A Record of Settlement, Organization,
Progress and Achievement
Volume 1
Chicago, Illinois
The Pioneer Publishing Company



Prior to the coming of the railroads to Dickinson County travel and transportation were chief among the settlers' difficulties. Fort Dodge, Sioux City and Mankato were supply points and to obtain provisions, clothes and other materials the pioneer was compelled to travel overland to these points and return. Ox teams were principally used, a method of travel slow and tedious. The hardships endured en route have been described among the early settlers' experiences ‐ how they bridged streams, crossed sloughs and directed their path. No regular roads were surveyed for several years, although frequent travel had beaten paths in the different directions, upon the lines of which many of the first roads were later laid out.

The first road to be laid out in the county, according to the official records at the county courthouse, was one from Spirit Lake running in the direction of Sioux City. One from Spirit Lake to Gar Outlet was another and was surveyed by S. H. Morrow. Another county road commencing at the bridge east of Spirit Lake and running to Gar Outlet, a resurvey and relocation of the former road, was done by C. Carpenter and R. A. Smith in 1860, A road from Stimson Mill by way of Center Grove to a "point where the east line of Samuel Roger's claim intersects a road running from Spirit Lake to Clay County" was completed in 1861 only in the southern part. A road from Spirit Lake to the south side of Center Grove was surveyed in 1865, also the Marble Grove road. The Okoboji and Sioux City road was laid out by A. Inman and R. A, Smith in December, 1866. The Spirit Lake and Sioux City road, the Spirit


Lake and Jackson road, the Silver Lake road, the West Okoboji road and the Lost Island road were surveyed in 1868 by W. F. Pillsbury and R. A. Smith. The Milford road, the Swan Lake and Estherville road and the Grand Prairie road were completed shortly afterward.

One of the first acts for the securing of railroad facilities was when much of the government land was granted to the state of Minnesota for aid of the St. Paul and Sioux City Railroad, which, however, passed through the counties west of here in 1871, bitterly disappointing the people of Dickinson County. This made the town of Sibley for many years the nearest railroad station, to reach it requiring a journey of from twenty-five to forty miles for the people of this county. Algona, sixty miles away, was located on the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul, and was the next nearest station for the people of this county. In 1878 the road was built on westward as far as Spencer, Iowa.


By 1871 the need of a railroad in Dickinson County had become imperative. The county was becoming settled rapidly and large crops were being raised, and some method of transporting the grain and other produce, as well as supplying traveling means to the people was necessary to the life of the county and its continued prosperity. In the summer of 1871 a local company was organized by some of the public spirited citizens of northwestern Iowa. The first move in this enterprise was made by citizens of Sioux Rapids, among them D. C. Thomas and Stephen Olney, Jr. A meeting was held at Spirit Lake on July 6, 1871, and a company formally organized. The committee on incorporation was composed of the following: D. C. Thomas and Stephen Olney, Jr., of Sioux Rapids; C. M. Squire and J. F. Calkins of Spencer; R. L. Wilcox and 0. Rice of Spirit Lake; and H. S. Bailey of Jackson. Henry Barkman of Spirit Lake was elected president of the new organization, and Stephen Olney, Jr., secretary. E. F. Hill of Spirit Lake was named as engineer. This company planned to make a campaign along the proposed line of the railroad and secure whatever aid could be voted by the people. A survey was made in the fall of the year of organization and everything found to be promising. In every township of Dickinson County elections were held for aiding the road, and in all but one or two the proposition passed favorably. Clay County, in fact, was about the only place in which the proposed road was not regarded with favor. The people of that county even refused to hold an election. This division of opinion among the people of this part of the state doomed the new road at the start, and it was not long until the organization effected at Spirit Lake was abandoned.



Shortly after the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul had completed their western main line through Spencer in 1878 a number of prominent citizens of Spirit Lake, among whom were Henry Barkman and T. S. Seymour, requested the road to build a line from Spencer to Spirit Lake, and in compliance with this request the railroad company made a survey of the line between the two towns. This was as far as the work progressed at that time, the company believing that it would not be a profitable scheme.


In the summer of 1880 the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad Company planned to build a branch line from Goldfield, or nearby point, toward the west to the Black Hills. As was the custom, the railroad company demanded a specified amount of aid from the people living along the route. In Dickinson County elections were held in all of the townships and the proposition was carried favorably in Center Grove, Spirit Lake, Diamond Lake, Silver Lake, Superior and Excelsior Townships. This small number of townships voting favorably on the railroad tax did not satisfy the company, nor did it comply with the number demanded when the offer of building the road had been made. The company was surveying another route at the same time, through Sioux Rapids and Peterson, and by some authorities it is considered improbable that they would have built the road through Dickinson County even if the aid had been voted in every township. The Chicago & Northwestern made no further plans to help the people of Dickinson County by a line.


