Railroad History


History of the Railroads in Fairfield, and how they became trails

Plaque about Fairfield Railroad History


The new Cedar View Trail bridge over Cedar Creek which replaces the Rock Island Railroad bridge, which was dismantled in the early 1980's.
The new bridge over Cedar Creek on the Cedar view Trail

Rock Island Railroad History (relating to Jefferson County Park)

In 1870 the city leaders lobbied to have a second railroad (the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad) come through Fairfield. It arrived in 1871 from Washington, Iowa, and continued on to Eldon, Iowa, and on to Kansas City. In 1946 the tracks were rerouted from Washington to Eldon to create a more direct route.

The Rock Island carried freight and passengers to and through Fairfield until its demise in 1980. For some time Louden Machinery Company was the largest shipper on the Rock Island.

Parts of the roadbed are still visible in and around Fairfield although the rails were removed in 1982. Five sections of the abandoned Rock Island roadbed are currently utilized (the 1871 and 1946 alignments).

  • Jefferson County Park section - This 0.8-mile section on the 1946 roadbed crosses the northern part of the park, connecting at its western end to the Cedar View Trail, and at its eastern end to the Prairie and Pond Trail.  A spur trail continues, roughly paralleling the roadbed, to join the Erma Hartman Trail.
  • Cedar View Trail - The Cedar View Trail uses 1.5-miles of the 1946 roadbed.  Beginning at the 32nd Street entrance to Jefferson County Park, it extends southwesterly, crosses Cedar Creek on the Cedar View Bridge, and ends at 223rd Street.  (The old railroad bridge was dismantled in the 1980's).
  • From 223rd Street the Cedar View Trail utilizes 3 miles of county roads to travel to the town of Libertyville.  In the future, the existing railroad bed to Libertyville may be turned into trail, depending on funding and easements.
  • Jefferson County Park entrance - The Park entrance road, at Libertyville Rd., uses the original 1871 alignment of the Rock Island (it was abandoned in 1946 when the section to Libertyville was straightened out and shortened).  The entrance road is 0.5-miles long, and then becomes a trail that extends northeastward to the East Entrance, where it joins the Erma Hartman Trail.
  • Erma Hartman section - The 0.4-mile Erma Hartman Memorial Trail starts at West Jackson Ave (west of 7th St.) and runs southwesterly along the 1871 (and 1946) section of the old roadbed to the East Entrance trail of Jefferson County Park.
  • Section near MUM -- A 1.3-mile section along the northwest border of Maharishi University of Management (1946 alignment) has become a crucial part of the North Segment of the 17-mile Fairfield Loop Trail. This section connects 8th Street- Gear Avenue with North B Street.
  • The railroad bridge that once crossed over Highway 1 was removed in 1982, so the Matkin Memorial Bridge was built in 2009 allowing Loop Trail users to safely cross this busy highway.

The new Loop Trail bridge over Hwy 1 which replaces the old Rock Island Railroad bridge.
The new Loop Trail bridge over Hwy 1 which replaces the old Rock Island Railroad bridge.

This Railroad Crossing sign was moved to the trailhead just north of the Nature Center parking lot. The Rock Island railroad track used to be here.
RI Crossing sign.


BNSF Railroad History (relating to Whitham Woods (and Chautauqua Park))

The first train to arrive in Fairfield (1858) was from Burlington, Iowa, on the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad.  Track construction was completed to Omaha, Nebraska, sometime after the Civil War ended.

Early locomotives

Also, by this time a railroad bridge had been built across the Mississippi River, allowing connections to Chicago.

The BMRR was absorbed by the C B & Q (Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad) about 1872.

In 1901 the C B & Q dualized and straightened the tracks through Iowa. Tall trestles (still in use) were built at each end of Fairfield, one on the east near Chautauqua Park and the other one on the west near Whitham Woods.

The current railroad route is now a key part of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad (BNSF), which absorbed the C B & Q.

Two sections of the original alignment of the Burlington & Missouri Railroad are utilized for trails, one in Whitham Woods (western end of Fairfield), and another at the eastern end of Fairfield in Chautauqua Park.

West section, Whitham Woods

This trail through Whitham Woods uses the old railroad bed.
Whitham Woods

  • West section, Whitham Woods - Until 1901 the tracks ran through was is now Whitham Woods. About 0.25-miles of this old roadbed is used by the Loop Trail. The old railroad bridge abutments can be seen just off the main trail. The section through the cow pasture had to be raised for the trail, but was built on top of the old roadbed and can be seen from Business Hwy 34.

The old C B & Q roadbed, looking toward Whitham Woods (viewed from Business Hwy 34 West).
The old C B & Q roadbed, looking toward Whitham Woods

The old C B & Q roadbed. Whitham Woods is right. Viewed from Business Hwy 34 West.
The old C B & Q roadbed, looking toward Whitham Woods

The old C B & Q bridge abutments over a creek in Whitham Woods.
The old C B & Q bridge abutment over the creek

East section, Chautauqua Park

The Chautauqua Park back side driveway which was the original roadbed of the C B & Q railroad
The Chautauqua Park back side driveway which was the original roadbed of the C B & Q railroad.

  • East section, Chautauqua Park - The "back side" of the driveway around Chautauqua Park is on 0.3-miles of this old roadbed. The trail bridge over Crow Creek (which connects to the Loop Trail) replaces a railroad bridge which was abandoned in 1901.

Closer look at the bridge, looking east. This section of the track was re-routed in 1901.
Chautauqua Park

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Mission Statement
Our mission is to enhance the quality of life in Jefferson County by acquiring, developing and managing public areas so that its citizens will have opportunities for quality outdoor recreation experiences, and to cultivate good land stewardship through natural history and environmental education activities.

Produced by the Jefferson County Conservation Board
2003 Libertyville Road, Fairfield, IA 52556
Call: 641-472-4421    Fax: 641-472-7911
E-mail: jeffersonccb@lisco.com
Updated 11-19-18