A Council Bluffs train museum that showcases the city’s rich railroading history is making its own history.
The 25th anniversary of the RailsWest Railroad Museum, 16th Avenue and South Main, will be celebrated during June.
“In June of 1987 when it opened, it was just for weekend and special events only,” said Carla Borgaila, museum coordinator. “Obviously, that has changed. The museum is now open 11 months of the year and open six days a week for seven months and five days for the other four months.”
Numerous family events will occur during the month to honor the occasion, she said.
“The events are geared as a way of promoting the community because if not for the community, this wouldn’t be here,” Borgaila said.
Next Saturday and Sunday, a local Model A Club will display their vintage automobiles, Borgaila said. The following weekend, June 9 and 10, members of the GOSOME model train club that keeps a large model train display at the museum will be on hand to offer tips on operating model trains, plus having model trains on sale.
On June 16 and 17, local historical authors and artists will be on hand displaying their works, while the following weekend, June 23 and 24, carnival games will be on hand for the whole family, Borgaila said.
The celebration concludes on June 30 and July 1 with storytelling on the city’s railroad history, she said.
What a history it has been, Borgaila said.
The original depot was completed in 1870 for the Rock Island line, she said. On July 21, 1873, a train took off from there and was stopped and robbed by Jesse James and his gang near Adair – the gang was in Council Bluffs the day before to learn of the train schedule, Borgaila said. Though they didn’t get what they were looking for – the larger amount of money the gang wanted rode out on an earlier train – it was still the first successful moving train robbery west of the Mississippi River, she said.
In 1881, the depot was destroyed when a train came in with a load of dynamite that accidentally exploded. The current depot was finally completed in 1899. It featured a waiting room for women and children, and one for men, who couldn’t venture into the other because of their vulgar language.
Thousands of area soldiers left by rail from there to begin their journey to faraway wars.
The last Rock Island passenger train pulled out from there on May 31, 1970. The last day of operations came on March 31, 1980. In 1985, the Historical Society of Pottawattamie County got the rights to the building from the city and spent the next two years renovating it, Borgaila said. One of the first big events was the appearance of singer Johnny Cash, in town for a concert.
In recent years, the depot has seen more and more visitors, from faraway places and locally, she said. This year alone, 39 school trips have visited the depot and/or the historical Squirrel Cage Jail nearby, Borgaila said.
The museum is open from April through October from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, and 1 to 4 p.m. on Sundays; from November through March, the hours are noon to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays, and 1 to 4 p.m. on Sundays. The museum is closed during January.