History of the Wabash
A Confluence of Historical Trails
Even before the railroad, parts of the present-day Wabash Trace followed Lewis & Clark's Discovery Trail and the Mormon Trail, Council Bluffs being an important economic hub. The Wabash Trace Nature Trail follows a former section of the fabled Wabash Railway’s main line to Council Bluffs, Iowa. The route was originally constructed in the 1870’s as part of the Council Bluffs and St. Louis Railway, which was acquired by the Wabash Railroad later that decade. At its peak, the railroad boasted a large network throughout the Midwest, stretching more than 2,000 miles and becoming well-known because of a popular folk song called the “Wabash Cannon Ball.” The line was eventually taken over by the Norfolk & Western after World War II, and later by the Iowa Southern Railway. As traffic declined on the Council Bluffs route, the abandonment process for the railroad began in 1983. the Wabash held many memories for area residents. These memories now live on in the Wabash Trace Nature Trail. As a reminder of the days of travel by train, the trail is dotted with sites of former railroad depots that once provided the settlers the essentials of prairie life. Some of these depots grew into towns still found along the way, while others dwindled and disappeared, unable to withstand the changes brought by highway transportation. The original Wabash Depot, located in Shenandoah, has been saved and restored to its original appearance. After being relocated to its current site at Sportsman’s Park, the building is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Another Depot in Shenandoah (this downtown brick one originally part of the CB&Q Line) was turned into a restaurant and micro-brewery. The Depot at the Malvern Trailhead is being renovated into a two-bedroom bunkhouse complete with restroom, shower, and kitchenette. Many of the other pass-through towns along the trail have other historic downtown buildings that house the main street businesses. Council Bluffs, Silver City, Malvern, and Shenandoah all have restaurants and watering holes inside restored buildings. Council Bluffs, Malvern, Imogene, and Shenandoah are all currently also undergoing major renovation projects in other historic downtown buildings.
Southwest Iowa Nature Trails Project, Inc. (SWINT) was formed in 1988, and with the invaluable assistance of the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation (INHF) and countless volunteers the railroad right-of-way was railbanked and transformed into the Wabash Trace Nature Trail we now enjoy. Completed and dedicated in 1999, the converted railway runs 63 miles through the scenic Iowa countryside, from Council Bluffs to the Missouri border in Blanchard. The railroad tracks and ballast were removed, and the trail surfaced with crushed limestone with the exception of a combined 3.6 miles of concrete thru the towns of Silver City & Malvern and .75 mile of asphalt north of Shenandoah. Individuals, families, businesses, and organizations have donated the funding and labor to deck, side rail, and renovate bridges as well as place benches and shelters alongside the trail. Many of the bridges are now in their third stage of life, as the deck boards from 25+ years ago are now needing replaced. While travelling the trail, you will cut through and alongside the picturesque Loess Hills which run from Plymouth County in Northwest Iowa into Missouri. These hills were formed 14,000 years ago by windblown loess, a fine and fertile soil which built up over the years to heights of 200-300 feet. The unusual soil type and depth of these hills can only be found two places on earth, here and in Northern China!
The original trip by train from Blanchard to Council Bluffs took 2 hours and 49 minutes.
On July 20, 1928 one of the worst wrecks on the Wabash Railroad happened about a mile east of Mineola. The 115-foot long trestle bridge over Lone Tree Creek (or Snake Creek) gave way after the pilings were swept away from accumulated tree debris and heavy rains. Two engines and the first six cars tragically fell into the gully where the bridge had collapsed. All four crewmen in the engines were killed but the rest of the train was spared thanks to automatic braking. (Photo and information from "The Forgotten Iowa Historical Society" Facebook Group, contributed by Sara Vanden Bos)
Remnants of the Railroad Boom
Many towns that came in with the fury of the railroads fizzled out as people moved west or to more metropolitan areas, especially with the decline of the rail traffic. Today there are still remnants of many of these ghost towns along the trail.
Little information can be found about Neoga. Judging by the map location, it was just a few miles South of Council Bluffs. Neoga was the site of a train wreck in September of 1890.
Just north of present day “Margaritaville” (about halfway between Council Bluffs and Mineola), there is a bench at the former location of the town. In 1914, Dumfries suffered a fire that basically wiped out the entire town. There is also a box culvert where the former “Dumfries Trestle” used to span over the trail. There are ties to the Mormon Trail, with Dumfries being on the way to the nearby Grand Encampment site.
Located about 3 miles South of Malvern, White Cloud interestingly enough was formed before the railroad came through. The original White Cloud mill was built on the Nishnabotna River in 1852. It was reported that in June of 1869 there were “two general stores, drug store, post office, a place to eat and sleep, a blacksmith shop and a skilled physician”. In 1878 (before the completion of the Wabash), the Nebraska City, Sidney, & Northeastern Railway completed the line from Hastings to Sidney, which unfortunately was too far east of White Cloud and led to the founding of Lawrence as a competing settlement. By 1886 White Cloud had basically closed down, except for the mill, part of which is still preserved by the current property owners.
Established close by White Cloud, with the building of the line from Hastings to Sidney in 1878, Lawrence was on the East side of the Nishnabotna River. An elevator was built there and Lawrence was home to the former White Cloud Post Office from 1886 to 1891, before it was moved to Hastings. This was a meeting point of the Nebraska City, Sidney, & Northeastern Line and the Wabash when it came through. The Lawrence area is visible as a clearing near the “skinny bridge” on the Wabash Trace. The name never really caught on, and is often referred to as White Cloud as well.
Another town built on the foundation of the railroad, about halfway between Malvern & Imogene. Strahan is still visible as a community, at the intersection of M-16 and the Wabash Trace. While once a booming commercial center, the Post Office was closed in 1955, High School consolidated in 1960, Elementary School closed in 1972, leaving only the church presently operating.
Roughly 2 miles north of Imogene, the Wabash Trace passes underneath 390th Ave., near where Solomon was located. Another booming town with the coming of the railroad, Solomon once had a post office, mill, elevator, saloon, and blacksmith shop. Eventually all returned to farmground, Doyle Pioneer’s Seed Shed is the closest remnant of any of Solomon’s businesses.
Located between Imogene and Shenandoah, foundations of an old building are barely visible between 150th & 160th Streets on the East side of the trail. The town was platted into 7 blocks and had 5 streets.
Just south of the Izaak Walton, roughly 6 miles South of Shenandoah, are the remaining houses from the town of Bingham. According to an 1880 History book about Page County, the town was “…so new as to have no history. The business interests of Bingham are still embryonic, but rapidly increasing in importance.”