Review of Henry County Transportation History Book

Written by Theresa Rose on March 10, 2017

The Henry County Historic Preservation Commission has received a review of its book, History of Transportation, Henry County, Iowa, by H. Roger Grant, professor of history at Clemson University.  He is a prolific author of books and articles about railroad and transportation history.  His review appeared in The Annals of Iowa 76, Number 1 (Winter 2017), a publication of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.


He writes in part,  “…the book offers a good picture of how residents shattered the tyranny of distance, providing a microcosm of Hawkeye State transport history.  This product of the collective efforts of the Henry County organization is a charming review of its countywide transportation past.


Water never became a practical local option.  The only stream of importance was the Skunk River, a shallow waterway that emptied into the Mississippi River near Burlington.  Yet during the frontier period discussions took place about making this stream navigable for steamboat traffic…


Roads became the sensible response.  Prior to the Good Roads movement after 1900, public roads were almost universally poor.  Still, the county in the 1850’s claimed an all-weather plank road that linked Mount Pleasant with Burlington.  Then, as automobile and truck ownership expanded, better roads appeared.  Not only were the principal routes marked, but in the 1920’s some were paved, including a bizarre privately financed highway known as the Coleman Road…


The railway Age did not miss Henry County.  By the end of the nineteenth century, steel rails served virtually every community.  The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy eventually dominated, with its historic main line slicing through the county on an east-west axis.  But as early as the 1930’s line abandonments began, resulting from increasing highway competition, eventually leaving only the high-density Burlington main line to serve the county with freight and Amtrak service…


Resembling water transport, aviation never gained much local importance.  There were early balloon ascensions and aerial “barnstormers,” entertainment that morphed into pleasure flights and commercial agricultural services.  Landing strips appeared, the most notable being development of a small, modern airport in Mount Pleasant after World War II.


The historic preservation commission has created an unusual type of localized transportation work.  Readers should enjoy its efforts.  Perhaps this approach will inspire others to consider a similar study of their county’s transportation heritage.”


Copies of this book are available in Mt. Pleasant at Brown Bears Basket Antiques, county auditor’s office, Henry County Heritage Center, Hy-Vee grocery and drug stores; in Salem at the museum;  at the city office and museum in Wayland;  in Winfield at the banks and museum;  and in New London at the library, city office, Danville Bank, and museum.