Richard Warner, D.D.S. Family Dentistry in Council Bluffs, Iowa
(Story by Dr. Richard Warner)
Council Bluffs-- The City of Depots
The Chicago and North Western depot was razed to make way for the West Broadway viaduct in the early 1950s.
The Illinois Central depot sat just north of West Broadway at 12th Street.
The Rock Island depot at South Main and 16th Avenue was built in 1899 and today houses the RailsWest Museum, operated by the Historical Society.
At a time when Council Bluffs far eclipsed Omaha in prominence, the growing number of railroads entering the city needed facilities to handle large amounts of freight and great numbers of passengers. A variety of depots and freight houses were built, remodeled, and rebuilt to handle the ever changing demands over the years.
The first depot in Council Bluffs belonged to the first railroad to bring service to the city, the Chicago & North Western. The railroad broke ground for the two story wooden structure in September of 1866, just south of where the Broadway viaduct is today. A new depot was erected in 1892 of brown brick, creating a striking impression with it’s towers, gables, and long platforms at West Broadway and 12th Street; it served for over fifty years. When the Broadway viaduct was built in the early 1950s the depot was torn down and the adjoining baggage room to the south remodeled to serve as a station. This new facility was used for passenger service for only six years. North Western began stopping it’s streamliners only in Omaha in 1955 and discontinued service to Council Bluffs entirely in 1959. The building still stands today, one of two Council Bluffs passenger stations yet in existence. It is currently a bar and lounge.
Union Pacific’s first station in town was a two story frame structure; fire destroyed the building in 1876. That same year construction began on the Union Pacific’s legendary Transfer Hotel. The Transfer wasn’t merely a depot; it was heralded as the finest railroad facility between Chicago and San Francisco, complete with a hotel of over two hundred rooms, lunch room, and the most elegant restaurant in the city. Rooms boasted marble topped black walnut furniture and gas lighting. The Wabash began passenger operations in Council Bluffs in 1879 and used the transfer as its depot as well. The transfer hotel fell largely into disuse as more passenger services migrated to Omaha stations. The hotel closed in 1927, though the grounds remained bustling with mail trains and postal workers for almost another forty years. Most of the transfer hotel was torn down to make way for a modernized Railway Mail Service Terminal building in 1938; the last remaining portion was razed in 1966.
To attract the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy the city donated 20 acres of land in 1868 for passenger and freight terminals. A large freight house was built that extended from around Fifteenth Avenue north to the site of the passenger station. When Burlington quit using the freight house in 1956 it was considered to be the oldest railroad building in continuous use in the city. The 1201 South Main Street depot that served passengers for almost 80 years was constructed in 1893; it was purchased in June, 1972 by Blue Star Foods, torn down a few months later and replaced with a parking lot.
The Chicago Great Western built a depot at Ninth Avenue and South Main Street the same year they arrived in Council Bluffs, 1903. In 1955 the CGW opened a new depot at 15th Avenue and Third Street; it was vrazed last year.
A “two-story structure of brown brick, flanked by grounds alive with grass and flowers” served Illinois Central passengers at 12th and West Broadway. It was built in 1900, and sat just north of today’s Broadway viaduct. Illinois Central dropped passenger service to the city in 1939 and the bulk of the station was demolished in 1942.
The Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific established a depot at Main Street and 16th Avenue for their passengers’ use. The original depot was destroyed September 26, 1881 in what was perhaps the biggest explosion in the city’s history. A rail-car loaded with dynamite sitting a short distance from the depot was likely ignited by a small fire started from sparks of a passing steam engine. The resultant blast shattered windows downtown more than a mile away, and the depot was a total loss.
A new Rock Island depot was built on the same site in 1899. The Romanesque Revival style building was constructed in the Rock Island’s standard design for their medium size depots. The Milwaukee Road also used the Rock Island depot for its passenger service.
After sitting vacant for five years the depot was restored by the Historical Society of Pottawattamie and operates today as the RailsWest Museum. The museum features exhibits depicting the city’s railroad glory days and the grounds feature a number of rail cars visitors and climb aboard and explore.