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Just about anyplace we go in this region we cross or run parallel to railroad tracks. Many cities of the Mississippi Valley were clustered along the converging great rivers then attracted the railroads which further promoted their growth.
Today St. Louis is ranked as the third-busiest railroad hub in the country. When the city celebrated the bicentennial of its founding 1964, the ranking was second. A special issue of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat (Feb 29-March 1, 1964) recounted the history. It may be hard to believe, but the current network emanating in all directions was shaped by gold rushes, epidemics, fires, floods, steamboat competition, economic recessions and depressions, the Civil War, Indian Treaties, the Mexican Revolution and an infamous "robber baron." 

The Globe-Democrat's story:
One-Railroad Town in 1852 Now Ranks No. 2 in U.S.
Much of the history and growth of
St, Louis, at least since 1851, has been closely interwoven with the development of its railroads, which. have made this metropolitan area the nation's No. 2 rail center. Geography and vision teamed up to make it so .
The railroad saga begins the era when steamboats and covered wagons still carried people and goods into the vast territory of the virgin west-southwest.
Now 18 trunk lines and five switching lines serve St. Louis employing 20,000 people and handling 67,000,000 tons of freight annually. Their combined trackage exceeds 91,000 miles, about 40 per cent of the national total. And the St. Louis roads purchase $50,-000,000 worth of supplies here annually.

More than a century ago -- it was July 4, 1851, to be exact -- the nation's birthday was marked by another significant event which took place in St. Louis, then a bustling river-town gateway to the West.
The citizens had turned out en masse to take part in a ground-breaking celebration for the start of construction of the Pacific Railroad, the first railroad west of the Mississippi River.
From that humble beginning grew the vast network of rail lines that nurtured the great west and southwest, and from which eventually came the Missouri Pacific system of today.
Looking back, it was the discovery of gold in California in 1848 that brought forcibly to the attention of the American people the urgent need for more rapid and dependable transportation facilities in the West.

Missouri and the West needed railroads, and St. Louisans visualized a railroad all the way to the Pacific Ocean and wanted very much for that railroad to start from their city,
Local citizens secured a Missouri charter in 1849 for the "Pacific Railroad" to extend "from St. Louis to the western boundary of Missouri and thence to the Pacific Ocean."

That year, however, turned out to be a very hard one for St. Louis. Early in the year a cholera epidemic struck. Another disaster occurred when fire, which broke out on. a river steamboat, spread and destroyed 22 other boats and a considerable part of the business district.
With the heart of its business district destroyed by fire and almost a tenth of its inhabitants dead of cholera, the city exhibited an ominous picture of death and financial ruin.
So it was not surprising that the 1849 railroad plans were delayed. However, in spite of the cholera and the fire, optimism prevailed, and on Jan. 11, 1850, a preliminary organization was formed and stock subscription lists were opened. James H. Lucas offered to be one of three to make up $100,000, a large sum for those days. John O'Fallon and Daniel D. Page promptly joined Mr. Lucas.

The temporary organization that was set up was succeeded by a permanent one, with Thomas Allen as president. The country was canvassed for the most competent engineer, and the
choice fell on James P. Kirkwood, who had constructed some of the early Massachusetts railroads and had also been in charge of operation of the New York and Erie.
Under Mr. Kirkwood's direction, purchase of land was begun and grading started. Because the route selected required the construction of two tunnels west of what became Kirkwood, and because tunnel excavation was necessarily slower, work on these tunnels were also begun at that time.
Rails were purchased in England and were shipped to New Orleans for transfer to St. Louis by river steamboats. Locomotives and cars came the same way. The first locomotive to arrive was the "Pacific," which also bore the number "3." Made at Taunton, Mass., it was unloaded on the river wharf on Aug. 20. 1852.
With its driving wheels five feet in diameter, the engine weighed 29,000 pounds and cost the company $7,650.
Ocean and river freight costs amounted to another $1000, and a local contractor charged $200 to haul it 14 blocks over the city streets from the wharf to the railroad depot.

