Sunday, February 10, 2013

Sioux City Elevated Railway

From the late 1890's to early 1900's Sioux City had an elevated railway or El. Sioux City's El was first operated with small steam locomotives before changing to electric rail cars. All that remains of Sioux City's El. can be viewed by walking or biking along the pedestrian/bicycle walk way on the Gordon Drive viaduct. It can be viewed from just above the Bacon Creek channel by looking a few hundred yards to the north near a small rail yard, large gravel/rock piles and not to far from a concrete product business. What remains of the former el is an old support beam.

Here is the story of Sioux City's El, how and why it was developed and why it failed:

1880's -  The Morningside area of Sioux City began to develop east of the downtown area. Up until this time most of the development was on the north side of town. The new area had advantages over the north side. It was not as hilly and steep, streets and lots required less grading. But the journey from downtown Sioux City to Morningside was not an easy one. Wagons and buggies had to cross the swampy land of the the Floyd River valley and the channel itself along with eighty-four railroad and streetcar tracks.

Morningside business owner and promoter Arthur Garretson was one of the first to come up with the idea for an elevated railway as his business would profit if a convenient connection were made from downtown to Morningside. Arthur convinced E.C. Peters, William Gordon and a group of Eastern investors to organize the Sioux City Rapid Transit Company. The money for the elevated was quickly raised, and construction was planned.

April 1890 - Construction of the Sioux City Elevated Railway began.

Even though the Sioux City Elevated Railway was a grand venture, costing over $586,000 in 1800/1890 money to build it was completed.

April 16, 1891 - The Sioux City Elevated Railway opened for business.

The elevated railway started at the downtown station and office for the railway at 3rd and Jones Streets. The elevated trains transported the passengers traveled 22 feet above the ground, east on Third Street, across the Floyd River and south on Division Street. The elevated section then reached ground level at Leech Avenue (near what is now Highway 75) and traveled along the surface out Transit Avenue to Peters Park. The line had two miles of elevated track and three miles on the surface.

The fare to ride the train was $0.05 or $0.25 for six rides. The railway company offered a special promotion for new Morningside families. For anyone who boughta residence in Morningside were give a pass worth a years worth of free rides on the railway.

The railway was the third of its kind in the world.

The elevated railway was successful in opening up business for the Morningside area along with helping Arthur Garretson and other business owners make a lot of money.

1892 -  The Sioux City Elevated Railway was converted from steam driven locomotives to electric cars. This was first of its kind in the world.

It was in this same year the elevated railway helped save hundreds if not thousands of lives during the Floyd River Flood. A local hero, Andrew G. Anderson, risked his life one night carrying and guiding people to the stairs that lead up to the railway platform at the main elevated station. After the flood swept away the bottom of the stairs the people had to walk to other stations to get home.

1893 - Plans were made to expand the elevated railway but The Financial Panic of 1893 put and end to such plans was the beginning of the end of the elevated railway.

March 1899 - After the company went into bankruptcy the elevated portion of the railway was stopped and the system was reorganized.

Early 1900's - By this time the railway service had completely stopped and demolition/dismantling of the Sioux City Elevated railway had been accomplished.

At the time the Sioux City El. was such an innovation officials from Chicago, Illinois came to observe it to get an idea of what it would take to build theirs. The original Chicago El. is based on the Sioux City Elevated Railway. Cities like Chicago absorbed and could handle the 1893 financial panic better than smaller communities like Sioux City. This is why Chicago's El. is still going strong today. Some historians believe were it not for Sioux City's El. Chicago would never have built theirs.

Photos and photographed information courtesy of Sioux City Public Museum Research Center:

These photos were taken by the article writer at the Museum Gallery located in the clock tower of City of Sioux City City Hall: