'Golden Spike' Marker Returns for Brief Visit
Tuesday, February 17, 2009 by Catherine Stortz Ripley, C-T News Editor

CAPTION: Railroad historian David Hardy, of Liberty, Mo., talks about the significant role the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad had in developing the west. Building west from Hannibal and east from St. Joseph, the two ends met just east of Chillicothe on Feb. 13, 1859. In celebration of the 150th anniversary of the railroad's completion, Hardy arranged to bring the original marker - which was erected at the "Golden Spike" spot - to the Grand River Historial Society Museum on Saturday. Gary Chilcote, director of the Patee House Museum in St. Joseph, also shared history about the 206-mile railroad and some of the well-known individuals who had traveled the railroad, including Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth.

C-T Photo / Catherine Stortz Ripley

Much of north Missouri was undeveloped in the mid-1800s. Aside from wagon trails, there essentially was no way to access the area. And, that was most suitable to people of south Missouri who, in general, had no interest in helping north Missouri. Just as communities compete nowadays for new and expanding businesses, competition was just as keen among towns back then. It was common knowledge that a town without a railroad might die, while its neighbor located on a railroad would thrive. However, in 1846 - less than 10 years after the formation of Livingston County - a railroad convention was held in Chillicothe, making it the first official action for the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad. The event drew representatives from many towns in north Missouri.

Years later, thanks to Missouri Sen. Robert Stewart, of St. Joseph, who proposed putting up $1.5 million to fund a railroad across the state, and to the community of St. Joseph for footing the first $50,000 necessary to jump start the project, the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad was on its way to becoming a reality. And, on Feb. 13, 1859, the railroad became the first to cross Missouri. It was the completion of this railroad 150 years ago that caused a celebration at Grand River Historical Society Museum in Chillicothe this past Saturday. For it was on this date that both legs of the 206-mile railroad - one beginning in Hannibal and stretching west, and the other starting in St. Joseph and stretching east - met at a point near Chillicothe and were connected.

Saturday's celebration brought nearly 90 people to the museum to learn more about the railroad which had also led to St. Joseph becoming the western terminus of railroads in the United States and the point where the Pony Express was launched. It's uncertain whether the spike which joined the two legs was solid gold or merely a typical spike that had been gilded. Yet, the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad celebrated the completion by erecting a marker at the site which was located a short distance north of where Chillicothe Municipal Airport now exists. Set into the concrete marker was a bronze plaque describing the railroad's completion. The marker is now part of the Burlington railroad museum in Galesburg, Ill., but it was brought back to Chillicothe for the celebration.

Guest speakers for the day included Gary Chilcote, director of the Patee House Museum in St. Joseph. The Patee House is considered the center of the nation's Westward expansion which was opened as a luxurious hotel in 1858 to serve travelers as the railroad pushed west to St. Joseph. Chilcote talked about several notables who traveled the new railroad - including Abraham Lincoln - who took the train to St. Joseph and then a boat to "The Bluffs" (Council Bluffs, Iowa), on a business trip in August 1859, and rode the train again in November 1859 for a political engagement in Kansas. Another notable who used the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad, Chilcote said, was William Seward, who later became Lincoln's Secretary of State and arranged for the purchase of Alaska. Seward traveled the railroad in May 1860.Ironically, another notable who traveled the railroad was John Wilkes Booth, in January 1864, some 15 months before the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Booth, most known at the time as a stage actor and later known as the man who killed the president, had arrived in St. Joseph by boat and was headed to an engagement in St. Louis when he became snowbound. He was unable to continue river travel because of an abundance of ice and the train couldn't get through to St. Joseph. Not wanting to miss his scheduled performance in St. Louis, Booth hired a sleigh with four horses and followed the railroad route east. After four days traversing huge snow drifts Booth made it as far as Breckenridge, where he boarded the train to head east.

Booth, most known at the time as a stage actor and later known as the man who killed the president, had arrived in St. Joseph by boat and was headed to an engagement at St. Louis when he became snowbound. He was unable to continue river travel because of an abundance of ice and the train couldn't get through to St. Joseph. Not wanting to miss his scheduled performance in St. Louis, Booth hired a sleigh with four horses and followed the railroad route east. After four days traversing huge snow drifts Booth made it as far as Breckenridge, where he boarded the train to head east.

Chilcote also explained how the government used the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad extensively for delivering soldiers and cannons during the Civil War. In 1881, the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad purchased the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad. "The Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad played a very important role in developing northern Missouri," Chilcote said. This sentiment was echoed by railroad historian David Hardy, of Liberty, who had arranged for the original marker to be on display in Chillicothe Saturday.

When the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad was completed, St. Louis was the largest city in Missouri with 160,773 people. St. Joseph was the second largest with 8,932 people; Hannibal was the third largest with 6,505; Kansas City, fourth largest, with a population of 4,418. "It is highly unlikely that Kansas City would have developed into the town it is without the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad," Hardy said. He said Kansas City had built a link to the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad at Cameron, and was first to build a bridge over the Missouri River.

Several guests Saturday were from the Kansas City area, including Jim Asplund, who was a passenger on the last train which ran the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad in January 1962. The Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad eventually became part of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad system, Hardy said. In the early 1980s, the entire line west of around Brookfield was taken out of service and eventually abandoned by the Burlington Northern.

Also speaking Saturday was Jim McCollough, from Wabash BBQ in Chillicothe. The restaurant is located in a railroad depot built in 1909. Dr. Frank Stark, president of the Grand River Historical Society Museum, said he was pleased with the event which attracted a standing-room only crowd. "I am well pleased with the event, by the number of people who attended and by their excitement," he said.

CAPTION: Visitors to the Grand River Historical Society Museum share interest in railroads as they looked at old photographs and items pertaining to the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad.

C-T Photo/Laura Schuler

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