In the summer of 1881 the Burlington, Cedar Rapids & Northern, through S. L. Dows, offered to build a railroad through the county, providing sufficient aid was voted by the different townships. Elections were held accordingly and the following townships were found to be in favor of the proposition: Center Grove, Spirit Lake, Silver Lake, Diamond Lake and Superior. Superior first voted against the road, but the latter's promise to maintain a depot in the township had the effect of changing the vote to the favorable side. The number of townships in Dickinson voting in favor of the road, as in the election for the Northwestern, was not as large as the road officials had demanded in their promise to build, but in this case the company decided to build anyhow and so notified the people and the taxes were levied. The building of the


line went ahead rapidly and on July 11, 1882, the first train was run into Spirit Lake. This line is now a part of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific System.


About the time of the completion of the work on the B. C. R. & N. the Des Moines & Northwestern Railroad Company, through its representative, J. S. Polk of Des Moines, made a proposition to the people of the county. The road had been constructed to Fonda in Pocahontas County, and the proposition gave the information that it was under consideration to extend it to Jackson, Minnesota. A survey of the line was made by Surveyor Wilkins of Dickinson County in 1881. The townships of Milford, Okoboji, Excelsior, Lloyd, Richland and Lakeville voted aid to the road, the right of way was purchased, and the actual work of grading the roadbed was commenced. This part of the work was completed from Spencer to Spirit Lake and then progress ceased. The true reason for this abandonment of the project was never learned, but nothing was ever attempted in getting the road completed.


While these different railroad lines were being projected and built, the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Company determined to construct their own line, a work which they had declined to do before. The prospect of other roads usurping the field and securing the business of the county evidently caused their sudden move. In the fall of 1881 surveys were made and a sufficient force of workmen put to work to finish the line between Spencer and Spirit Lake. The first train entered Dickinson County on August 1, 1882, but not until the following spring was the road completed to Spirit Lake.


The third railroad in the county, the Minneapolis & St. Louis, was built through Lloyd Township in 1899. The railroad company used part of the roadbed of the defunct Manitoba Company. The first survey for the proposed line was in a direct line between Estherville and Spencer, but later the officials decided to make the town of Terrill a station. Mr. Taylor, town proprietor, and others, donated the right, of way for the road. There was an effort made by citizens of the county to have the Minneapolis & St. Louis Railroad built through the center of the county, with stations at Spirit Lake and Milford, but this effort was unsuccessful.



The Manitoba & Gulf Railroad was the name of a railroad enterprise started in 1894 or 1895. The name suggests the proposed scope of the work. A Mr. Carpenter and others advanced the scheme, it is said without capital, intending to secure as much right of way and as large donations as possible, and then dispose of the work to some other concern. Minnesota gave them plenty of aid, but the townships in Dickinson County refused to vote taxes for a scheme which they had experienced before. However, this did not deter the company from surveying a line through SSuperior,[sic] Richland and Lloyd Townships. In the summer and autumn of 1895 grading was completed across Richland Township, and a little done in Lloyd and Superior, but before the year closed the company had gone into bankruptcy and the work ceased.


About the first mention of bridges in this county was when the contractors in the swamp land deal agreed to erect the county courthouse, also three bridges ‐ one across East Okoboji Lake east of the settlement at Spirit Lake, one across the straits between East and West Okoboji Lakes, and one across the Little Sioux River. The two bridges across the lake were finished in the year 1860, the one at Spirit Lake being three hundred feet long and the one at Okoboji two hundred and ten feet in length. The Spirit Lake bridge was superintended by Harvey Abbott, a brother-in-law of Howe and Wheelock, while John Loomis built the one at Okoboji, having taken the contract from Howe and Arthur before the principal contract was given to Barkman and Prescott. Four times these bridges have been rebuilt since that time.

The first bridges were not constructed with the idea of permitting lake vessels to pass under them. A plan was advanced at one time that a light, strong bridge, which could be lifted to an upright position in order to let boats through, would be feasible. This was constructed, but the task of lifting it proved too burdensome and some other means became necessary. In 1883 the bridges were taken out and the swing bridges erected, the first ones set on piles. In the winter of 1897-8 these were taken out and stone piers set in cement substituted for the piles.