So last weekend I got on a pretty big history kick, triggered by curiosity over a stone arch (remnant of an old railroad bridge) that sits on my family’s land. I had always found the old bridge interesting, but had never taken the initiative to research it to the extent that I am now. As I said in my post on the topic from last Friday (click here) I’ve become fascinated with trying to imagine how life here was before my time. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that having grown up in small town Iowa, everything is so familiar and nothing ever seems to change. Taking a vantage that exceeds the span of your own lifetime puts things in a new perspective, and shows that this really isn’t true at all. In fact, a lot has changed; and discovering this and trying to imagine how things once were is providing me a new sense of intrigue toward this familiar place.
Like I said before, it’s hard to imagine a steam engine chugging across this now quiet countryside, but a spur of the Rock Island Railroad actually ran right through here from the mid-1880’s up until 1939. The route ran east and west from the Quad City area to a little town near Iowa City called Elmira, cutting through the heart of Cedar County in its path. Though the trains are now long gone, relics such as the arch near Rock Creek remind us of what once existed.
That, however, is not the only evidence of the railroad’s presence here on our family’s land; or even the only bridge. Along the southern edge of the farm I live on now stands a grove of trees thirty yards wide and half a mile long. From the time I was a young child I knew this stretch of timber to be called the “right-a-way” but it wasn’t until I was a little older that it actually registered; this is the old railroad right-of-way. When the railroad pulled out, ownership of the property reverted back to the neighboring land owners, and now marks the border between two farms. In the absence of rail traffic, and remaining unplowed, nature took over and the swath grew into a narrow wooded corridor.
Hidden within these trees sits what remains of another old railroad bridge. This one is much small than the other, having only served to cross a small stream, but it is still interesting to come upon the massive limestone blocks tucked away from a forgotten era.
It had been quite awhile since I’d visited this second bridge last, so the other day I grabbed my camera, set out across the field, and walked the old “right-a-way” intent on rediscovery…
While on this walk, something finally occurred to me. I’ll bet there are similar bridge foundations at nearly every stream the railroad crossed all throughout the county (and state, as far as that goes.) We have two of them on our land within half a mile of each other, and the stone work from an old road bridge crossing Rock Creek as well. It would be interesting to see what else is out there, hidden or in plain sight, and to see what kind of condition it’s in. If anyone in the area knows of others, I would love to check them out.