Historical Society to highlight railroads with Sunday program

First locomotive arrived here July 30, 1866

~by Chuck Offenburger for the Greene County Historical Society

One of the most significant anniversaries in Greene County history passed recently with little formal observation, and the Historical Society plans to make right on that this Sunday with a program on “150 years of railroading” in the county.

Mike Wendel, director of the James H. Andrew Railroad Museum & History Center in Boone, will present the program Sunday, Sept. 24, at 2 pm at the Greene County Historical Museum in Jefferson. Admission and refreshments are free.

Mike Wendel at the railroad museum in Boone | photo by Chuck Offenburger

That outstanding 5-year-old railroad museum in Boone, built adjacent to the headquarters of the very popular Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad, is named after the late “Old Jim” Andrew. He was the Jefferson farmer, railroad collector and county historian who died at the age of 93 in 2014. It was his eye-popping collection of railroad memorabilia and information that fills most of the museum in Boone.

Wendel will talk about how the various railroad companies helped organize and map most of the towns in the county as they pushed their rails in all directions on rights-of-way that were granted. Stylish depots were built in many of the communities to serve passengers and shippers of livestock and other freight.

Today the county is served by two rail lines, both operated by the Union Pacific. The very busy east-west mainline uses the original route through Grand Junction, Jefferson and Scranton. There is also the line operating north from Grand Junction through Dana and Paton. The former north-south Milwaukee Road rail route from Jefferson south through Cooper is now the beautiful Raccoon River Valley Trail for bicycling, walking, running and other outdoor recreation.

The inspiration for this Sunday’s program at the historical museum in Jefferson was a column by Rick Morain in the Jefferson Herald in June, 2016. In it, Morain took note of several important anniversaries that were near, including the 50th of the Mahanay Memorial Carillon Tower, the 100th of the Greene County courthouse, and the 150th of newspapers in the county.

The arrival of railroad service on July 30, 1866, meant “connecting Greene County to the rest of America,” Morain wrote, and “was one of the most important events of the 19th century here.”

He also quoted the Jefferson Era, the newspaper that preceded the Jefferson Bee, in its portrayal of the importance of the moment.

“The locomotive has finally overcome all obstacles and made its advent in Jeff,” the Era’s editorial comment went. “We are no longer in a wilderness of prairie, but on the great thoroughfare leading from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast – one of the most desirable roads on the continent. Why should we not rejoice over this good freak of fickle fortune?”

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