to Omaha by the 1st of January, 1877. Saunders county recently voted $140,000 in bonds to aid this road, which is to be pushed on through Butler, Polk and other counties to the Republican Valley. This new route opens up to Omaha the richest agricultural section of the state.
This brief sketch cannot be more appropriately closed than by quoting the following extract from a chapter of Dr. Miller's "Home 'Gossip," which appeared in the Omaha Herald three or four years ago:
"We may have told the story before, but it will bear telling again as apropos in this connection, besides being a good thing in itself. When Durant took a locomotive and baggage and flat car for the first excursion over the Union Pacific railroad, General Sherman was the chief character in a party of fifteen or twenty gentlemen
who rode out to the first 'end of the track,' Sailing's Grove, about fifteen miles distant. Mr. Poppleton and others were in the party. There was no passenger car in the 'train.' The flat car with boards placed on nail kegs and covered with robes, answered as a substitute. The baggage car contained a great many baskets and bottles, which were not empty. Durant seldom had such vehicles, and vessels empty in those days. The party was jolly in going out, and hilarious in coming in. The inspiration of riding over fifteen miles of completed Pacific railway inspired all, and particularly the hero of 'the march to the sea.' Speeches were in order as the 'train' halted, and everybody was anxious for a speech from Sherman. Loud calls and shouts succeeded the usual preparatives, and the soldier arose to the full heighth of the occasion. He recounted his own experience in sinking five or more thousands of dollars, long years ago, in California, in an effort to start the Pacific railroad, reviewed the dream of other days, and wound up with the expression of a hope, half in despair, that he might live to see the day, but could scarcely expect it at his age, when the two oceans would be connected by a complete Pacific railroad. In thirty-six months from that time the distinguished soldier scaled the Rocky Mountains in one of Pullman's Palaces at the rate of thirty miles an hour, over one of the best constructed and best managed railways in America."'
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