Our Iowa Heritage: The Rock Island Iowa City Depot.

When the Mississippi and Missouri Railroad committed to complete their line from Davenport to Iowa City (1853), the Iowa City delegation sweetened the deal by offering a $50,000 bonus if M&M would complete their 55-mile track before January 1st, 1856.

Railroad Arrives – 1856 – an oil painting by Iowa City artist Mildred Pelzer (1934). Click here to read more about Mildred Pelzer’s amazing mural.

In preparation for this highly-anticipated arrival, the good people of Iowa City built a small depot at the south end of Johnson Street (four blocks to the east of the present Rock Island station). While there are no known pictures of this depot, it faithfully served Iowa Citians until 1898.

In 1854 – the proposed location of the M&M station #1 was just a bit west of where it actually was built in 1856.

Iowa City historian, Irving Weber, tells us…

Again, Weber conveys this intriguing story from 1860…

The Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad Passenger Station.

(L-0077) 1860 Appleton’s Railway Timetable for Chicago-Iowa City trains via Rock Island and Mississippi & Missouri Railways.

In 1866, M&M Railroad was bought out by the Rock Island Railroad.

In 1898, a new Rock Island Depot was built at 115 Wright Street, costing $25,000 using a design similar in plans to other larger stations in Ottawa, IL and Council Bluffs, IA. The records from the National Register of Historical Places (NRHP) show…

(M-0089) Stan Haring Artwork: Iowa City Rock Island Depot.

Throughout the first half of the 20th century, the Rock Island Depot served as the major transportation hub for people coming in and out of Iowa City.

Daily service included the CRI&P’s Corn Belt Rocket and Rocky Mountain Rocket passenger lines.

(P-0188) Iowa City Rock Island Depot.
Crowd gathered at depot waiting for football train, The University of Iowa, 1913
(P-0230)
(L-0010)
Circa 1930’s.

(M-0021) September 1947 – Arriving on the Corn Belt Rocket at the Rock Island Depot in Iowa City. The Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad named its post-depression passenger trains “Rockets” not just for speed, but after the first American steam passenger locomotive of 1852. The Corn Belt Rocket started service in 1947 and connected Chicago with Omaha across Illinois and Iowa. It was a day train (no sleepers). Here is a one-way ticket from Philadelphia to Iowa City, dated September, 1947 This passenger would have taken the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) from Philadelphia to Chicago, and then change trains to the Corn Belt Rocket  – Seat 29 in Car C.

Circa 1950’s.

The Rock Island Depot ceased passenger operations in 1970, although the railroad continued to maintain offices here into the 1980’s.

In 1982, the depot was acquired by two attorneys, one of which, Dale Sanderson (1950-2020), was a close family friend, for use as offices, and it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places that same year. Today, the building sits adjacent to the Iowa Interstate Railroad lines.

While passenger rail service in Iowa City ended years ago, recently (until 2021) the Hawkeye Express was used to transport football fans to Kinnick Stadium using the old Mississippi & Missouri/Rock Island line that once took passengers from Iowa City to Marengo as early as 1860.

The Rock Island Railroad played a big part in our Boller history. Click here to read more about that part of Our Iowa Heritage…or shall I say, Missouri?


Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.

Rock Island Railroad Bridge Over Iowa River – 1860, Irving Weber, Historical Stories About Iowa City – Volume 2, Article 114, 1975, pp. 2-4

Iowa City Railroad Station, Wikipedia

Rock Island Depot National Register of Historic Places Inventory, National Park Service

Crowd gathered at depot, University of Iowa Digital Library

The Hawkeye Express – An intrinsic part of the game-day experience, David Harmantas, The Daily Iowan, November 9, 2018

Dale Sanderson obituary, Gay & Ciha Funeral Home

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