Books

New book chronicles Anamosa to Quasqueton railway

For one brief shining moment, a railway stretched from Anamosa to Quasqueton.

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But just as quickly as towns sprang up along the Chicago Anamosa & Northern Railway at the turn of the 20th century, the communities of Jackson, Anderson, Robinson and Kiene disappeared when the CAN couldn’t keep chugging along.

At a time when the government typically paid for railroads, a wealthy Dubuque family financed this railway, which cost about $500,000 to build, and carried people, grain and freight. Farmers along the way contributed money to build livestock stations.

Workers climb aboard the steam shovel bucket during construction of the Chicago Anamosa & Northern Railway that stretched from Anamosa to Quasqueton, and operated from 1904 to 1915. Known as the CAN, its history is documented in the new book, “Chicago, Anamosa & Northern Railway: The Wapsie Valley Route.” (Courtesy of the Quasqueton Area Historical Society)

Whether because of poor money management among the founding family members, the advent of automobiles, or the fact that the railway stretched just 35.3 miles and didn’t cross the Wapsipinicon River to connect to a city, the CAN only ran from 1904 to 1915.

In 1917, every bit of it was torn up and sent to Europe to support Allies’ efforts during World War I.

With each passing year, the CAN’s history was in danger of disappearing, too, but thanks to tireless research by Deb Crawford, 61, from the Quasqueton end of the line, and the writing of Gary Holzinger, 78, of Stone City, near the Anamosa beginning of the line, the CAN can live on.

After about a year and a half of poring over photos, newspaper clippings and other documents, the new end of the line is “Chicago, Anamosa & Northern Railway: The Wapsie Valley Route,” published by the Quasqueton Area Historical Society.

The 117-page book, chock full of 120 photos and maps, has 500 copies hot off the presses and will make its debut at 1 p.m. Sunday at Quasqueton’s American Legion Hall.

It will keep on rolling all summer long, with book signings and presentations in Coggon, Anamosa and Scotch Grove. Price tag is $25. Quasqueton and Coggon historical societies will keep the proceeds from the books they sell at their locations.

If you go

What: Book signings for “Chicago, Anamosa & Northern Railway: The Wapsie Valley Route”

Book price: $25

Quasqueton: 1 pm Sunday, American Legion Hall

Coggon: 6:30 pm June 15, Coggon Historical Society

Anamosa: 6 pm June 22, Anamosa Public Library

Scotch Grove: 11 am to 4 pm Aug. 28, Jones County Historical Society’s Edinburgh Museum, 13838 Edinburgh Rd.

Crawford, treasurer of the Quasqueton Historical Society, doesn’t expect either group to get rich off the sales. She said that thanks to years of planning and “frugal” savings, the Quasqueton organization was able to finance the project, and she and Holzinger volunteered their time and energy. All the bills aren’t in yet, so she doesn’t know the final costs.

“The biggest goal was to preserve the history,” Crawford said. “It’s not about the profits, it’s about preserving the history of the railroad.” … And if we don’t make money, we don’t make money. We’d like to break even, but you know how that goes.”

Part of the railroad’s right of way runs through Crawford’s property a couple of miles outside of Quasqueton, and many landowners along the full route have reverted their tracts to farmland. All that remains after the railway’s demolition is a set of gate posts cemented into the ground to anchor fencing along the tracks.

Workers install railroad ties in the Coggon portion of the Chicago Anamosa & Northern Railway. The tracks eventually stretched from Anamosa to Quasqueton, and operated from 1904 to 1915. Known as the CAN, its history is documented in the new book, “Chicago, Anamosa & Northern Railway: The Wapsie Valley Route.” (Courtesy of the Quasqueton Area Historical Society)

“The entire railroad was shipped to England — the rails, the cars, the engine and the bridges — they pulled up the bridges and sent those over, too,” Crawford said.

In its heyday, four passenger cars — two northbound and two southbound — toted people, baggage and merchandise, with tickets ranging from 15 to 25 cents.

“They had excursions for everything,” Holzinger said, from taking people to the fair or the opera house in Anamosa, and to any event or convention in the area. “The CAN was really good marketing those type of things, to get people to ride.”

A railroad aficionado, this is the second book he’s penned, and he even has a red Milwaukee Road caboose that he bought, restored and homed in his front yard.

Crawford and Holzinger approached their work in the same way — by making a timeline.

“We began with our files — the things people had given us over the years,” Crawford said. “That gives you a timeline for dates and locations. And then you work backwards from there. We know the train arrived in town Sept. 2, 1912.

“So then you look each direction from September to get the Quasqueton portion. And then, as you link newspaper articles, you come up with relative time frames, where in May they were in the Robinson area, which by the way, is no longer there. It’s a ghost town,” she noted.

“You have to work from what you know to what you have learned.”

Horsepower helped build this stretch of railroad running to Quasqueton. The Chicago Anamosa & Northern Railway stretched from Anamosa to Quasqueton, and operated from 1904 to 1915. Known as the CAN, its history is documented in the new book, “Chicago, Anamosa & Northern Railway: The Wapsie Valley Route.” (Courtesy of the Quasqueton Area Historical Society)

Holzinger said he always tries to make a timeline, plugging in different events, and from there, starts making a storyline.

“That’s where Deb came in,” he said. “She found nitpicking stuff I never would have thought anybody wrote about.”

Crawford said she learned a lot, as she gleaned newspaper archives, as well as documents and anything she could find at various history centers and historical societies in the area, including the State Historical Society of Iowa in Iowa City. She didn’t try to track down the Dubuque family, since most of them moved away, and she isn’t sure any descendants remain in the area.

Technology was both blessing and challenge, with no way to do general searches. The railway’s name had several variations, including CAN and CAN Misspellings and incorrect terminology also bogged down the process. She took many field trips to sites, as well, and asked people to look for photos or memorabilia in their homes. That garnered responses from Virginia, New York, Wisconsin.

“It was thousands and thousands of hours, then I would download those articles and label them,” she said, backtracking that maybe it was just hundreds of hours, ending up with more than 1,200 newspaper clippings to organize.

“This was very difficult, and yet very rewarding,” she said, “because when you would find something, it was just amazing.”

Comments: (319) 368-8508; [email protected]

Citizens meet the construction train at Quasqueton’s southeast town limits on Sept. 2, 1912. Even the town’s concert band got in on the celebration, which drew all ages, from babies in buggies to elders, as well as a couple of dogs and horses. The Chicago Anamosa & Northern Railway stretched from Anamosa to Quasqueton, and operated from 1904 to 1915. Known as the CAN, its history is documented in the new book, “Chicago, Anamosa & Northern Railway: The Wapsie Valley Route.” (Courtesy of the Quasqueton Area Historical Society)

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