On Dec, 9, 1852, a passenger train with the company's officers and leading citizens of St. Louis on board inaugurated the new Pacific Railroad with a trip to the end of the line. That train was the first to be operated west of the Mississippi River, and ran the five miles from the depot on Fourteenth Street to Cheltenham in l0 minutes.
In 1855, the Pacific Railroad reached Jefferson City. West of that point it was purposely routed away from the Missouri for fear that it would be unable to compete with the steamboats.
Meanwhile, other Missouri railroad projects were being fostered. These were the St. Louis & Iron Mountain, the Cairo & Fulton, the Southwest Branch of the Pacific Railroad, the North Missouri and the Hannibal & St. Louis.
During the Civil War, raids were made against all of the Missouri railroads and great damage was done. The most serious one on the Pacific was that led by Sterling Price in the fall in 1864. Bridges, buildings, tracks and rolling stock were destroyed all the way from Franklin to Kansas City.
Eads Bridge at St. Louis was started in 1868, thus beginning what Mr. Kirkwood had thought to be impossible -- a railroad over the Mississippi River. It was completed in 1874.

It was also in 1874 that the Union Depot Company in St. Louis was incorporated. It built a station that served the railroads until 1894, when the present Union Station at Eighteenth and Market streets was opened.
About 1873, a New York financier, Jay Gould, became interested in western railroads and bought controlling interest in the Missouri Pacific. He used it is a foundation to weld together a great network of rail lines known as the "Southwest System."
In the two-Year Period 1962-1963, Missouri Pacific spent more than $100,000,000 to improve its equipment, track and structures. Included were 3,217 new freight cars and 156 new locomotives, bringing the fleet of this 113-year-old road to 57,577 cars.

The story of the Wabash Railroad involves many acquisitions, mergers and reorganizations. Two important early events occurred in 1871 and 1878.
The first date marked completion of a bridge across the Missouri River at St. Charles when railroad lines in northern Missouri and Illinois-Indiana were linked to provide continuous service from Toledo, Ohio. The second date marked the merger of these east and west lines into what eventually became the Wabash Railroad Company.
The eastern section of track -- the Illinois part -- was the real granddaddy of the Wabash. On Nov. 8, 1838, the first railroad locomotive ever operated in Illinois hauled a select party along that newly completed section near Meredosia.
When that road grew into the Sangamon and Morgan Railroad a few years later, the company managed to acquire two additional locomotives from Philadelphia.

But because of trouble getting parts, the locomotives became dilapidated and were replaced by a surer form of power -- oxen and horses -- for almost a year.
By the 1870s the basic route of the present Wabash Railroad system east of the Mississippi River had been completed. In addition to extension of tracks to Hannibal and Keokuk, Iowa, a new line had been built from Decatur to East St. Louis and a smaller branch from Edwardsville, Ill., to a point on the Mississippi south of Alton.
In 1880 the line reached Chicago and in 1881 the Wabash entered Detroit.

While the railroads east of the Mississippi were tying Toledo and the East to the river ports of Illinois and Iowa, west of the Mississippi the Wabash predecessors were writing one of the greatest chapters in American railroad history.

Kansas City at that time was just a tiny settlement on the edge of the plains, dwarfed by the neighboring city of Independence. And in the eastern part of the state, St. Louis was competing for eminence with the thriving Missouri River town of St. Charles.
Into this picture in 1851 came a group of pioneer railroaders who secured a state charter to build the North Missouri Railroad from St. Louis to the Missouri-Iowa state line. The property of this railroad became a military objective for both sides during the Civil War l0 years later. Capt. Bill Anderson, a daring Confederate cavalryman, and a small group of picked men destroyed nearly every bridge and culvert over the 100 miles of road then operated by the North Missouri. Extensive damage was also done to stations, cars and engines, and whenever possible the marauders tore up rails, destroyed ties and burned up fuel supplies.

