Chugging Into Cherokee

When railroads were being built across the state of Iowa, towns grew up overnight. Towns wanted to be as close as possible to railroads. Town builders were willing to do almost anything to be near a railroad. Cherokee was one town that was determined to benefit from the railroad.

Thirty-nine Families Want a Train

The people of Cherokee waited in 1869. They waited for the railroad to come. There were only 39 families on the lonely northwestern Iowa prairie at Cherokee. Sioux City was the nearest city, 60 miles and an eight day round-trip away. There would never be very many people at Cherokee without a railroad—but the railroad was coming!

A man bought 20 acres of land in the little settlement and marked it off for town lots. He opened a general store and planned to have his town ready when the railroad came. Soon there was a newspaper, livery stable and blacksmith. An attorney and physician set up practice. Cherokee was ready.

A Town on the Move

Finally the railroad owners decided exactly where the railroad route would go. The track curved in and out of the beautiful Little Sioux Valley, making a horseshoe bend. When the rails were laid they were one mile southwest Cherokee! The business people decided it was better to be as close as possible to the railroad depot, so they moved their businesses over one mile to be nearer to it.

The town of Cherokee grew rapidly after the railroad arrived. More homes and businesses sprang up, built with lumber brought in on railroad cars. In just one year over 2,000 people arrived to live in Cherokee County. Farm people settled on the surrounding prairie and began shipping their produce to market on the railroad. The first people of Cherokee had been right. The railroad had helped their town to grow. It was worth the wait!


  • Margaret Atherton Bonney, Ed., “Chugging Into Cherokee,” The Goldfinch 5, no. 2 (November 1983): 5.


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