References to the
of Eastern Nebraska
Andreas' History of the State of
Early Rail Lines
first to build a bridge across the Missouri River in the
area -- at Omaha
built a bridge across the Missouri River at
Plattsmouth & Nebraska City
& Missouri River Railroad
Established in Nebraska before 1870, it was actually a
subsidiary of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy
(merger of _____ & _____)
Beginning in 1869, the Omaha & Northwestern Railroad started laying tracks in
Omaha (at Izard Street) and
built 40 miles north to Herman, Nebraska. This line eventually became part of
the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha.
The Chicago & Northwestern Lines (C&NW)
????Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley
& North Western Historical Society!]
The Sioux City & Pacific railroad
organized in 1864, in Iowa and then acquired the Northern
Nebraska Air Line by consolidation. Built the Blair Bridge in
The Northern Nebraska Air Line
organized June 7, 1867
Milwaukee & St. Paul Known as the "Milwaukee
St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha (CSPM&O)
Served the following: Dakota (after 1872), Douglas (before
& Missouri Valley Railroad (FE&MVRR). Started
building their Nebraska route, which became known as the
"Cowboy Line" in 1869.
Railroads: Burlington & Missouri River Railroad
During 1870, twenty-six and one-half miles of
road were completed to De Soto and a lease entered into with John I. Blair of a
branch of the Missouri & Pacific road, known as the "De Soto Plug," by which
communication between Omaha and Blair became direct and regular. Business grew
in proportions, the country contiguous to the line contained a population of
40,000, and was being rapidly settled by an energetic, industrious class of
farmers and business men. The road received $200,000 in 10 per cent twenty-year
bonds from Douglas County; $150,000 in 8 per cent twenty-year bonds from
Washington County for the building of the road from the south to the north line
of the latter county; in addition, 2,000 acres per mile from the State and
liberal donations from other northern counties. It was proving a valuable
auxiliary to Omaha and rapidly bringing Northern Nebraska into full communion
with the East. The financial condition of affairs was at this time most
satisfactory. The cost of the road had been thus far $450,000, for which cash
was paid and no mortgage bonds issued. October 7, 1871, the road was completed
to Herman, on the line of Washington and Burt Counties, and located seven miles
north to Tekama [sic], with the prospect of extending a branch by way of Logan Creek
and Elkhorn Valley to the mouth of the Niobrara.
The Chicago & Northwestern Lines. [source]
The Sioux City & Pacific railroad
company was organized August 1, 1864, in Iowa. The Northern Nebraska Air Line
was organized June 7, 1867. The Sioux City & Pacific acquired the Northern
Nebraska Air Line by consolidation September 15, 1868. It was built from
California Junction, in Iowa, to the Missouri river and from the Missouri river
near Blair, Nebraska, to Fremont, completed in February, 1869. Its Iowa
organization received a small grant of lands through act of Congress, of July,
1864. It maintained a steamboat ferry at Blair in summer, and generally, in
extreme cold weather, a track on the ice across the Missouri river in winter, to
the time of the completion of the present Missouri Valley & Blair railway and
bridge, August 9, 1882.
The Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley railway company was
organized January 20, 1869. This company never had any land
grant. It commenced construction at Fremont, after the
completion of the Sioux City & Pacific to that point in 1869.
It was extended in that year to Maple Creek, Nebraska, ten
miles north of Fremont. In 1870 it wag completed to West Point
and in 1871 to Wisner, and there rested till 1879, when it was
extended fifty-eight miles to
Oakdale, and in 1880 to Neligh;
also from Norfolk junction to Plainview. In 1881 the branch
was ex-tended from Plainview to Creighton, ten miles, and the
main line in the same year was extended from Neligh to Long
Pine, about ninety-eight miles.
of Nebraska: From the earliest Explorations of the
by J. Sterling Morton and Albert Watkins.
There are forty miles of railroad in the county. The Sioux City & Pacific
running through from east to west, twenty miles; and the Chicago, St. Paul,
Minneapolis & Omaha, twenty miles, running through from north to south. These two roads have completed an elegant and commodious frame union depot at
Spanning the Missouri River.
“Westward expansion accelerated demands for transportation, resulting in rapid
railroad expansion, speculation in real estate, and a general scramble for quick
fortunes. Speculation was particularly common in the outfitting centers that
engaged in the lucrative business of supplying immigrants,” particularly Council
Bluffs and Sioux City. Once it was enough to bring goods to the Missouri River
and then transfer them to steamboats. Later, laborers transferred cargoes from
the rail cars to ferries at the Missouri River crossing, then back to rail cars
on the other side. By the 1870s a bridge spanning the Missouri became vital to
the health of the railroads and the outfitters.
