The history of Council Bluffs - Iowa's Leading Edge - glitters with a parade of famous western explorers, fur traders, military figures, engineers and great Indian nations. It was Abraham Lincoln, the great abolitionist, who had the foresight to designate Council Bluffs eastern terminus of our nation's first transcontinental railroad.
Known as Gateway to the American West, Council Bluffs has a proud and rich history we would like to share with you.
French and Spanish explorers and traders had traversed the Council Bluffs area for nearly a century before Meriwether Lewis and William Clark debarqued those five, fateful days at White Catfish Camp, known today as Long's Landing.
Traveling upstream, their expedition later met with the Missouri and Otoe Indians, 10 miles north of Omaha. This historic area, known as "councile bluff," provided the model for future meetings with the Native Americans - hence the name of our city ...
In the mid-1800s, more than 30,000 Mormon refugees flooded Kanesville (Council Bluffs) on their way to the Great Salt Lake Valley in Utah, escaping religious persecution.
Kanesville was named for Thomas Kane, a man sympathetic to the plight of the Mormons. (Kanesville was renamed Council Bluffs in 1853.)
In the process, these Mormons established more than 80 communities in southwest Iowa, organized churches, schools, city and county governments, band and choral concerts and four newspapers, greatly impacting the area.
Our city further boomed when the California Gold Rush of 1849 stampeded across the West, making Council Bluffs a prime out-fitting post for these adventurous souls.
In 1859, Abraham Lincoln visited Council Bluffs where he met Grenville M. Dodge, a Civil War general later dubbed "the greatest railroad builder of all time."
They developed a long-standing friendship, sharing visions of a coast-to-coast railroad. After being elected to the presidency, Lincoln named Council Bluffs eastern terminus of the first transcontinental railroad.
A leading citizen of Council Bluffs, Dodge served as an advisor to Presidents Lincoln, Grant, Johnson, Hayes, McKinley, Roosevelt and Taft. Although he never technically ran for office, Dodge was elected to Congress. His elegant Victorian-style home, where five presidents were overnight guests, is open to the public for tours.
A National Historic Landmark, the fully restored mansion has become one of Council Bluffs' most cherished historic attractions.
Rail service came to Council Bluffs in 1862. Eventually, our city would be served by seven railroads and become the great mail-handling terminal for the American West.
Before long, the rails helped transform Council Bluffs into a bustling center of commerce. In fact, in 1954, one quarter of the city's population was supported by railroading, and our city ranked the fifth largest railroad center in the nation.
Today, our businesses have made an impact at both the national and international level. Local industry includes everything from specialized sound equipment to teleservices, insurance, printing, robotic systems and sophisticated telecommunication equipment. The community continues to expand as a major food processing center as well, producing several nationally known consumer labels.
To pay tribute to our illustrious past, we've incorporated many of these historical elements into our new downtown Streetscape project, including decorative, bricked walkways, old-fashioned lamp posts, street signs, clock tower and two historical fountains.
For further information about our city, please call the Council Bluffs Area Chamber of Commerce at (712) 325-1000 or (800) 228-6878, or visit www.councilbluffsiowa.com.
Little known facts
He visited the Sioux Nation and was adopted as a son by Chief Red Cloud. Cummins was elected chief with full honors and permitted to sit by his Native American father in Grand Council. The name given to Col. Cummins was Chief La-Ko-Ta, which translates to "Chief of all Indians."
When The Daily Nonpareil, Council Bluffs' daily newspaper, opened in 1857, William Maynard had trouble finding people that could afford to pay the $2 a year fee. Having a steam press, he was able to accept wood as payment.
Maurice Wollman built the first automobile used in Council Bluffs in 1896. He put a single-cylinder engine into the rear of an old buckboard buggy. Lack of parts would require that he make the spark coil and plug, liquid ignition batteries and the carburetor himself. At first, many had it in for Mr. Wollman, calling the vehicle a "dangerous horse and people-scaring machine."
In 1847 Brigham Young was elected president of the Mormon Church in Kanesville (present day Council Bluffs).
Council Bluffs native Terry Kiser had the starring role in the movie "Weekend at Bernie's."
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