When the Chicago & Rock Island Railroad reached the Mississippi River at Rock Island in 1854, it became the first railroad to do so. The railroad constructed the first bridge at this point crossing the Mississippi.
Davenport, Iowa was as a riverboat port until the railway bridge was built. With the railroad’s arrival, Davenport developed into a grain shipping center where some of the largest elevators in Iowa were constructed. Some of the grain was processed in Davenport, but trainloads of wheat, corn, oats and barley were shipped to mills throughout the region.
Rock Island’s economic interests ranged from lumbering and manufacturing to agricultural implements and railroad supplies. Rock Island, just upriver from town, was used as a prisoner of war camp during the American Civil War. The island is now known as Arsenal Island, maintaining a U.S. military arsenal and manufacturing facilities.
Kansas earned statehood in 1861. Topeka was named state capital. In the years following the war much growth occurred in Topeka. Mills and foundries were established. Washburn University was founded as Washburn College in 1865. The next year, citizens of Topeka saw the arrival of the Union Pacific Railroad, then known as Kansas Pacific. That line would later continue to Denver.
In the late 1860's, a railroad line from St. Joseph and Topeka began building westward, and the Atchison & Topeka Railroad was organized. The railroad held important car and locomotive shops in town. Many new settlers arrived in Topeka by either steamboat or rail. The Atchison & Topeka Railroad received a generous land grant from the government in order to build and help open up Kansas lands for settlement.
In 1863, with aims at building southwest to New Mexico, the railroad’s name was changed to the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe. Reaching the Colorado state line in 1873, the railroad was an early enabler for easy passage west from Kansas City to countless regions with its acquired connecting lines. Although the line never reached Santa Fe, it did open a branch division in New Mexico in 1880, which offered connecting lines into Santa Fe. The railroad specialized in freight service and was a popular conveyance for cattle and harvested wheat. The cattle industry was huge in Kansas until the late 1870's and the state prospered greatly because of it.
The Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad was popularly known as the Rock Island Line. The railroad inspired the blues standard "Rock Island Line", which was popularized by Lead Belly.