Building a bridge across the Missouri was no easy task. According to Grenville
Dodge, Chief Engineer for the Union Pacific Railroad, the Missouri River was the
most formidable obstacle to travel between the Atlantic and the Pacific due to
its unpredictable nature and violent channel shifts. Early (pre-1870) bridges
were wooden. Later bridges employed the use of iron, which was less vulnerable
to floods, but was very expensive. Because of the high cost of iron, many
bridges were a combination of iron and wood. After the Bessemer process was
developed, steel was more affordable, so it was used exclusively for strength.
Octave Chanute was the first to construct a railroad bridge across the Missouri
River. Completed in 1869, Chanute’s bridge spanned the Missouri at Kansas City.
The following year the Army built a bridge further north to provide access to
Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Shortly thereafter the publicly
funded Atchinson and St. Joseph Bridge was constructed to link those two cities.
Undoubtedly, the Union Pacific Railroad Bridge joining Omaha and Council Bluffs
was the most spectacular bridge of its day. Built between 1869 and 1872 at a
cost of $2.9 million, the Dodge design was one-half mile
long with wrought iron trusses planted in bedrock.
Because Dodge’s Union Pacific Bridge was the first one north of Fort
Leavenworth, Kansas, other railroads clamored to use it. The Union Pacific
accommodated their requests in exchange for a toll. The arrangement was
challenged in the courts, and in 1876 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the
practice. However, Congress immediately passed a law legalizing the tolls, and
the practice resumed. Angered by the tolls, many competing railroad lines
decided to build their own bridges between Iowa and Nebraska.
It was not Dodge, but rather George Morrison who standardized Missouri River
bridge construction, and was instrumental in the development of the steel bridge
industry in the 1880s and ‘90s. In the 1880s, Morrison built bridges across
Missouri River at Plattsmouth, Blair, Omaha/Council Bluffs, Rulo, Sioux City,
and Nebraska City. Each succeeding bridge reflected a change in technology,
resulting in bridges that were stronger, safer, and reasonably expensive.
Morrison’s first bridge across the Missouri, built in 1879-1880, crossed the
river at Plattsmouth, Nebraska. Constructed for Chicago, Burlington & Quincy
Railroad of steel and iron, the Plattsmouth Bridge has six long-span whipped
trusses. A change in the channel at Omaha/Council Bluffs enabled a shorter
bridge at that location, and the Union Pacific hired Morrison to design a
replacement for Dodge’s 15-year-old bridge in 1887. Constructed of steel and
iron, Morrison’s Omaha Bridge included a cantilevered pedestrian/vehicular
roadway along with the rail system. The following year
Morrison built an all-steel multi-span Whipple bridge at Sioux City, and another
all-steel bridge at Nebraska City. The Nebraska City Bridge accommodated trains,
vehicles, and pedestrians, but not simultaneously.
Dodge and Morrison generally took advantage of the loess bluffs on either side
of the Missouri River when planning the locations for their spans. The bluffs
provided a measure of predictability to the river channel. When asked to design
and build a bridge near Blair, Nebraska, Morrison was unable to
find a bluff-protected spot. After pursuing the possibilities within a 50-mile
radius, Morrison constructed the Sioux City and Pacific bridge at Blair
Crossing, approximately 20 miles north of Omaha. His notes recorded his
frustration at the unpredictability and volatility afforded by the unprotected
Romance of Omaha, by Fred Carey [link]
Compilation of reprinted articles that appeared in the
Omaha Bee-News from December 3, 1928 to January 11, 1929
The problem of crossing the
Missouri river, which in recent years has resolved itself into the problem of
securing nontoll bridges up and down the great stream, has been of major moment
to the people of Omaha, Nebraska and adjoining states for the last 100 years. The trappers, fur traders and explorers, and later the early settlers, found
the root of their difficulty was in crossing the river at any time and in any
form. All they asked was that they get across in safety. The "Big Muddy" was a natural barrier. While it formed a means of travel for
canoe and flatboat north and south, it wound its sinuous length across the
pathway of the pioneer and held up his hegira toward the gold-flecked horizons
of the beckoning west. The plodding oxen dragging the prairie schooner toward the setting sun and
the 20-mule team of the daring frontier freighter alike were halted when they
reached its banks. And so it came that - when they got the chance -they hailed the unwieldy
ferryboat with joy, glad of the opportunity to pay the ferryman's fee. It was a
decided advance from the more precarious method of crossing in canoe, flatboat,
keelboat or other contrivance. Even swimming was resorted to.
Before Omaha was founded a ferryboat crossed the Missouri river between what
is now Council Bluffs (then Kanesville) and what is now Omaha (then an
uninhabited plateau), The movement of the pioneers to the west had begun at that early date and
some far-seeing residents of the east side of the river took advantage of the
opportunity to become ferrymen. William D. Brown, the man who is given credit for having the first vision of
the future possibilities of Omaha, operated the first ferry at this point.
