In 1887, it was said that the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad was the last major railroad to enter Nebraska, but at that time it was considerably south of Lincoln.
Still, in 1889, a published source said, "It may be considered a certainty that the Rock Island will come to Lincoln soon on its own track."
In 1892, the Rock Island's tracks did reach the Capital City from Omaha, the last major railroad to do so. Because of Lincoln's growth, no land grants were available within the city, so a mosaic of city lots in the form of a gentle serpentine beginning at about North 18th Street was acquired.
Also in about 1893, the Rock Island built from Jansen to Lincoln, Hallam and Rokeby with a 50-mile connection mostly over "Union Pacific trackage rights between Lincoln and Fairbury."
Work building the railroad's depot was begun at 1944 O St. as it entered the area and was completed in 1893. The elaborate structure was 82 by 28 feet -- with a baggage and freight house just to the north. The French Chateausque depot was built of Colorado red sandstone and pressed brick with a sharply pitched slate roof, an 8-foot radius bay window on the east/track side and quarters for the station agent above. The ladies' room, lavatories, smoking room and ticket office surrounded the 15-foot ceilinged waiting room. On the south gable was a stone tablet with a device representing the railroad's name.
As the Rock Island entered Lincoln from the east, it paralleled Fremont and Seward streets on what now is the David Murdoch Trail. About a block east of Touzalin Avenue, the Rock Island Havelock depot was constructed with a siding that served a grain elevator, gasoline storage area and other businesses.
The fact that Havelock had a depot but University Place did not rankled the Nebraska Wesleyan University community, which appealed to the state Railway Commission. Although that agency ordered a depot be constructed, it was put off until about 1911, because the railroad argued it would be inefficient and cost-prohibitive.
As completed north of the village's business district on Warren Avenue (now North 48th Street), it was said that one could actually see the Havelock depot only about a mile to the east.
With the nationalization of the railroads during World War I, the University Place depot was closed and, though lobbied to be reopened after the war, it had deteriorated badly and was never used again.
Rail service to College View was provided by a Burlington division whose depot was at about 49th Street and Nebraska 2. Beginning in about 1911, that community's name actually appeared on the Rock Island's timetables because of its spur just south of Sheridan Boulevard.
The use of the Rock Island by College View through an interconnection with the Sheridan Boulevard trolley line has long been speculated and often considered improbable.
A few years ago, however, rail fans J. Pete Hedgpeth, Al Holck, Dick Schmeling and Dick Rumolz discovered that the Rock Island and the trolley tracks both were a "standard gauge of four feet, eight and one-half inches," which meant cars could use either system's tracks.
A June 7, 1911, newspaper article confirmed that a coal car from the Rock Island had been pushed up the Sheridan siding, which served the lumber and coal yard there, and switched onto the eastbound Sheridan trolley line. This meant coal and conceivably other freight could be delivered easily by rail to the Union College and Nebraska Sanitarium's power plant on 49th Street and Bancroft Avenue by rail.
This was good news, because the switch took only seven minutes and unloading and transporting coal to the college previously had taken three days.
The Rock Island, however, had other problems and in 1915 reorganized through bankruptcy. In 1925, Lincoln conceived the idea of building a union station that would have accommodated the Rock Island but would have required not only abandoning the 20th and O streets depot but relocating considerable trackage. Alternate routes were designed and considered, but only the Union Pacific and Burlington railroads were willing to sign onto the project.
When the new Burlington station, whose costs were shared by Union Pacific, was completed in 1927, the idea of all five railroads using one station was abandoned.
With nearly 25 on-grade Rock Island crossings in Lincoln including 27th, A and South streets as well as the new Capitol Parkway, the idea of moving tracks was considered again. Costs and who should absorb them again proved to be a stumbling block.
In October 1966, lack of passenger traffic caused the end of the Rocky Mountain Rocket. The passenger portion of the Rock Island depot was closed, and in 1968 Clark Enersen architects restored and adapted the building as a branch for City National Bank, supposedly the first such conversion in the United States.
A new steel building was built to the north for agents and offices, but in 1980, the Rock Island again was bankrupt. The last day of operation was May 31, 1984, and all ideas of moving suddenly were moot.
Few remnants of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad remain in Lincoln. Hiker-biker paths cover much of the old right of way, the depot-cum-bank at 20th and O streets, the much-painted bridge in Antelope Park, a "derelict signal at 18th and Y, and a couple of blocks of track left in the alley north of Ideal Grocery" and patched street crossings are all still visible.
Everything else is consigned to memories along with the trains' whistle, having to wait for the train to pass and even the little old men who jumped from their seats in the tiny wooden buildings on N and P streets with stop signs when the Rock Island pulled up to the old O Street depot.