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The University of Iowa and the Historic Melrose Neighborhood

Note: This is a personal site created and maintained by Nicholas Johnson. It is in no way officially related to the City of Iowa City, any community neighborhood association, the University of Iowa, or any other institution. He wishes to thank Yuka Ohba-Kreiter and Jennifer Sewell of the University of Iowa Library Maps Department for their invaluable professional skill in finding, and scanning, most of these photos and maps. -- Nicholas Johnson, Iowa City, April 30, 2004

Revised 20040501, 20040517

The historic Melrose Neighborhood can trace its beginnings virtually to the beginning of the history of Johnson County and of Iowa.

The neighborhood's history is (early 2004) in the process of being assembled by others.

The Melrose Neighborhood is, today, defined as bounded by Riverside Drive to the east, the former Rock Island Railroad to the south, and Melrose Avenue to the north (to where the Melrose Avenue bridge crosses the railroad track).

The railroad track alone is of immense historical significance to Iowa, Iowa City, and railroading history. See "Endnotes and Appendices," below.

As the University of Iowa expands its campus across Melrose Avenue to the South it risks destroying this historic residential neighborhood, with its history of some of the first expansion of Iowa City west of the Iowa River, and numerous residents with University ties.

As a part of that history, here are excerpts from some maps and photographs, centered on the Neighborhood, and illustrating its changes over time.

1854. J. H. Miller, compiler, "Iowa City and Its Environs" [map] (Panora, Guthrie County, Iowa: Bryan & Miller, 1854); UI Library call number G4154.I5/1854.M5. [To see a larger, clearer version of this map move the mouse into the lower right hand corner of the map image and click on the enlarging icon.]

1854. Drawing of Jas. Robinson home, "Myrtle Grove," included on Miller map, above.

1900. "Map of East and West Lucas," Atlas of Johnson County Iowa (Davenport: The Huebinger Survey and Map Publishing Co., 1900), p. 33.

1913. Photograph of 508 Melrose Court, believed to have been taken about 1913.

1929. Iowa City Blueprint. UI Library call number I5G46/1929.F6/Sheet 3 of 4.

1937. 1937 Aerial Photographs of Johnson County, Sept. 29, 1937, SY-3-235 [UI Library] (believed to be the first aerial photograph of the Neighborhood).

1951. 1951 Aerial Photographs of Johnson County, Sept. 13, 1951, SY-214-12 [UI Library].

1994. 1994 Aerial Photographs of Johnson County, 1900C-8112-161 Left [UI Library].

2004. As examples of the University's "good neighbor" policy: We got there too late for the party, but this picture certainly documents the social cohesion of a neighborhood in which University representatives are plentiful; and this one demonstates the driving ability of these neighbors that enables them to get 16 automobiles arranged along a street where "No Parking" signs would have discouraged the less able.

Endnotes and Appendices

Excerpt from "A Brief Historical Overview of the Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific Railroad" [What follows is a brief, company-issued history of the Rock Island Lines. It was one of the introductory sections of the "Yard Clerical Manual" issued by the RI around 1970. The manual, from the collection of Alan Kline, was apparently intended to serve as an introduction to the company, as well as to the duties of a yard clerk, and also included a review of the company's geography and route structure.] (The excerpt below can be found in context on this page

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The rails marched westward, through Morris, Ottawa, La Salle and Bureau, finally reaching Rock Island on February 22, 1854, the first railroad to connect Chicago with the Mississippi River.

In the meantime, on February 5, 1853, the railroad incorporators saw Ariticles of Association executed under the laws of Iowa to create the Mississippi and Missouri Railroad Company with authority to construct and operate a railroad from Davenport to Council Bluffs.

Now a railroad bridge across the Mississippi to connect the two lines was considered a must. The wood and iron structure was to be a Howe truss type set on stone piers. The corner stone of the bridge project was laid in Davenport on September 1, 1854.

While the bridge was being built, progress of the M&M in Iowa was very slow. Iowa City was its first goal, but Muscatine also wanted a railroad. Civic leaders there pleaded with builders to bring the line into that community. It was finally decided to split the road at Wilton, extend the main line to Iowa City and to build a branch to Muscatine.

Iowa Citians, fearful that the railroad might not reach their town, then the capitol of the state, decided to post a $50,000 bonus to the builders if the line was finished and a train run into the station on or before midnight December 31, 1855.

The line to Muscatine was finished first and on November 20, 1855 the first train ever to operate in Iowa departed from Davenport with six crowded coaches for the run to Muscatine.

But the builders had not forgotten Iowa City's $50,000. On December 31, in a temperature of 30 degrees below zero, the rails were just 1,000 feet short of their goal. Crews worked feverishly to finish the job. Ties were dropped on the staked earth and rails spiked hurriedly in place. Finally, with only minutes to go, a signal was given for the engine to approach. It couldn't move. It was frozen and dead on center. With the help of every available man, chains attached to the pilot and pinch bars under the wheels, the workmen pinched and pushed to slide the engine to the station seconds before the old year rang out.

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