He had been running a ferry farther north on the Missouri. He had already
expressed his belief that a great city would arise on the western bank of the
river. He decided to be first in the field when the westward rush began. He operated for a time what he called the "Lone Tree Ferry," so named because
its western objective was a lone tree standing near the river bank. That the
ferry did not always stop near the tree made no difference to Mr. Brown.
Steam Ferry Arrives
Other residents of Council Bluffs became interested in the possibilities of
the ferry and Dr. Enos Lowe was commissioned to go south to buy a steam
ferryboat. He found a boat on the Mississippi. Loaded down with a cargo, the ferryboat arrived opposite Omaha one day in
June, 1853, was unloaded and immediately put into commission. It was the first
steam ferry on this part of the Missouri river. Named the "General Marion," the boat served its purpose until 1855, when it
was left high and dry on the east bank during very high water and was not used
The ferry company bought or built other steamboats and continued to give good
service until the opening of the Union Pacific bridge in 1872. For a time after that the ferry was used to transport passengers across the
river. In the winter they crossed on the ice.
Build First Bridge
The first serious attempt to bridge the Missouri river at this point was made
when work was begun on the Union Pacific bridge in the spring of 1869. It was
not finished until March, 1872, and was opened that month. Five years later the two eastern spans were wrecked by a windstorm and Omaha
for a month reverted to the old ferry system of crossing the river. The "Queen
of Decatur," a large flat bottomed ferryboat, was brought down from Decatur,
Neb., to meet the emergency.
It was not until November 1,1888, 40 years ago, that the first passenger and
vehicle bridge spanned the Missouri river. On that date the present Douglas street bridge was opened to the public for
street cars, vehicles and pedestrians. The third bridge, that of the Illinois Central, was not completed until the
The First Union
Pacific Railroad Bridge across the Missouri River at
During 1892 the city of Omaha and the county of Douglas voted $750,000 to aid
in construction of a bridge across the Missouri, but it was never built. The Burlington railroad built a bridge across the Missouri at Plattsmouth and
later at Nebraska City. The Northwestern spanned the river at Blair. Instead of
building more bridges, other railroads contracted for the use of the Union
Pacific bridge at Omaha.
One of the unusual methods of crossing the river was a pontoon bridge at
Nebraska City. It was laid on pontoons that floated on the water and afforded
passage for both vehicles and pedestrians. It seemed a rather shaky structure,
but served well. Years afterward the Burlington railroad laid planks across the
railroad bridge and opened a toll bridge. This is still in use.
Each bridge that was opened in those days was the signal for great
jollification and celebration. The people of those days were so delighted at
their emergence from the ferry days that they gave little heed to the question
of tolls or fares. It was enough to have a bridge of any kind.
Object of Tolls
But as times changed an automobiles succeeded horse vehicles, the desire to
travel farther and faster seized the people. They began to ask why they should
pay to cross the rivers. One by one the toll bridges across inland rivers in Nebraska and other states
were made free, but the Missouri, running between states, remained spanned by
South Dakota within the last 20 years has built five nontoll bridges across
the Missouri river in that state. Missouri also has abolished its Missouri river
toll bridges, except where they span the river between states as at St. Joe.
The demand for nontoll bridges has recently become so insistent that all up
and down the Missouri from Kansas City to Omaha plans are under foot for the
acquisition of toll bridges by the people.
More Bridges Coming
At the present time plans are being made to bridge the Missouri at Rulo,
Nebraska City, Union, Plattsmouth, Blair, Decatur, Sioux City and Niobrara.
Railroad bridges exist at Rulo, Nebraska City, Plattsmouth, Blair and Sioux
City. A fine railroad and vehicular bridge spans the river at Yankton.
The plans of the builders of all these spans are to operate them as toll
bridges until they are taken over by the state or by some city our county.
Under the bridge franchises granted by congress the bridges may
be purchased at actual cost by the state or a subdivision thereof and operated
as toll spans until paid for. Then they must be free.
Work was begun on the Blair bridge last fall and work is to begin on the
Plattsmouth span in the spring. The other bridge projects are still in the
If all the projects go through there will be eventually 10 toll bridges
between Nebraska and other states at Niobrara, Yankton, Sioux City, Decatur,
Blair, Omaha, Plattsmouth, Union, Nebraska City and Rulo. In time it is proposed
that they all be freed of tolls.
The problem of how to cross the Missouri without paying toll is now as acute
as the pioneer problem of how to cross it other than by swimming. The pioneer
solved his difficulty. The modern Nebraskan will, it is safe to say, solve his