When I visited Council Bluffs for the first time I was really surprised by how many railroad connected sites there are around town. Council Bluffs was chosen by Abraham Lincoln himself to be the starting point of the Transcontinental Railroad.
At the top of the city is the General Grenville Dodge House. The house was quite elaborate and showing how well Dodge did becoming a self-made man with the army, the railroad, and his various investment businesses around town. Dodge first came to Council Bluffs when he was 21 and it was his base of
operations for the rest of his life. A powerful general in the army during the Civil War, Dodge was chosen as chief engineer of the Union Pacific Railroad. His engineering and leadership skills led him to almost single handily drive the construction of the eastern part of the Transcontinental Railroad. His role was so pivotal that he appears in the famous photo of driving the golden spike. He is just to the right of the center of the photo, reaching across to shake hands. Our tour of his home showed not only the opulence and ingenious up to date devices, but also the hands on programs that they have developed for school groups to give them a better idea of life at the time.
The Grenville Dodge House is located high on a hill in Council Bluffs. It was built in 1869 for a cost of $35,000. It had all the comforts and extravagances that you could get at the time and was designed by William W. Boyington, who also did Terrace Hill (now Iowa’s Governor’s Mansion) and the Gothic Water Tower in Chicago.
Of special interest was the temporary exhibit in the cellar on Lincoln’s connection to Dodge. When Lincoln came through Council Bluffs in the 1850s, Dodge was pointed out to him as the person who knew the most about railroads and Lincoln met him on a hotel porch and drew much information out of him about railroads in general and Transcontinental route in particular. Later, when he was ready to turn his attention to the issue as President, Lincoln remembered Dodge and called him to the White House for his input. This year is the Lincoln Bicentennial and we came across several special exhibits about Lincoln’s connection to Council Bluffs in this Lincoln Bicentennial Year.
UPDATE: This is no longer Lincoln’s Bicentennial year and the temporary exhibits are closed. There is still a lot of great Dodge and Lincoln information around Council Bluffs. Mostly for the update I’ve added current websites to some of the places I mentioned.
Sarah S. Uthoff is main force behind Trundlebed Tales fighting to bring the History, Mystery, Magic and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation.Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, and find her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and Academia.edu. She is currently acting President of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association. Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.