Fire and Ice Build a Road
You can say that fire and ice built the Iowa Central Rail Road through Steamboat Rock. While the railroad through Steamboat Rock has been described as one of the most scenic sites on the M&St.L road by Frank Donovan in Mileposts on the Prarie “it is a picturesque area where the train winds around wooded knolls and through shaded valleys.”
The town that was called Lithopolis, but changed it’s name to Steamboat Rock a only one of its kind because of a rock formation downstream on the Iowa River. It is said that because of the Rock jutting out into the river with two stately pines on top reaching for the sky. It gave the impression of a Steamboat at dock with its two smoke stacks on top and paddlewheel at the side. Regrettably the namesake lasted only a short time until a lightning strike destroyed the pine trees and fractured the rock, destroying the pilot house and wheel on the Steamboat. By that time the people were attached to the name and it remains until today.
Steamboat Rock became a railroad town because of the necessity to transport the coal that was being mined between Steamboat Rock and Eldora to reach a market for sale. It was not long before the Eldora and Steamboat Rock Coal Company caused the formation of the Eldora Railroad & Coal Company. By 1867, thirteen carloads of iron had arrived in Ackley for the ERR&CC and a bridge across the river at Steamboat Rock was almost finished.
By the spring of 1868, cars of the “Plug” as the Eldora road was disdainfully know, were making regular runs with shipments of potatoes, corn, and coal moved out of Steamboat Rock and the depot was nearly finished.
Receipts for the road were averaging $300 per day. A locomotive for the Eldora Line called the Vixen which was known to spew sparks at regular intervals. Another engine, passenger cars and other rolling stock were added. Depot was soon planned at Ackley and a two story depot was built in the northern part of Eldora, a few blocks west of the Catholic Church. By that summer a depot was built at Abbot, between Steamboat Rock and Ackley, and two regularly scheduled trains were being run between Ackley and Steamboat Rock, connecting with the Dubuque & Sioux City Railroad (which became the Illinois Central).
These trains returned to Steamboat Rock, with engineer Vedder and conductor Zublin, where it met stages for Eldora, Xenia, Albion, and Marshalltown. It time the “Plug” (ERR&CC) laid track to Marshalltown and connected to the Chicago & Northwestern line.
By 1883, this line was known as the Iowa Central Railway Company. By 1871 the line was competed from Albia to Northwood. The Iowa Central became property of the M&St.L in 1912.
In 1893 with George Fisk as manager and Ice business was begun. A crew of 25 to 30 men were hired to “spud” cakes of ice off the river as winter progressed. The river was first marked of into fields 22 inches square. Twelve to fifteen teams of horses with very sharp shoes would pull Ice plows cutting a ¼ in wide, to a depth of eight or more inches, would allow cakes to be broken off and floated down the river to the ice houses. Ice was stored here for use by the Railroad and the people of Steamboat Rock all the way through the next summer.
Come visit our museum and see one of the Ice plows that was used in this endeavor along with many other treasures we would love to share with you.