Again in 1864, Captain Anderson conducted a raiding party that burned two trains and seven stations. More than 120 men who tried to stop the Confederate invaders were killed. Many of them are buried along the historic Wabash right-of-way near Centralia, Mo., in Boone County. 

Picking up the pieces after the Civil War, the Wabash continued to expand and reorganize, went through a period of receivership, and emerged by 1940 as one of the most important rail arteries in the nation.
Throughout World War II, it performed exemplary service, as did. other roads, in moving men and supplies at a stepped-up pace, outdoing all its past performances.
Inauguration of the latest Wabash streamliner on Feb. 26, 1950, marked the first time that
"dome" cars were operated between St. Louis and Chicago. In July, 1954, Wabash entered the trailer-on-flat-car field. Called "piggy-back," the service, was first operated between Chicago and New York via the Niagara Frontier, then expanded from Chicago to St. Louis, from St. Louis to Detroit and from Chicago to Detroit.
Expansion of piggy-back service on and beyond Wabash rails has been so rapid that Wabash now participates in moving freight this way from the east coast to the west coast and from the Canadian border to the Gulf of Mexico.

The St. Louis-San Francisco (Frisco) Railway, whose black-scalloped emblem originated
from a coon skin, had its beginnings in 1852. That was when the first division of the Pacific Railroad Company was opened for business from St. Louis to Franklin (now Pacific), Mo., a
distance of 37 miles.

Even before the opening of the first stretch of the road, the Pacific Company had obtained legislative permission to build a branch line to leave its main projected route at Franklin and extend to Springfield and southwest Missouri.
The new line was called the Southwest Branch of the Pacific Railroad, and it was this branch that was destined to become the nucleus of the Frisco system. Work was begun on it in June 1855 and by December 1860, the Southwest Branch was opened to Rolla.
Rolla remained the terminus during the entire Civil War, as westbound supplies from St.
Louis and the east were transferred from freight cars to wagon trains.

Raids by Confederate troops inflicted serious damage on the line and after the war both the parent Pacific Company and its Southwest Branch defaulted on their indebtedness to the State of Missouri and were separately sold in 1867 to satisfy the lien.
At that time they became separate entities: the parent line became the core of the Missouri Pacific system, and the Southwest Branch was bought personally by Gen. John C. Fremont.
By 1868, General Fremont's road had failed financially, and the line with all property went to the South Pacific Railroad Company of which Francis B. Hayes of Boston was president. Andrew Peirce was made managing director of the new company with headquarters in St. Louis.
Under Mr. Peirce's guidance, the railroad reached Springfield, Mo., on May 3, 1870, and on June 11 entered Peirce City, 288 miles out of St. Louis.

Indian tribes objected strongly to Frisco's proposed construction through what is now Oklahoma and their held up, despite the Atlantic and Pacific charter secured by Mr. Fremont in 1866 for the railroad to build through Indian territory. Federal agencies in the l870s supported the Indians, so that the Frisco main line from Vinita, Okla., west to Albuquerque, the Colorado River and then to San Francisco was never built by the company.
Between l881 and 1896, however, Frisco's holdings in its federal land grant charter were
utilized by the Santa Fe road and the Frisco jointly in building the present Santa Fe from Albuquerque to the Colorado River.
Rapid expansion continued in the early 1900s, but a combination of factors sent the road reeling into receivership in 1913. These included the Mexican Revolution, which wrecked Mexican railroads and thus business for the "Brownsville" road, and floods in Arkansas and Louisiana which covered Frisco tracks, tying up traffic for months.
Frisco continued in receivership up to Aug. 24, 1916. when the present St. Louis-San Francisco Railway Company took over what property the system had left. The road was operated during World War I by the United States government, being released in 1920.

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Updated June 27, 2018