Railroad and Depot History
the Railroad and Eldon
Chartered in 1853, for the express purpose of building a rail route through southeastern Iowa, connecting Keokuk on the Mississippi with Fort Des Moines in the center of the state, the Keokuk, Fort Des Moines and Minnesota Rail Road Company reached Ashland Crossing in 1859. After an additional seven years, the route to Des Moines was completed. Ashland Crossing would later become known as Williamsburg, but was ultimately incorporated as Eldon in 1872. By 1874, the Keokuk & Des Moines (K-D) Railway Company had been incorporated and had taken ownership of the original line through Eldon. Although generally enjoying only flag station status on that route, the town had become a busy hub of railroad activity after the Chicago & Southwestern Railway Company constructed in 1870, an additional line through Eldon that linked portions of the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railway Company with Leavenworth, Kansas. In 1876, this line became the Iowa Southern & Missouri Northern Railroad Company, but only four years later was consolidated into the CRI&P system.
Dating back to the early 1870's, Eldon's Depot served the needs of both local travelers and the U.S. postal service. At one time, the mainline through Eldon carried at least six daily passenger trains while the K-D line carried one or more. For the many years that the U.S. mail was carried by the railroads, the Eldon Depot served as a delivery point for the Post Office. On November 2, 1902, the first run of the luxurious Golden State Limited carrying passengers from Chicago to Los Angeles was made. Included on that route was a stop in Eldon. Many years later it would seem most fitting that after nearly 100 years of service, the Eldon Depot saw its last passengers on February 20, 1968, when the Golden State Limited, making its final run, stopped in Eldon for the last time.
Although freight traffic continued to roll through Eldon for another twelve years, on March 31, 1980, the CRI&P ceased all operations, and the rails through Eldon fell silent. Not surprisingly, the Eldon Depot's neglect, deterioration, and abuse began immediately. It wasn't until the spring of 2001, that the old depot got some attention. It went up for sale!
New Life for an Old Friend
As word of the impending sale of the old depot spread among members of the local community, it became apparent that interest in saving the depot and restoring it to its previous glory was abundant. Interest was particularly keen among several of the area's retired railroad employees, who promptly formed the Eldon Depot Committee to take action on this interest. The elected officers of the Committee were Richard Hemm, Jim Bedford, Steve Roe, and Don Eakins, serving as president, vice-president, secretary, and treasurer respectively. Financing for the property was arranged, and contributions from the community, along with proceeds from various fund-raising activities allowed the project to move forward. By 2006, the exterior of the depot had been completely restored and much of the interior had also been completed.
The depot is currently used as a railroad museum with numerous items on display. It also serves as a meeting place for morning coffee Monday through Friday and as a welcome center for city wide activities.